“We must consider that we shall be as a city set on a hill. The eyes of all people shall be upon us.” Puritan Pastor John Winthrop, 1631
Liberal Democrats aren’t the only ones who misquote the Bible and take it out of context. Conservative Republicans also tend to practice selective theology. President Ronald Reagan lifted the “city set on a hill” from Pastor Winthrop, and applied it to America. So for the last twenty years, we’ve all insisted that our national greatness is supposed to make the USA a gleaming city on a hill, an shining example for a hopeless world. Unfortunately, that’s lame theology.
Whatever happens to America, it’s the Church of Jesus Christ that is rightly depicted as a city set on a hill. John Winthrop was paraphrasing Jesus Christ. “You are the light of the world,” the Lord explains in his Sermon on the Mount. “A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” Shining a light into the world is the task of saints, not patriots. That’s because the world needs more than freedom or even prosperity: the world needs Jesus Christ.
It was conservatives who first made the mistake of assuming we could impose democracy on Muslim nations. Unfortunately, Islamic nations don’t seem motivated to become democratic republics. They seem to prefer authoritarian regimes. It was the Christian faith and the character of Jesus Christ that prepared the American colonies for true liberty. Our founding fathers said that time and again. And only the Gospel will create the necessary foundation for freedom in Iraq or Iran. This means we might consider celebrating “American values” a little bit less, and the Good News of Christ a lot more. It’s the glory of God that drives men and women to seek freedom of worship. Point them to the glory of Christ.
Lift up the Cross!