One of my favorite musicals of all times is 1776. As long as you can look past a bit of bawdy humor, it is a fairly historically accurate portrayal of the events surrounding the creation and signing of the Declaration of Independence (aside, of course, from the fact that the Continental Congress was not originally set to music).

It makes me laugh, and it makes me proud of the work that went into creating a new nation by all sides, even those who disagreed with the cause of independency. However, the most inspirational moment takes place when one member of the congress refuses to sign the declaration: John Dickinson.

Let me make this clear: while I respect the concerns of some recent bloggers (for example Kurt Willems) about the morality of the American Revolution, I’m not writing to debate that one way or another.

Back to the story. The decision had been made for the sake of mutual protection of the colonies and the congress that not only must any vote for independency be unanimous of all the colonies, but that no man could sit in the congress without signing his name to the declaration. While Dickinson steadfastly hoped for reconciliation with England and that the colonies would continue as such, he was outvoted by his fellow delegates from Pennsylvania.

Here’s the important part: when the time came to sign, rather than doing something unconscionable to him, he elected of his own free will to resign the congress and join the militia in what he thought was an ill-advised, losing war where he knew (from General George Washington’s dispatches) that soldiers were dying brutally on a daily basis.

Now, as I said, I may disagree with the man, but that kind of courage and principle is rarely seen in any politician. This is in part because it amounts to suicide for one’s career, something Dickinson acknowledged and yet chose to follow through anyway. He was an accomplished man of much reputation who sacrificed not for money or philandery (as is more often the case historically and recently), but for the chance to give his life alongside people he respected.

So why did this land in a blog on Christian ministry? It landed here because Dickinson exemplifies what Dietrich Bonhoeffer would call costly discipleship. Both were guided by their ethical and moral principles to take paths that were difficult, unpopular, and would very likely cost them their lives. Christians today are sociologically encouraged by consumerism and an astounding level of choice to choose both a congregation/denomination and a personal theology based not on principle but on what sounds good and “works” for us.

So-called prosperity gospel preachers like Joel Osteen have thrived based on this mentality because really, if presented with an equal choice between being told you are a sinner who needs saving and being told that if you pray hard enough you can be rich and famous, the second option seems more attractive to most. It is only with proper grounding in Biblical reality and a strong sense of ethics that the lie that God wants you to have what you want is exposed.

The oppositional truth to this is more than inconvenient; it is personally demanding. God want you to know his grace and serve his kingdom. Don’t believe me? The second and third petitions of the Lord’s prayer (your kingdom come, your will be done…) seem pretty clear on the topic. So, although it may not have been directly a religious expression, I commend to you his ethical model and Give Ye John Dickinson.