Monday, June 30, 2008

Christian Patriotism: What Can Christians Give America?

What Can the Christian Give to America?
A Christian Patriot’s Reflection

Mention the terms ‘patriotism’ and ‘Christianity’ in the same sentence and you will get a variety of responses. Some will, without hesitation, wrap the cross in an American flag, so equating Christianity and Americanism that it is impossible to make the distinction between the two. Those Christians who make the mistake of so aligning themselves with the political process or with a particular political party often perpetuate the loss of the church’s prophetic voice.

Others will go to the opposite extreme, declaring that Christianity should have little to do with the American system and that Christians are to avoid politics or any display of national pride altogether. Those who cast their lot with this kind of Christian worldview find it difficult to display any kind of national pride, may not choose to participate in the political process, often have difficulty to singing the National Anthem or reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and too often end up abusing the very freedoms that under-gird their right to criticize the country. But are things this simple? Some observations are in order.

First, when it comes to America there is no doubt that this blessed land has always had a ‘Christian flavor.’ Though America has never pretended to be a specifically Christian nation, it must be recognized that while some of our Founders were deists, most were committed Christians and nearly all were influenced by a Judeo-Christian worldview. There is no doubt that the foundations of American republicanism are rooted in a Judeo-Christian worldview. John Adams’ famous statement about the necessity of religion (Christianity) for the viability of America’s representative form of government bears repeating:

“We have no government armed with the power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Second, Christians live within a tension. On the one hand, we are citizens of the country in which we are born and, as such, we are to be the most responsible citizens possible. For example, God commanded Jeremiah to seek the peace of the city for in seeking its peace Jeremiah would himself know peace (Jer. 29:7). This command was given despite Jeremiah living in a foreign land under forced deportation. Further, Jesus noted that we are to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s (Mk. 12:17). Romans 13:1ff. and Titus 3:1 commands every Christian to respect and obey civil authorities, fervently praying for each and every leader. In addition, 1 Peter 2:17 states that we are to honor all men, especially the king. In fact, did you know that Paul himself was keenly aware of his rights as a Roman citizen, appealing to these rights when punished without due process so that he might preach the gospel all the way to Rome (Acts 22)? In brief, Paul was no political novice.

However, the Christian has another, higher allegiance to and a separate citizenship in the family of God. Both Ephesians 2:18-22 and Philippians 3:17-21 declare that we are citizens of the family of God rooted in the kingdom of God, with Jesus as Sovereign. Our citizenship in God’s family supersedes all other allegiances. Most of the time, the Christian can live within the confines of both forms of citizenship. Yet, when a choice must be made, the Christian must choose his/her allegiance to Jesus Christ and His kingdom as the priority.

Third, what, then, can the believer give to his/her nation? What does the Christian offer to the land of his/her birth? Two texts can be helpful in answering these questions: Acts 9:10ff and 1 Peter 2:13-17. Based upon these two texts let me suggest at least three things the Christian can give America.

(1 Peter 2:13-17) “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. 18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

(Acts 9:10-16) “Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

First, let us give America the Savior, Jesus Christ. In fact, this is essentially what God told Ananias concerning the newly converted Paul (Saul). He notes that Paul was a chosen instrument and that God would use him to “carry my name before Gentiles, and kings and the children of Israel.” In essence, God would use Paul to take the gospel to every person at every level of life, even to those in political power and authority (see Acts 24-26). Why? Because God knows that the greatest need of sinful humanity is not a political makeover, but spiritual regeneration. Give to a nation a converted and holy people and you will give to that same nation, or any nation for that matter, a citizen constituency that is able to seek the better of society for the glory of God. Again, while it is necessary as a good citizen for every Christian to fully participate in the political process that the nation offers, even making a place for Christians serving in the political process, it must be recognized that the believer has an allegiance that supersedes his earthly allegiances. That allegiance is fixed in the gospel of Jesus Christ. So, let us give to our country a model citizen. Moreover, let us give to our country a Savior through whom man’s sins can be forgiven. And how can we give America the Savior?
…by praying that the Savior’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven
…by preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to all people in a variety of ways
…by proclaiming the gospel one-on-one from the coffee shop to the Capital
…by pursuing kingdom initiatives that prepare the way for the gospel of Jesus Christ
…by preparing for spiritual revival and renewal

Second, let us give America Christ-motivated service. Notice what the Apostle Peter states in 1 Peter 2:16 about Christian conduct in a secular society: "…but living as servants of God…” In essence, Christians are to demonstrate their commitment to Jesus Christ through word and deed. While God uses the preaching of the gospel to save sinners, Christian service through responsible citizenship builds the platform from which we preach. Again, nothing replaces the gospel of Jesus Christ in changing the sinners’ heart. Accompanied by deeds of service, the preaching of the gospel and service to others make for a potent double threat to the kingdom of darkness. When a nation releases itself from its spiritual moorings it makes way for a crass and crude civility. The loss of neighborliness and general kindness has taken a hit in recent years. Consumed with individual rights, citizenship in America has lost its civility and has given way to an immoral self-centeredness that ignores kindness and courtesy and that is at other times protected under the term ‘individual rights.’ Christians do not need a congressional mandate to serve others. Our mandate to serve others in the realm of our earthly citizenship comes directly from our citizenship in a separate and distinct nation whose builder and maker is God.

Finally, let us give to America suffering/sacrifice. Please note Acts 9:16 where it is stated that Paul would “suffer for the sake of my name.” This type of suffering was demonstrated in and through Paul’s gospel-saturated life (see 2 Corinthians 6:1-10; 11:22-21). I believe the call to suffer means that the Christian, while not looking for a fight or for suffering, is willing to preach the whole counsel of God and to live in such a counter-cultural manner even if it means being ridiculed or even arrested for the sake of the gospel. Consistently, lovingly, faithfully and patiently, the Christian must serve the nation of his/her birth through preaching the gospel and through Christ-motivated service even if it means a collision with the very nation he/she is attempting to serve. So, in brief, let us give to the nation we love the Savior, Christ-motivated service and suffering, if needed, so that the kingdom of our God becomes the kingdom of this world.