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Particulars of Christianity:
312 The Church Ethic

God Bless America: Patriotic Christianity

Christianity and War
Christianity and War (Continued)
God Bless America: Patriotic Christianity

It seems that now more than ever the phrase "God Bless America" has become a part of the everyday landscape. Turn on the TV or the radio and you'll hear it. Surf your favorite Christian news websites and you'll read it. Even drive down the street in your car and you'll probably see it several times on the bumper sticker of the car in front of you. It's a historic phrase that goes back a long way in this country. And it's a phrase expressed across the spectrum from Christians, to agnostics, to regular old-fashioned Patriots.

I don't know why, but in the wake of recent events, Christians seem more hopeful than ever about the possibility of bringing this nation back to God. Perhaps this hopefulness is underlined by the idea that times of crisis often bring us to moments of self-examination and personal reflection. And perhaps it is such a moment of national reflection that the American Christian community is thinking might trigger repentance in this country of ours.

This article is not one of those other editorials that you've probably seen recently where the author calls on America not to miss this final warning or opportunity to repent. No, this article is about a different perspective on the subject, one that questions that very American phrase: "God bless America."

Without question, the most alarming thing I have heard in the past few weeks is Christians who are grateful that "We have a president who's a believer, a Christian." I'm repeating this sentiment here only to point out the extent to which American Christians are willing to go in order to maintain hope for the Christianity and redemption of this nation as a nation, as a governmental institution and civil state.

Sometimes it seems we are ever-ready to rush in, willing to believe anything, any thread of hope, any prospect, no matter how slim the probability, because we're so desperate to see our country be a "Christian nation." Its almost as if we really believe America will become some sort of a theocracy. And sometimes I wonder who it is we are really hoping can be saved, our people or our country. Probably both.

How is it that American Christians have gotten their Christianity so mixed in with their Patriotism? When did the two become the same thing? Maybe for some it's always been that way but is it correct? Is it Biblical? I don't think so. I think it probably stems from the security we feel from thinking that God has a special relationship with this country. And in times like these, that thought becomes more reassuring as our security becomes less certain.

In reading and hearing all the Christian commentary in the passing weeks, it crossed my mind, not for the first time, but in the clearest terms. American Christians really believe that America is a nation in covenant with God in parallel with Israel of the Old Testament. This underlying premise is inherently implied by all of their comments and comparisons of our current status to Israel in the Old Testament.

And, in even clearer terms it hit me. American Christians really have their hope set on leading this country to God. And perhaps what's worse, they think they have a right to hope for this country's "salvation."

On this point I want to say that believing for the salvation of individual human beings is, of course, absolutely Biblical. But when such a belief gets extended to cover some national, governmental entity such as the United States of America, we immediately step out of the Biblical bounds.

Christians are often fond of quoting such passages as II Chronicles in this regard.

II Chronicles 7:14 "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land."

But whether or not we can actually apply such a passage to Christians living in America is entirely based on a presumption that America is comparable to the Old Testament nation of Israel. And on this point there can be no clearer error.

Israel was a nation instituted by God from its very beginnings with Abraham when God told him to leave his father's household in Genesis 12. But even more specifically, Israel emerged formally as a nation with the Covenant through Moses at Mount Sinai. God himself initiated this covenant. He gave them their laws. He set up their governing institutions. He inaugurated the Covenant by descending onto the Mountain and talking face to face with Moses.

And this Covenant inseparably linked the people of Israel as God's chosen people to these laws and to the land that God was giving them. In fact, the land was itself part of the Covenant that God was making with them. So, when we read in II Chronicles 7 that God would "heal their land," we're not talking about just any land that any godly person happens to be in. And we're not talking about a Covenant in which God gave any land to any man who believed in Him. No, the land spoken of here was the specific geographic area given to the people of Israel.

There is no sufficient reason to assume that this Covenant relationship extends to American Christians. Even if we assume the best case scenario that Patriotic Christians want us to believe, that all of the founding fathers were born-again Christians who formed this country for godly purposes, (a scenario which has much room for debate and skepticism), that would still not equal a situation parallel to Israel.

Consider the following. Godly men initiating a government based on godly principles found in God's word is not even in the same ballpark as God instituting a nation himself. We cannot even compare the two, let alone assume that all things pertaining to the latter (Israel) would automatically apply to the former (America).

God never gave any man the Covenant right to this North American land area. God never initiated or confirmed a Covenant with our founding fathers like he did by his descent upon Mount Sinai when he passed on the 10 commandments to Moses, the leader he had chosen. Israel was not a democracy.

And that brings up another point. Where did this notion come from that God loves democracies? God never set up a democracy. Israel was ruled by judges and prophets until they demanded a king in I Samuel. And when Jesus returns, he will rule the earth as a monarch with Israel as head of the nations. America will not be exalted right alongside Israel and Jesus is not going to set up democracies.

For now, in a world where Christ does not rule and the devil is not chained, a democracy is certainly the best form of government and the freedom inherent in it is certainly something Christians have benefited greatly from and should not take for granted. It is far better than the first few centuries AD under Rome or the middle ages under a brutal Roman Catholicism and its inquisition. But there is nothing inherently Christian or godly about democracy.

Let's look at what the New Testament has to say about the love of one's country.

Hebrews 11:8 By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. 9 By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: 10 For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God...
13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. 14 For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. 15 And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. 16 But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.

1. Those who call themselves Christians but place their hope in this country have forgotten they are but pilgrims here. If they continue to look to an earthly country for their hope, they place themselves in great danger, not only of deception, but of disillusionment, which can lead to loss of faith.

Ephesians 2:12 That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:...
19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;

2. Spiritually speaking, Christians do not have their Covenant with God with America (or any other country) apart from Israel. Israel, not America, is our spiritual citizenship.

Acts 22:24 The chief captain commanded him to be brought into the castle, and bade that he should be examined by scourging; that he might know wherefore they cried so against him. 25 And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said unto the centurion that stood by, Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned? 26 When the centurion heard that, he went and told the chief captain, saying, Take heed what thou doest: for this man is a Roman. 27 Then the chief captain came, and said unto him, Tell me, art thou a Roman? He said, Yea. 28 And the chief captain answered, With a great sum obtained I this freedom. And Paul said, But I was free born. 29 Then straightway they departed from him which should have examined him: and the chief captain also was afraid, after he knew that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him. 30 On the morrow, because he would have known the certainty wherefore he was accused of the Jews, he loosed him from his bands, and commanded the chief priests and all their council to appear, and brought Paul down, and set him before them.

3. Yes, Paul was a citizen of Rome and he exercised those rights to ensure his freedom to practice Christianity. But Paul's love was not for Rome, and so he had no particular hope in the conversion of the Roman Empire out of any love for it or patriotism toward it as American Christians do toward this country. Paul knew his hope was not in any earthly kingdom until the return of Christ and the formal establishment of Christ's rule on earth.

In fact, there is nothing in the entire New Testament that advocates or approves of Christians setting up governments or nations, overthrowing tyranical governments, or militarily resisting such forces. At the most, Christians hid underground in catacombs and they escaped over city walls as Paul did at Damascus. And when necessary they fled to new places, spreading the Gospel as they went but they never once tried to set up or overthrow a government. And American Christians should think about that.

I Corinthians 7:20 Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him. 21 Were you a slave when you were called? Don't let it trouble you--although if you can gain your freedom, do so.

Here in 1 Corinthians 7, we find instructions concerning what to do if we are slaves. It would not seem to make much of a difference whether we are slaves to a master or slaves to a king. If we are slaves, we are instructed not to be concerned with becoming free, although if we have the opportunity, we should accept it. This hardly seems like a justification to obtain our freedom by force, by revolt, or even by revolution. What mandate do we have from the scripture to do such things? None. And the fact that the Bible tells us not to participate in such activities demonstrates that campaigns such as the Crusades were unbiblical and wrong. Further proof of this can be found extensively in Romans 13.

Romans 13:1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. 2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: 4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. 5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. 6 For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are Godís ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. 7 Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

What is so amazing about the instructions in this passage is that it was written regarding, not a representative republic like America, but under the military dictatorship of Rome. It was of such rulers as those that Paul wrote "the powers that be are ordained of God" and "Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due." From the first verse Paul clearly establishes the principle "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God." and "Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God."

And we see this in the history of the early Church. They were persecuted and tortured to death. They were put in arenas, eaten by wild animals, and burned alive. Yet they did not view any of these things as justification for revolt against Rome. Hebrews 11:8-14 explains why when it tells us that we are but pilgrims here, not seeking to establish a kingdom here.

Clearly the early Church understood what Paul's words meant in both of these passages. As did Paul himself who was both imprisoned and put to death for his faith. Under a corrupt tyranical government, Christians only have two choices, submit and be persecuted or flee. Revolt against repressive authority to correct the problem is not an option.

And what did Jesus say? Jesus twice said to submit, even to unfair taxes. In Matthew 17, Jesus specifically tells Peter to pay the taxes even though from the point of view of spiritual truth, they were not obligated to do so.

Matthew 17:24 And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute? 25 He saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers? 26 Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free. 27 Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee.

Matthew 22:17 Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? 18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? 19 Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. 20 And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? 21 They say unto him, Caesar's. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.

Certainly, Rome was not a democratic government and so its taxes would not have been in accordance with representation. Yet, according to Jesus we ought to pay such taxes.

The bottom line for Christians today is that, like Paul, we should exercise our rights in order to protect ourselves and our freedom to worship God (Acts 22-23). But, like Abraham, we should not be looking to America as a hope for an earthly Christian country. In I Timothy 2:1-3, we are told to pray for our leaders. In Romans 13, we're told to respect and honor their authority unless of course, that authority directly infringes upon our faithfulness to God. Certainly Christians are not to obey the antichrist. But we should not stretch this exception to accommodate any disagreement we have with government.

But most importantly at all, American Christians should remember that this nation has no Covenant with God and we, as Christians, have no spiritual citizenship other than our spiritual citizenship in Israel. Anything else is a wishful delusion.

We understand that even though these points are Biblically clear to the point of being self-evident, most American Christians will be offended by the very thought of them. This will be true especially of the older generations. Generation X and those younger than us have been sufficiently denationalized by the modern media and sufficiently disillusioned with this country in some ways despite how good we've had it. So, its easier for those of us who are younger to divorce Christianity from Patriotism.

However, those who reject the notions we have presented here should be careful. To mistake American Patriotism as synonymous with Christianity is to reject the teaching of the New Testament and to drastically twist the Old Testament. In the New Covenant described in the book of Hebrews, God did NOT replace Jews with Gentiles. According to Romans 11, through Christ, we Gentiles were simply added to the Jewish tree. In the New Covenant, God did not replace Israel with America. America, as great as it has been and as blessed as Christians have been to live in this country, is just another secular institution. It is not a nation in covenant with God.

So, the next time you hear someone say, "God bless America," make sure you pause to think about why they're saying that and what underlying premises contribute to that statement. Yes, we hope God does bless this country and every other country to the benefit of those who believe. But we do not believe God has any special relationship with this American country and government. Such a notion is completely unscriptural. And we believe such a delusion will be very dangerous for Christians in the coming years if the tide of history continues to move toward the worst of human tendencies. If the antichrist and his empire should arise in this generation, Woe to those who confuse their country and their Christianity. They will be in great danger of being deceived or disillusioned. A great falling away has been prophesied for the last days (II Thessalonians 2:2-3).

We leave American Christians with this to think about.

Hebrews 11:13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. 14 For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. 15 And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. 16 But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.

Ephesians 2:12 That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:...
19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;

We are American citizens, and as such we should be good citizens as the Bible tells us. But we are no longer cut off from the commonwealth of Israel. Spiritually, we are no longer foreigners from Israel but if we look back to America, our natural homeland, we will have the opportunity "to return to it," so to speak. Let us instead put our faith not in a Christian America but in the returning Christ. Let us look, not to this country, but for a better country, a heavenly kingdom that will one day be here on earth as well as in Heaven (Matthew 6:10, Revelation 11:15).

Revelation 11:15 And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.

Christ's return, not America's redemption and not a Christianized American government, is our ONLY hope of a Christian country on earth. Let's not be deceived. There are Christians in every country on the face of the earth. This country has no special relationship with God. Many in America have confused their faith and their Patriotism. It is our belief that in the end, hope for this country and devotion to it will prove to be an effective distraction that leads to the downfall and even the falling away of many American Christians.