CHRISTIANITY AND AMERICA
Yesterday, I voted in the SC Primary (and proudly wore my “I Voted” sticker). Having just moved a few months earlier, my wife and I enjoyed going to our new polling precinct to exercise our right as a citizen of South Carolina and the Republic of the United States of America. Just a few weeks ago, America celebrated Memorial Day, honoring those who have served in our military and have given their life in that service. In less than a month, we will celebrate the 242nd birthday of this great republic. All of these occasions spark discussions of citizenship, patriotism, and where our country is headed. So, what does this mean to us, as Christians who live in the United States? Does it matter at all? Do Christians have “divided loyalties” between God and country? Does faith matter in politics? Should a Christian be “political”? Ultimately, what does it mean for a follower of Christ to be a good citizen?
I was born and raised in a small town in rural South Carolina during the Vietnam War, the beginning of the “sexual revolution”, and Watergate. My Dad was a WW II veteran, my mother taught Civics (and Spanish), and my house was literally just over a mile from where the sovereign state of South Carolina met in December of 1860 to secede from the United States and begin the Civil War. I also taught American Government and U.S. History for 20 years in the public school system… so I was “doomed” to have an interest in politics. But, what does Scripture really say about how a follower of Christ should conduct himself in the politically charged culture we live in today? After all, as believers in Jesus Christ, the Scripture is the sole authority in our lives. Agreed, the following thoughts will not answer all these questions and some (maybe many) will disagree with the assessment given; but I believe it is important to address a few misconceptions I have observed (and been a part of) in the Church over the past few decades.
THE SOVEREIGN GOD
Romans 13 gives great practical instruction as to what a believer’s relationship should be with the government. Romans 13:1-7 plainly instructs Christians to submit to the governmental authorities, because they have been placed in that position by God. According to this Scripture, my allegiance to specific government officials is not determined by whether or not I voted for the individual, their political party, or their platform of beliefs. My allegiance is determined by Scripture and my submission to the Almighty God and NOT my political preferences. Jesus bluntly informs Pilate of this in John 19:7, when he tells Pilate that the only authority he (Pilate) has is what God has given him. In this passage we have the Messiah submitting to an evil mortal human, who will summarily order his execution! Hence, I believe my submission to a President, Governor, or Congressman from a rival political party is a mute point.
AMERICA: THE FAVORED ONE?
One popular misconception in the American Church is the “special status” of the United States in Scripture. Scripture clearly gives no mention of the United States and certainly not as the favored one of God. That statement maybe shocking to some, but according to Scripture, it is true. Many have been guilty of taking passages spoken to the nation of Israel and applying them to America. This is poor hermeneutics or biblical interpretation. Other passages address Israel in a spiritual context, which would include the redeemed. Of course, many Americans would be in this number, as well as Chinese, Russians, Koreans, Kenyans, etc. Yet, Scripture speaks of no favored status for the USA as a nation or political entity. Understand, this is not an anti-American stance… it is simply a biblical one.
This gets to the heart of being a “good citizen”. Ultimately we are strangers and aliens to this world (Ephesians 2:19), whether that is America, China, Algeria, North Korea, or anywhere else on planet earth. As the Apostle Paul states in the above referenced passage, once we are born again, we become citizens of the household of God… this is great news! This great proclamation does not exempt us from service in the culture where God has planted us. On the contrary, our sovereign God has specifically placed us exactly where we are, so we can be used to glorify him (Psalm 139:13-16; Acts 17:26). We are all blessed to have been born in America, where the Gospel is readily available and under no real threat of being made a crime to speak it, as it is in many countries of the world. We do have an obligation to be loyal citizens of our town, state, and country. Ultimately, we should do this better than anybody else, because we are representing our God and his kingdom. Yet, our ultimate citizenship is in heaven and the Kingdom of God… not America. In a politically charged culture, such as 2018 America, it is important to remember to be a “good citizen of the United States”, but only God is worthy to be worshipped. We must be careful that our citizenship and patriotism does not become nationalism, worship, and idolatry. Scripture gives sound instruction on how to prevent this.
TURN OUR THOUGHTS TOWARD ETERNITY
So, what does it mean for a Christian in America to be a good citizen without committing idolatry? I believe it means the same thing that being a good citizen in Niger, China, or the Sudan. It means submitting to the desires and purposes of Jesus Christ and looking toward eternity. Given, it is much easier to do that in Woodruff, SC, Topeka, KS. or even San Fransisco, CA. than it is in Syria, but the same rules apply. As a fellow believer and the pastor of GPBC, I urge you to know that our ultimate allegiance is to Jesus Christ and the promise of a new world. We are strangers and aliens to this world. Live for ETERNITY! I confess that the trappings of the American lifestyle make that hard to do, but that is what our Lord COMMANDS us to do. Yes, be a good citizen in America. Vote, pay taxes, enjoy the freedoms of speech, religion, and choosing the candidate you desire; but don’t fall prey to the distortions of the first century Jewish establishment: attempting to make God into a political savior, so we can enjoy the favor of the government. Christians in America may face a day where we endure persecution, hardship, financial ruin, even death, just because we follow Christ. Our brothers and sisters around the world and throughout history have already experienced this. Jesus himself explained this in John 15:18-20. Realize that we ultimately are strangers and aliens to this world. We have the promise of something far greater coming! As the Apostle Paul said, “…let’s set our minds on eternity” Colossians 3:1-6!
For His glory,