Christian Patriotism Pt. 2

Christian Patriotism 02The second extreme answer to the question of Christian patriotism says that a true Christian cannot or must not be patriotic.

A verse that is used to support this idea is a quote of Jesus recorded in both Matthew 6 and Luke 16 – a verse that, in context, is actually making a reference to money, not patriotism, but that could be applied in any context in which worldly interests take precedence over our worship of God.

Matt: 6:24 No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.

When Luke recorded the verse concerning serving two masters, he told of how the Pharisees scoffed at the teaching of Jesus, prompting Jesus to answer them…

Luke 16:15 “…what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”

Many other verses warn of the evil associated with the institutions of man, especially government. Here are just a couple of examples.

1 John 5:19 We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.

Isaiah 40:17 All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.

Those who support this answer to the Christian patriotism question argue that a divided heart is an idolatrous heart. God calls the redeemed as ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). We cannot serve more than one sovereign – one Lord – at a time without being disloyal to the other.

The argument goes on to declare that a Christian who has committed his whole life and his whole heart to God cannot pledge allegiance to a nation without diminishing his love and loyalty to Christ and to the kingdom of God.

In his book, The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis makes a profound statement that is especially applicable in light of the events of today in America.

We may give our human loves the unconditional allegiance which we owe only to God. Then they become gods: then they become demons. Then they will destroy us, and also destroy themselves. For natural loves that are allowed to become gods do not remain loves. They are still called so, but can become in fact complicated forms of hatred. [1]

In the U.S., we are seeing this concept lived out on a daily  basis in the political turmoil that fills the news reports and TV screens.

We know that history is filled with horror stories of men and nations who have committed terrible atrocities against innocent peoples in the name of Christianity. Radical patriotism led to the American Civil War in which 600,000 Americans died of either combat or disease brought on by the war.

In recent years, the silent majority of evangelical Christianity has become more vocal in their patriotism and have become more actively involved in national and regional elections. Because their support is given almost exclusively to conservative candidates (spell that Republican), many in the nation, especially among the more liberal elements, have come to fear the rise of a radical form of Christianity that is intolerant of any views other than their own and as dangerous as radical Islam.

To some degree, their fears are justified when we see militia groups radically opposed to the government brandishing as tokens both the Confederate battle flag and the Christian flag. It is unfortunate that such groups have appropriated the name “Christian,” when no group that supports violence or terrorism or hatred can be included under the umbrella of the Christian family. There is no justification for any violent responses to political causes or actions other than in self-defense. Even then, a violent reaction is only acceptable when every other avenue of reconciliation has been exhausted.

So what is the answer concerning Christian patriotism?

Should Christians be actively and publicly involved in the political process? There are many who would argue that such involvement and public expression of political views actually diminishes the testimony of Christ.

Nevertheless, there are prominent leaders in Christianity who are very active in promoting the belief that God expects Christians to get actively and personally involved in the affairs of politics and economics in our nation. These Christian leaders believe that, without the input of Christian participation in the political arena, God will simply allow the nation to collapse of its own immorality.

Once again, there is biblical support for those who worship God to be involved in the politics of a nation.

  • Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers, but eventually became the second most powerful man in Egypt – maybe in all of the known world at the time – with the power to make decisions that affected both national and international policies.
  • Daniel, taken as a captive from Israel, became the third most powerful man in Babylon. He survived the overthrow of Babylon by the Persians, then was delivered by God from the lion’s den, eventually becoming prosperous and influential during the reigns of Darius and Cyrus, kings of Persia.
  • Esther was called by God – raised up “for such a time as this” – to be the queen of Ahasuerus, the king of Persia, and directly influenced government policies that affected both national and international affairs.
  • Mordecai, the uncle of Esther, foiled a plot to assassinate the king and helped to uncover the wickedness of Haman. As a reward, he was elevated to very high estate in the government of the king and even wore the king’s signet ring.
  • Nehemiah rose to the high ranking palace position of cup-bearer to King Artaxerxes, the sixth King of the Medo/Persian Empire. The position placed his life on the line every day yet gave Nehemiah both great authority and high esteem.

Can a Christian be true to his faith and still be patriotic?

The first part of the answer lies in understanding the difference between the terms patriotism and nationalism.

Ryan Hamm addressed the difference between these terms in an article in Christianity Today.

Patriotism can be defined simply as love of country…

It’s the kind of love that makes you thankful you’re an American whenever you hear the National Anthem, or that makes you thankful you’re British whenever you hear “God Save the Queen”…

Nationalism, on the other hand, takes that love of country and expands it to mean love of country at the expense of other nations.

It’s when someone believes they are better because they come from a particular place, or that someone else is less valuable because of the country that issued their passport…

…Paul’s famous assertion that there is “neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28) demonstrates that nationalism must never be part of the new kingdom of God. [2]

For the Christian, there is no room for such sentiments as “My country, right or wrong.”

We are right to have a love of our homeland – the place of our birth – but there comes a time when the Christian must take a stand against the policies of that very country when those policies officially deny the principles or the practice of Christianity.

Ryan Hamm: “Christian responsibility always trumps patriotism, even when it seems uncomfortable.” [3]

The second part of the answer is found in a clear understanding of the role of our country in the eternal purpose of God that Paul writes about in Ephesians.

While it is easy to defend the Christian foundation of this country, what we must realize is that the U.S. is not God’s primary vehicle for evangelism.

God may certainly use any means that He chooses, and the founding of this nation was, I believe, one of the means by which God assured that the message of the gospel would reach to the ends of the earth. (When Jesus spoke in Acts 1:8, the land that became the U.S. was the end of the earth!)

However, we must realize that the U.S. is not a covenant nation such as Israel, mandated to be God’s representative on earth. In an online article, Greg Goebel addressed several current heresies of evangelicals today. One of them concerns our dependence upon how the political winds might blow.

But America – and any nation – is not the Kingdom of God. America is not a covenant nation, set up by God as a way that he can oversee or rule the world. The kingdom of God does not rise and fall with the fortunes of the American (or any other) rise and fall. These things pass away but God’s kingdom lasts forever. [4]

America is not the Kingdom of God. Whether the U.S. rises or falls will have no bearing on the gospel or on the Kingdom of God.

God did not assign the responsibility for evangelism and missions and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ to the U.S. or to any nation. He assigned that task to the church and to individual Christians who accept the calling to go to the mission field or join with other Christians to raise up missionaries and to finance their travels and to cover the expenses required to carry on with a mission project.

The third part of the answer concerning Christianity and patriotism deals with what “thus saith the Lord.”

Philippians 3:18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

In the phrase “our citizenship is in heaven” (v. 20), the emphasis is on the word “is.”

Our citizenship is in heaven.

The city that is the true home of the Christian does actually exist and will one day be made visible to us as we learn in Rev. 21:2 when “the holy city, the new Jerusalem, comes down from heaven.” The city is real because the King of the city is real. He has gone to prepare a place for us and will one day return to take us to that very city.

I like to refer to Hebrews 11 as the Faith Hall of Fame – a review of those who lived their lives based on faith in God. From verses 1-12, the writer of Hebrews reviews the faith of Abel and Enoch, Noah and Abraham and Sarah. Then the writer goes on to say…

Hebrews 11:13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

These people all realized that while they had to live in this world and cope with its problems and hardships, they did not love this world as one loves their homeland. Their hearts yearned for a city with a sure foundation, “whose designer and builder is God.”

1 Peter 2:9 …you (Christians) are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people.

In verse 10, Peter is addressing everyone who knows Christ as Savior, regardless of their nationality or place of birth or citizenship. Everyone who knows Christ as Savior is a citizen of the Kingdom of God, whether they live in the U.S., in Russia, in China, in Iran, or on a South Pacific island.

Our first patriotic responsibility is to the kingdom of God, not to the U.S. or whatever country we might call home. We must never allow our love of country to diminish our love for God and for other Christians in our community or around the world, regardless of their race, their ethnicity or nationality.

For the Christian, the church – the body of Christ – must take precedence over all other commitments of loyalty and commitment and pledge.

Can a Christian be an American patriot?

I believe the answer is yes with this qualification:

We are Christians first – then we are Americans.


NOTES

[1] My only copy of this book is an audiobook, thus I cannot give proper credit. I found an online pdf edition of the book, copyright 1960 by Helen Joy Lewis, where this quote is found on p. 19-20.

[2] Ryan Hamm, “Patriotism and Christianity,” Copyright © 2012 by Christianity Today/ChristianBibleStudies.com.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Greg Goebel, “Conservative Heresies,” June 28th, 2016.

 

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