This was sent out in the TPC congregational email today:

George Washington's 1789 Thanksgiving Day proclamation opened with these words:

"Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor-- and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness."

Several things about this proclamation stand out. First, Washington states all nations have the duty to acknowledge "Almighty God" (a traditional name for the Christian God, from the Hebrew El Shaddai) and obey his will. If Washington believed that nations have to obey the Lord does that make him a theonomist? A Christian nationalist? Whatever labels people might want to put on this position today, it has been pretty standard for most of church history because it is simply a corollary of the Great Commission at the end of Matthew's gospel. Nations are to be discipled, which includes teaching them to obey all of Christ's commandments. Christ is Lord over all, not just individuals but also nations and civilizations (cf. Psalm 2).

Second, Washington, at the request of Congress makes a recommendation that people of the United States engage in a public day of thanksgiving, acknowledging with grateful hearts the many unique benefits God has bestowed upon our land. Washington knows that acts of faith cannot be coerced or forced upon a people so the proclamation is a recommendation, not a law. And yet Washington also knows that all leaders, including civil leaders, can encourage genuine piety and virtue, which is the purpose of the proclamation. (Anyone who thinks this would be a violation of the First Amendment clearly does not understand the meaning of that amendment.) As I mentioned in last Sunday's sermon, acts of public thanksgiving are every bit as necessary as private acts of thanksgiving. Romans 1:18-32 diagnoses the basic human problem in terms of ingratitude. God unleashes his wrath upon societies that refuse to thank him. So  you might say that thanksgiving is pretty important to the well being of any civilization.

Finally, it is interesting to assess Washington's proclamation in terms of debates over American exceptionalism. On the one hand, there is nothing special about America. We are bound to acknowledge God's providence and obey his will just like every other nation. Nothing here suggests that America has a special relationship with God or a special role in history. At the same time, the declaration states that God in his providence has graced America with "many signal favors." And there can be no question: God has been very merciful to our nation, granting us unimaginable prosperity  and long periods of peace that many other nations never get to enjoy. America is not an exceptional nation -- only the "holy nation" of the church can claim to be God's chosen people today -- but there is no question he has historically blessed us in marvelous and exceptional ways. Of course those blessings only make our nation's current fall from grace that much more tragic and makes us that much riper for judgment. May God have mercy.

Congress would certainly not recommend the President make any such proclamation today, and even if Congress did so, the President would never say anything like what Washington did in 1789. Sure, our civil leaders will still go through the motions of Thanksgiving customs. But those customs are just a shell of what they once were. American civil religion has devolved into idolatry over time. Any "god" invoked by our leaders today is a deity of our own making just like the idols of old (cf. Psalm 115). We fashion for ourselves a god who reflects our own desires and makes no serious demands. As Christians we can lament this national drift into secularization. But even in the midst of a culture that seems to have to have gone off the deep end, we can find plenty for which to give God thanks. Our Thanksgiving celebrations should not be diminished just because so many in our nation have forgotten God.  God is just as good as ever, and he been and continues to be very kind to us. So I hope and pray you and your family will have a glorious Thanksgiving Day tomorrow, and you will enjoy the bounty of God's good gifts!

This coming Lord's Day is known as Christ the King Sunday and it is the last day of the church calendar. A new church year starts with the first Sunday of Advent on December 3. Christ the King Sunday is not a repeat of Ascension Day. If Ascension Day looks back to the inauguration of Christ's kingdom, Christ the King looks ahead to the consummation of the kingdom.