In recent social issues, the concern of a Christian’s involvement and devotion to their country has been a recurring theme. From kneeling for the National Anthem, to immigration, to refugees, it’s not uncommon to hear from fellow believers our loyalty is to God and His kingdom, not the United States. There are some who think of America as a country with a rich history of freedom now threatened by dangerous political ideas. The truth is, America never has been perfect and never will be, but that is beside the point; nothing on this earth will ever be perfect. The real question is: can a nation with a checkered past of hypocrisy and sin glorify God?
Frequently, Jesus’ high priestly prayer is referenced as to why Christians should avoid undue loyalty to the US: “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (John 17:14). To be in the world, but not of the world is much easier said than done. How involved is too involved? My fear in light of this difficulty is the phrase “not of this world” has become a moral bludgeon by those who find patriotic displays distasteful. While this tends to be in response to Christians who appear to put patriotism over piety, the response to one extreme should never be another extreme; rather, we are called to proclaim the truth.
To claim Christians shouldn’t respect or love the country they live in because they belong to the kingdom of God is to deny Christ is making all things new. Abraham Kuyper wrote our beliefs as Christians should be manifested in the institutions of our nations. The relegation of Christ to kingship over the spiritual only, and not over the temporal also, is completely counter to the gospel. All authority has been given to Christ in heaven and on earth, and he has reconciled to himself all things by the cross of Calvary. It is in the spiritual realm the Holy Spirit softens and sanctifies men’s hearts, but it is in the temporal realm that men live, sin, and hear the call to be saved. The gospel is the good news of the Kingdom of God, not a therapeutic personal belief. It is too powerful to not affect the nations and institutions around believers.
God’s people belong ultimately to God’s kingdom, but every believer on earth dwells under governing authorities and nations. How must a believer reconcile these truths? Abraham Kuyper proclaimed “there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” God created this world, and before the Fall, he declared that it was good. In Genesis 1:28, God purposed mankind with going forth, multiplying and subduing the Earth: that is, building institutions and stewarding the earth — a mandate that continues despite the Fall. This doesn’t mean perfect nations, institutions, or people will dwell on this earth before Christ returns, but our commission is to “make straight the way for the Lord.” The kingdom of God is at hand, and we are meant to prepare for the coming King by transforming society and redeeming culture.
When you survey the Old Testament, God’s chosen people consistently turn their backs on God, yet God continuously redeems them. When the people of Israel were exiled in Babylon, Jeremiah writes, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7). This command might appall those who feel discriminated against and cheated by their country, but I would remind you God is Sovereign over the entire universe. The “welfare of the city” is not determined by the governing authorities of a nation. God is the only lawgiver, judge, and arbiter of goodness. Thus, as believers we seek to transform and redeem the environment Jesus has called us into, including nations and cultures, in preparation for the kingdom.
In my freshman year at Covenant, I remember hearing in Christian Mind that Americans tend to take 2 Chronicles 7:14 out of context: “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” God’s people are the Israelites, not Americans, I was told. And yet, I have always disagreed with this perspective. It’s not that I believe America is the new Israel, God’s chosen people. Rather, I believe our commission is to “make disciples of all nations,” including the US. While not every person will accept Christ as their savior, we must extend the gospel in hope that the Holy Spirit will move their hearts. I pray America will become a nation that turns to God and pursues Him. I would never venture to say this country is perfect, but I hope and pray in my lifetime I can bring this nation one step closer to following God’s will, not the whims of human authority.
God is sovereign over this nation, whether the US recognizes it or not. The purpose of the church within this country, and every country, is to seek its welfare, to pursue justice, and to advance the kingdom of Christ.