A Struggle: Patriotism and the Gospel

I don’t want to be anti-American.  There are good things about living in the United States, some of which are privileges that don’t exist in many other nations.  Yet I struggle with the patriotism that is celebrated and expected of me if I am to be a “good” American.  I struggle not because I don’t like the United States or because I’m trying to be anti-American but because I believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I believe that it is God and God alone who “has set us free from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Col 1.13).  Though there are many great things about the American story, it is still a story in contestation with the redemptive story of God.  That makes the American story a different “good news” (gospel) than that of Jesus Christ.

Of course, we don’t typically think about the American story in this manner.  If we did, I believe as Christians we would face a much more pressing choice between which story (gospel) we want to honor, believe in, and live for.  But it is what it is and the fact that the gospel of Jesus Christ has been quarantined into a privatized sphere of life called religion that increasingly has nothing to do with the rest of the American life (economics, politics, morality, etc…) tells us just how successful the American story has been in contestation with the story of God.

But can’t the two stories be compatible?  I wish it were so but I struggle to see how this is possible.  The story of God is the one told in and throughout scripture.  It tells the story of God who is creating a new humanity, a new nation, the church (cf. Eph 2.15ff; 1 Pet 1.9) which is founded upon Jesus Christ and therefore is neither identified nor divided by any nation, tribe, religion, or ethnicity.  Thus to combine the story of God with the story of any nation, tribe, religion, or ethnic heritage is syncretistic (the melding of two or more set of beliefs and ways of life).  Further more, to collapse the two stories into one is still to create a different story than the one which is told by scripture, the story of God which we have been made a part of.  Just imagine trying to collapse the story of America and Russia into one story.  It would still be a story but would it really be the American story, or the Russian story?

The truth is, it seems that just as we can only serve one master so also can we only live one story.  I would never burn a flag, wish ill upon the United States (or any other nation for that matter), or be intentionally disrespectful of the nation’s civil and military servants.  But I’m trying to live for the story of God because it’s the one story I believe holds true freedom, our redemption in Christ and I increasingly find it difficult to simultaneously live out the story of God and the story of America.

And so I struggle.  I struggle when I hear patriotic songs and I struggle when I watch patriotic festivities.  I struggle because they tell a different story than the story I am trying to tell in my life–the story of God–and claim glory which belongs to God and God alone.

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To be fair in the pursuit of truth and gospel, I am linking to a very well written post by Tim Spivey titled “Patriotism and the Christian” stating why Christians can be Patriotic.  You can view that post here.

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18 responses to “A Struggle: Patriotism and the Gospel

  1. well-said, and much more tactful that my post for tomorrow.
    thanks

  2. Bro. Rex, Taking God out of our country is the PROBLEM, –NOT the SOLUTION! Where are you getting this stuff? –dc

    • Don,

      Read the post again, carefully. This is about the way in which patriotism is often an act of idolatry because it calls for the patriot to give honor and devotion to the nation while living for the purpose of the nation…rather than giving honor and devotion to God alone while living for the purpose of God (the gospel). Thus patriotism becomes a civil religion. So this isn’t about removing God from the nation. Rather, it’s about removing the nation (it’s dream and purpose) from the church so that the people who make up the church will live for the mission of God rather than the mission of the nation.

      As for where this view comes from…The Bible. This also was the basic view held by the early Christians for nearly the first four centuries until the so-called conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine in 387 AD (I would say it is more like Constantine converted the church to Romanism) and it is also a view widely held among Christian groups with Anabaptist roots (e.g., Mennonite) which to some extent includes the Restoration Movement (as this basic view was held by most people in the Churches of Christ up until WWI and is beginning to find acceptance among members of the CoC again).

      Sometime, if you wish, I’d be happy to sit down with you and show you from the Bible why I believe this view is thoroughly biblical.

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

      • Rex, Read Romans 13:1-7 which discusses this very subject. Then read the Bible study notes from any good study Bible.
        From the NIV:
        Submission to the Authorities: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrong-doer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: if you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, than revenue; if respect, than respect; if honor, than honor.
        Study Notes: 13:1 ‘submit’. A significant word in vv. 1-7. ‘governing authorities.’ The civil rulers, all of whom were probably pagans at the time Paul was writing. Christians may have been tempted not to submit to them and to claim allegiance only to Christ. ‘established by God’ Even the possibility of a persecuting state did not shake Paul’s conviction that civil government is ordained by God (see 1Pe 2:13-17 and notes. 13:2 ‘judgment.’ Either divine judgment or, more likely, punishment by the governing authorities, since v.3 {“For”}explains this verse; see also v.4.
        13:3 ‘do what is right and he will commend you.’ Paul is not stating that this will always be true but is describing the proper, ideal function of rulers. When civil rulers overstep their proper function, the Christian is to obey God rather than human authorities (see Ac 4:19; 5:29). 13:4 ‘he is God’s servant.’ In the order of divine providence the ruler is God’s servant (see Isa 45:1 and note). ‘good.’ Rulers exist for the benefit of society–to protect the general public by maintaining good order. ‘sword.’ The symbol of Roman authority on both the national and the international levels. Here we find the Biblical principle of using force for the maintenance of good order. 13:5 ‘because of conscience.’ Civil authorities are ordained by God, and in order to maintain a good conscience Christians must duly honor them. 13:6 ‘you pay taxes.’ Because rulers are God’s agents, who function for the benefit of society in general.

  3. Yes, similar thoughts this season. Back 15 years ago my wife had a mini-vision. America was above us like a blimp and we were tethered to it with cords, and the cords were breaking off one by one. If there ever was an American exceptionalism- it was because there was a generation of men took very seriously the Gospel, and God shed His grace upon us. Much of my adult life has involved the Lord unplugging me from an attempted devotion both to His Kingdom and the American dream. We cannot serve two Masters. The double-minded man is unstable in all His ways. We attended a 4th celebration at Georgia’s Stone Mountain- full of American icons; there was a cross in there, but it was just one icon amongst many, a sort of Civil Religion sort of Cross. American individualism strengthens one pole of human personality made in the image of the Trinity but neglects the impulse for unity that comes from the Threeness-in-Oneness in whose Image we are made. So, we find ourselves, living in this nation not of it. Loving the people, atttempting to strengthen the good things that remain, and present an ageless Gospel before it passed through a narrowing and distorting prism alien to its light. Lord have mercy.

    • I think “civil religion” is a very appropriate description of patriotism and why, at the very least, Christians ought to be very suspicious of it since we have committed ourselves to the exclusive worship of the one living God.

      Any ways, I also like how you describe how we are living in the nation but not of it by saying “So, we find ourselves, living in this nation not of it. Loving the people, atttempting to strengthen the good things that remain, and present an ageless Gospel before it passed through a narrowing and distorting prism alien to its light.” That’s a great way of putting it.

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

  4. We should be thinking and praying how we can be the light and salt of the earth, on getting God back into our government, and standing up to the evil forces set out on destroying our God and our country, –and not trying to run away from it in apathy! Jesus told us to go and make desciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Stand firm, wearing and using the full armour of God. (See Eph.6:11; 2 Cor. 6:7). There is a war going on in heavenly places between good and evil, (Eph.1:3; Rev.12:7). Our Mission is clear, and the harvest is ripe, but the workers are few. Faith, hope and love are living fruit, the result of worshiping God in Spirit and in Truth. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the WORD OF GOD. We are saved by grace through faith, and not of ourselves, lest any man should boast.

    • Don,

      This is about being salt and light. Can Christians be the salt and light of the gospel if the gospel story has been drowned out by the American story (or any other story for that matter)? So the view I am wrestling with actually takes very serious the maxim “be in the world but not of the world.”

      As for Romans 13, i’m familiar with the passage. Thank God the founding fathers of America were not, lest they take seriously the command to submit to governing authorities and realize that leading a violent revolution against the governing authorities is unbiblical, sinful, and forbidden conduct for those who call Jesus their Lord. (just a bit of sarcasm). Seriously though, I do believe we ought to be law-abiding citizens who pay our taxes (as I do) whether we agree with the way the taxes are used or not. But remember, Romans 13 is not the only passage dealing with the way Christians ought to relate to the nation they live in. Read the book of Revelation, especially Revelation 18. “Fallen is Babylon the Great… Come our of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues…”

      If you really want to read a well written book that presents why this view is really a very biblical way, read Lee C. Camp, “Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World,” Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2003. Lee Camp is a member of a Church of Christ and is a Professor of Bible and Christian Ethics at Lipscomb University (affiliated with the Churches of Christ).

      Any ways, we can disagree on this issue and still be brothers in Christ.

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

  5. you gotta raise the cross higher than the flag. you gotta trust Jesus the king before you trust in democracy. you gotta be a citizen of the Kingdom before your service to an earthly country.

    our politics won’t save us. only Jesus can do that.

  6. Good thoughts, brother. I share your struggle.

    Peace to you,

    Daniel

  7. Rex,

    I think you know that I feel the same struggle. And I’ll confess that I’m wearying a bit. Wouldn’t it be easier to just wave the flag, say “rah, rah, USA” and be loved by all?

    I’m sorely tempted to take the blue pill.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  8. Rex, Now what? I can’t read my typing, black against black. Have you cancelled me out? Yes; we are at opposite ends here. Who ever contemplated putting country over God? We are supposed to be making a difference, not running away. Your logic here is really far out. I think maybe you have been reading too many books of men, to be influenced so. Do you also agree with the garbage that is being taught now in our public schools? Black letters against a black background. I guess your mind is made up, and no longer wish to debate, so we will just have to settle on agreeing to disagree. God bless, –dc

    • Don,

      I didn’t cancel any of your comments out and I checked the spam folder and none were there, so I don’t know what you are talking about.

      Any ways, maybe it’s your mind that is already made up because you are the only commenter to not understand my argument (evidenced by your continued miss-stating of what I’m actually saying).

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

  9. Okay Rex, Peace. I can’t read as I type because it is still coming up as black against black. I can che ck it by highlighting it every now and then, but it is almost impossible to edit or write. I don’t believe that either one of us wants to continue down this road, so I will let it rest. Howerver, needless to say, I think this article was highly negative and inappropriate to publish in our church bullitin on the Independance day weekend.. Peace and grace. ‘see you in church worship services. –dc

  10. I share your struggle. I’m a pastor and an Army Reserve Chaplain and I feel that Christians too often link patriotism with faith. If you care to see my thoughts about it I wrote this: http://chrislinzey.wordpress.com/2013/07/03/patriotism-vs-faith/

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