Church - Contemporary Issues

In 2010, Does Your Thanksgiving Have the Proper Object?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
While most U. S. presidents' Thanksgiving Day proclamations have acknowledged the blessings of God, one of the most recent was purely humanistic.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

The tenor and content of the annual Thanksgiving Day proclamations by United States presidents have changed over time, with decreasing references to God and the Bible. President Barack Hussein Obama's 2009 Thanksgiving proclamation marked the first time the document is, at its core, a humanist statement. Perhaps in response to the adverse reaction, passing references to God once again appear in his 2010 proclamation.

Disappearance of Warnings About Forgetting God

Episcopalian George Washington issued the first presidential Thanksgiving proclamation in 1789, and the practice continued during the presidencies of Unitarian John Adams and later Episcopalian James Madison. From 1816 to 1861, no proclamations were issued. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln, who never identified himself with any church, issued the first of what so far has been an unbroken chain of presidential Thanksgiving Day proclamations. It said in part,

I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings they do also, [offer] humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience...

In 1902, Dutch Reformed Theodore Roosevelt was the last to speak of the direct intervention of God against a nation when it forgets Him, "when the hand of the Lord [is] heavy upon it in drought or flood or pestilence, when in bodily distress and in anguish of soul it paid the penalty of folly and a froward [habitually disobedient] heart."

Although others had done so before him, Congregationalist Calvin Coolidge's 1924 proclamation was the last to encourage Americans to "supplicate the Throne of Grace" in their churches and "their family altars." Episcopalian Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1940 proclamation was the last one that took the form of a prayer, and it was also the last to mention the Law of God. The last one to call upon Americans to "bow before God in contrition for our sins" was Presbyterian Dwight Eisenhower's in 1953.

Disappearance of Biblical Quotations and Allusions

Although presidential Thanksgiving Day proclamations were once filled with Biblical quotations and allusions, the last one to quote or directly allude to Scripture was that of Episcopalian George H. W. Bush in 1991. (Bush was also at one time an elder in the Presbyterian Church USA.) Roosevelt's 1941 proclamation included the entire 23rd Psalm. The last to refer to God as the Creator were Disciples of Christ adherent Ronald Reagan's proclamation in 1984 and George H. W. Bush's in 1989. The last to refer to God as the "Lord and Ruler of nations" were Reagan's in 1988 and Bush's in 1989. In 1995, Southern Baptist Bill Clinton began the secularist practice, continued by Methodist George W. Bush and United Church of Christ adherent Barack Obama (who was schooled as a Muslim), of encouraging Americans to gather not only in their homes and places of worship, but also in their "community centers" to express "thanksgiving".

2009: Shift to Humanism

President Barack Hussein Obama's 2009 Thanksgiving proclamation marked the first time that the document was, at its core, a humanist statement. Unashamedly revising history, he called the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth merely "a harvest celebration." Rather than calling upon Americans to give thanks to God by name, he called upon them "to express appreciation to those whose lives enrich our own."

Obama's 2010 proclamation makes two nominal references to God, perhaps in response to the outcry against the godless 2009 version. He continues the myth of a "harvest celebration" and cites Thanksgiving first of all as a time when "we reflect on the compassion and contributions of Native Americans, whose skill in agriculture helped the early colonists survive." He continues to encourage Americans to gather in their "community centers" to express "thanksgiving".

The Proper Object of Thanksgiving

At this time of year, Christians' thoughts would well turn to this question: What is the true nature of thanksgiving? Scripture tells us that thankfulness and faith share a common characteristic: They both have an object. Genuine saving faith has the Lord Jesus Christ as its object, while counterfeit faith has man, things or false gods as its object. In the same way, genuine thankfulness has the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe as its object, while counterfeit thankfulness directs its gratitude toward fallen man.

Genuine thankfulness distinguishes the believer from the unbeliever. The Apostle Paul tells us what is true of the heart of man apart from Christ: "When they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened" (Romans 1:21). Near the end of his life, Paul warned Timothy:

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! (2 Timothy 3:1-5)

In contrast, the one who has Christ as the object of his faith also has Christ as the object of his thankfulness:

Oh, give thanks to the Lord! Call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples! (Psalm 105:1)

Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! (Psalm 107:8)

O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God-through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. (Romans 7:24-25)

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57)

Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things? (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15)

Giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:12-14)

And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (Colossians 3:15-17)

Heaven will be a place of eternal thanksgiving to the Lord Jesus Christ:

Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, "The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!" And the twenty-four elders who sat before God on their thrones fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying: "We give You thanks, O Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was and who is to come, because You have taken Your great power and reigned. The nations were angry, and Your wrath has come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints, and those who fear Your name, small and great, and should destroy those who destroy the earth." Then the temple of God was opened in heaven, and the ark of His covenant was seen in His temple. And there were lightnings, noises, thunderings, an earthquake, and great hail. (Revelation 11:15-19)

Does your thanksgiving have the proper Object? And as you bow before Him, is your thanksgiving coupled with repentance and cries for mercy upon our nation? May this be true of each of us in these increasingly perilous time, not only on the officially proclaimed day of Thanksgiving, but every day.


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