If you have been reading my blog posts this week you know because of the 4th of July holiday I have focused may of my posts on the USA and freedom. I am starting off my blog post today with a blog from one of my favorite missionologist, Michael Frost. My comments will follow.
“I don’t love my country.
There, I said it.
I’m a citizen of Australia, a relatively peaceful, prosperous, liberal democracy with a pleasant climate, kangaroos, beautiful beaches and an impressive opera house.
I’m grateful for the considerable benefits my citizenship brings. I’d rather be Australian than Syrian or North Korean or South Sudanese. I cheer enthusiastically for our national rugby team and politely explain to Americans how Australia and New Zealand are different countries and why being Australian is better.
But I don’t love my country.
(I don’t even really think it’s better to be an Australian than a New Zealander).
In fact, whenever I allow myself to give into those tribal inclinations to defend my country as better than any other I can’t sense the Holy Spirit behind that at all.
It’s tribalism. It’s factionalism. It’s divisiveness and superiority. It deceives me into overlooking the racism and injustice perpetrated in my country’s name and to focus on flimsy and ill-defined definitions of my national “character”.
And yet so many Christians appear to equate national loyalty with faithfulness to God.
Billy Sunday, the most celebrated and influential American evangelist during the first two decades of the 20th century, once wrote, “Christianity and Patriotism are synonymous terms, and hell and traitors are synonymous.”
It’s a trap, surely, to confuse the Christian faith with the religion of American patriotism.
Remember, the term patriotism derives from the root word, patris, meaning “fatherland”. Surely, those of us who put our faith in Christ accept that our Father is God, not our nation.
And before you go saying the Bible teaches we should be patriotic, it doesn’t!
Sure, in Romans 13 Paul calls on the church to be subject to political authority. And when writing to Titus, he explains that the Roman Empire is a strange blessing in that it keeps the peace and allows the church to flourish: “…remind them (the believers at Crete) to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed.” (Titus 3:1)
Moreover, Paul not only commends obedience to authorities, but also that we pray for them. I Timothy 2:1-2 states,
“First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quite life in all godliness and dignity.”
It could be argued that to pray for someone is to love them, but note that Paul’s motivations in Romans 13, Titus 3 and 1 Tim 2 are all somewhat self-serving. He doesn’t want Christians to become enemies of the state because it will impede the spread of the gospel.
I can’t distil from any of these passages the least inclination in Paul that the early Christians should love the empire and feel patriotic about their citizenship in it.
In fact, Paul’s injunctions to live at peace in the empire sound more like the prophet Jeremiah’s advice to the Babylonian exiles. When the Israelites were conquered by their mortal enemy and forcibly repatriated as hostage-slaves to Babylon, God encouraged them to live at peace on foreign soil:
“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters …. Increase in number there; do not decrease” (Jer. 29:5-6).
But more than that, God tells them to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jer. 29:7).
Far from promoting patriotism, both Paul and Jeremiah appear to be liberating the people of God from it, telling them they can make our home anywhere. In other words, it is the duty of the people of God to seek stability, peace, and prosperity wherever they go. This includes supporting the nation in which we live, but not loving it.
Polycarp, a 2nd Century bishop, was martyred for his faith around AD156. He was aged in his mid 80s by then and much loved by all who knew him. Even the soldiers tasked with his execution wanted to offer him a way out. They told him all he had to do to avoid being burned at the stake was to light incense to the Emperor and declare, “Caesar is lord.” But Polycarp refused: “Eighty-six years I have served Christ, and he never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”
That was awfully unpatriotic of him.
I take David Gushee’s point that because gratitude is an important Christian quality, we do well to show our thankfulness to God for the opportunity to live in free and prosperous nations (for him, the US, and me, Australia). Okay, but is that the same a loving my country?
For those of us in Christ, our citizenship is in the kingdom of God. Any nationality we adopt is only provisional. This is Paul’s view, as best I can figure it out. He drew heavily on the benefits of Roman citizenship without ever investing his identity in it.
Likewise, we can’t focus our identities around being American or Australian, British or South African, as if this means anything in the eternal scheme of things. Otherwise we fall into the idolatry of patriotism, believing that any one nation’s or people’s cause is more worthy than another’s. That kind of thing only leads to bloodshed and suffering.
I think it’s fun when on national holidays we eat provincial cuisine and watch local sports and recall our nation’s history and give thanks for the advantages our citizenship affords us. And I think it’s beautiful when the followers of Jesus can bow their heads on such days and recall they have been set free from parochialism and condescension, racism and militarism, and can thank God their citizenship is in a coming kingdom of justice, reconciliation, wholeness and peace.” (Michael Frost)
My comments: The first church I pastored was small country church and the majority of them were senior citizens. When I walked I the church I noticed they had pictures of members and family members of the church who were veterans hanging on the wall along the back and side of the church. They had hung them there one year for a Memorial Day service and ever took them down. In the front of the church behind the prayer rail and altar to the right of the cross that hung in the center of the front wall, stood a large American flag on a pole in a brass stand. I was appointed tot the church in June and I was only there a few weeks when I led my first service during the July 4th. I can still remember the opening hymn for that service that Sunday was “Amazing Grace.” A powerful hymn and a popular hymn, and the congregation sat in their pews as they sung it, most from memory, looking around at their neighbors and the woman leading the singing. Because it was the July Fourth Sunday, the next hymn they sang was “God Bless America.” Ad as soon as the sweet lady behind the piano began playing the melody of the song, the whole atmosphere in the church changed to, I hate to say it, one of deep reverence and importance. The whole congregation left their pew seats and stood up. They placed their hands over their hearts, stopped glancing at their neighbors, their eyes focused forward on the American Flag up front, and they sang louder and with more passion to this song than they did to the great hymn of the faith before it. And I remember thinking to myself, if somehow it was possible for someone to walk into that church who knew nothing about Christianity or the USA; maybe someone from outer space who had no idea what the cross or the American flag meant. And they simply observed the church service and the congregation and its worship; Who or what would they perceive as the reason the church was gathered and the main focus their worship was directed towards? It would not be the cross and what ever it stood for, but the American Flag and what it stood for.
Or if a person from another country attended that church with the veteran’s pictures on the wall and flag up front, how comfortable would they be in that service?
This troubled me. Now being a pastor and only at that church a few weeks, I knew that If I pointed this out to them, was critical of it, and ordered the removal of the American Flag from up front and the taking down of the pictures of the veterans from the walls, it would be suicidal to my ministry there. So Prayed, Loved the congregations, and waited until I had enough ethos and a relationship with them to make a point. When Christmas came, the ladies of the church set up a large and beautiful nativity scene in the front of the church near the altar. One Sunday morning before the service, I took a small American flag, and I stood it up in the nativity seen behind the manger that baby Jesus was laying in surrounded by Mary and Joseph. As the ladies who set up the nativity scene and the congregations came in that morning, they saw the nativity scene and the flag stuck in it and they complained to me and said, “Why did you put that American flag there? Jesus was not American. The flag does not belong there.” I said, ”Exactly!” And motioned with my head to the flag at the front of the church.
"Then God spoke all these words, saying,“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:1-5)
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