Saturday, July 03, 2010

Why I Am Against "God and Country"

Across the country on this Independence Day weekend, thousands of churches will hold patriotic celebrations while millions of people will declare their love for "God and country." There will even be crosses draped with American flags. This is profoundly wrong, and in some instances it is even idolatrous.

That is not to say that it is wrong for Christians to love their country. Indeed, it is right. When Jesus told a questioner to "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's" (Mark 12:17), He was speaking directly to a question about the duty to pay taxes; however, the statement would also apply to the notion of rendering appreciation for good government, including a government that acknowledges a right to worship freely. The Apostle Paul also expressed in an appropriate way his special love for those sharing his national identity when he spoke of his "heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel" (Rom. 10:1). Paul prayed especially fervently for the salvation of Israel because of the love derived from the common heritage that he had with that nation.

While Christians can, and often should, love their country, an allegiance to Christ and love for country are entirely different matters that would best be kept separate. Indeed, the all too common positioning of Christianity as a subset of American or western culture has damaged the standing of the Church both in the United States and abroad. The Kingdom of God has no borders -- it is composed of "every tribe and language and people and nation" (Rev. 5:9). While we must render to Caesar what belongs to him, we are also under obligation to render to God what is His. Our ultimate allegiances do not belong to any temporal government or nation, but to the eternal Kingdom of the "King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God" "who loved us and gave himself for us" (I Tim. 1:17 and Eph. 5:2).

In the 5th century, as the Roman Empire reached its conclusion with the sacking of Rome by the Visigoths, St. Augustine wrote his powerful treatise, "The City of God." Contrasting the eternal city of God with the temporary cities of man, Augustine made clear that the ultimate dependence of believers was on the former, which would not and could not fail. This was an important message to believers in an era in which the Church had become overly dependent upon and identified with Rome and needed to be reminded that the destruction of Rome did not portend the destruction of the Church.

Christians can and should be thankful for the United States of America, but we should never think that our ultimate dependencies and hopes lie with the nation. Demographic, fiscal, and cultural realities facing the western world may or may not lead us to a place where we need to learn the same lesson that Augustine taught to his followers. Regardless, believers gathering in churches must remember that we seek a Kingdom "whose builder and founder is God" (Heb. 11:10).


Anonymous Eric Holcombe said...

While I have in the past participated in (and enjoyed the appeal to patriotism) in these types of "services", I have much the same opinion as you do today. There is a problem with mixing the principles of God (honoring the hoary head, respect for life, memorials) with honoring a nation - a kingdom of men. These were often times of grief for me as I considered what our country has become and what it has left behind - though I reject the notion that America was/is a "Christian Nation". I am not sure there is such a thing.

It would be wise for Christians in America to consider if they were living in a more persecuted environment such as China or North Korea. Would as much emphasis be put on patriotism or what they would call their nation then (non-Christian? Heathen?) and would it would be worshiped as the Koreans are called to worship their leader?

10:37 AM  

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