By Teresa Wheeler
A subject that has been on my mind and heart lately, and one that I believe to be an issue to anyone in the church in America, is that of reconciling being a Christian with being an American. Apart from the natural pride in one’s country, there seems to be a pervasive attitude among Christians, that this country, with the religious freedom it affords, the fact that it is considered a predominately “Christian” nation, that it was founded on “Christian values”, that it promotes “justice” and “truth” (while some other nations of the world could be construed as “evil”), is somehow special, worthy of preserving and protecting.
As Christians, and as citizens of the United States, how should we view our country? How does patriotism fit into our Christian walk?
This subject is huge. And hugely controversial.
Along the lines of this topic, I had one particular instance of answered prayer that has shaped my perspective. On the evening of September 11th, 2001, we met with some friends to hear President Bush’s televised response to the horror of that day. In the midst of the President’s address, and our conversations, I felt incredibly confused, and I consequently excused myself to pray.
I had a million questions running through my head.
‘God, you allowed these horrible terrorist attacks. They were obviously within Your will. So why did they happen? Was it a punishment? A call to repentance?
As the leader of this country, President Bush has declared war on the enemy. But how can he, as a Christian, resolve to murder the enemy? Lord, aren’t You our Avenger? Or, in the case of a government, have you given this right to men?
And what about me personally as a Christian in this country? Can I stand up as an intercessor, as Abraham did? Can this nation be “reclaimed” for You? Was it ever Yours in the first place?
Lord, what is Your will on these matters?!?’
I instantaneously was given an answer. It was within my mind, but outside of my own thoughts. I knew it was Him: “America has had its chance, and now it is too late. Don’t concern yourself with the politics of the day. Your citizenship is in Heaven. Your allegiance is to Me. In the end, this country and all others will come to nothing, and all knees will bow to Me. It is My will that this be accomplished. Do not be distracted!”
I understood this to mean that the time for intercession was over. As Lot and his family were directed, it was time for me to turn my back and remove my heart from this country, because this country will ultimately falter.
This has been my blanket approach to war and politics over the last few years. However, I’ve had to revisit my beliefs just recently in response to some growing trends in the Christian community. Was this message specifically for me for that moment in time? Or was it a warning that might be relevant and true for others as well?
I have been greatly concerned that there seems to be a popular movement within the Christian community to involve itself in the government of the land. And often the rallying cry is to restore all things to the original intent of the founding fathers (who, I might add, seem to get the same respect as the patriarchs of the Bible). I receive emails each week, that urge Christians to become politically active when it comes to issues such as prayer in school, removal of the Ten Commandments from public display, doing away with “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, and “In God We Trust” from the dollar bill. We even have religious leaders calling for assassinations of foreign Heads of State and Christian organizations lobbying within the government as the “voice of God” for political reform.
It strikes me as an unholy union.
A country such as China, with droves of new converts, is a perfect example that God doesn’t need the cooperation of men’s government to accomplish His tasks. So why are we so bent on reforming and preserving a faltering human institution? Or perhaps our hearts, our sense of security, our religion, and our entire identities are tightly wrapped up in this package called “America”.
God gives us some instruction concerning the nature of our relationship with men’s governments. Firstly, He wants us to know that He Himself sets up the kingdoms of men and He tears them down according to His will (Dan.2:21, 37-38; 4:17, 25-26). Secondly, He says that He appoints all of the governments and authorities that exist on this earth and that we, as Christians, should therefore willingly submit ourselves to them.
“Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake.” (Rom. 13:1-5).
Yes, God appoints the governments that exist on this earth, as His ministers of justice, and He directs us, as Christians, to be subject to them just as foreign ambassadors and emissaries are subject to the laws of their host country. However, the country that we are currently residing in is NOT OUR COUNTRY! Our citizenship is in Heaven, not on earth. The Bible says that we are ambassadors for Jesus Christ (II Cor. 5:20). We represent another country and a different Kingdom. Notice these verses:
Jesus said, “My Kingdom is not of this world. If My Kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight [resist]…” (John 18:36)
“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 3:20)
“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him, who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.”
(I Peter 2:9)
No ambassador representing another country or kingdom partakes in the host country’s political and/or military affairs. That is none of their business or concern. Like our spiritual forefathers before us, we are to consider ourselves pilgrims and strangers on this earth dwelling on foreign soil.
“These [the Biblical patriarchs and matriarchs] all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had been mindful of that country from which they had come out of, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them” (Heb. 11:13-16) – the New Jerusalem – the holy city, “whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:10; Rev. 21:2).
As was already mentioned above, although we are not citizens of this country in which we reside, we nonetheless are commanded to obey the laws of the land. However, when there is conflict between the laws of our host country and the laws of our King, we are further instructed to adhere to our King’s laws instead of man’s laws. For we are told that “we ought to obey God rather than men” in such cases (Acts 5:29).
“Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men – as free, yet not using your liberty as a cloak for vice, but as servants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the King.” (I Peter 2:13-17)
“I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (I Timothy 2:1-5)
God says that peace and quiet in the land is good. However, God’s instruction to us to achieve this is to lift up prayers, supplications, intercessions, and thanksgivings to Him. Not by using human means such as political threats, boycotting, and petition drives. We are also reminded that there is but one Mediator between God and men, that being Christ Jesus. Christ, therefore, is the only “Political Advocate” we need. If we are concerned or alarmed about a situation in the land, we only need to go to Him in prayer!
We are admonished to live in submission to our earthly leaders, our examples serving as a testimony of the true King. As the Apostle Peter says, if suffering is unjustly meted out to us at the hands of those who rule over us, then we should endure it for righteousness’ sake. Just as Christ suffered, so we also should be willing to suffer:
“Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer for it, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.” (I Peter 2:18-21).
If God allows us to live under oppressive or unrighteous rulers, the commandment is to “resist not evil, but offer the other cheek” (Matt. 5:39). We are to suffer as Christ did, and to beseech Him as our Advocate and Mediator.
Jesus Himself provided us the ultimate example in dealing with human government. Upon being betrayed and arrested (not to mention, later illegally prosecuted and unjustly executed), one of His disciples drew his sword and cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest. Jesus’ response was:
“Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt. 26:52)
Once again, the call is not to “activism”, but to beseeching God. (Though in this circumstance, Jesus knowing the will of His Father did not ask for such intervention.)
If our leaders take away our religious freedoms, while promoting and allowing sinful practices, our reaction should be to drop to our knees and pray! If it is His will, our Lord can soften the hearts of our leaders. And if it is not His will, we must endure it, and realize that His Work and Will are still being accomplished.
I submit that darkness will settle over this country in the days to come. Though this is not a gloom and doom scenario! By contrast, in darkness our lights will shine even brighter so that many more will be saved! Throughout history, peace has been the exception and not the standard for God’s people. God manipulates the governments of this world according to His Purposes. And this doesn’t mean that we will be comfortable. In Acts 8:1-4 God allowed a great persecution so that the Church might be scattered and “those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the Word.” The Apostle Paul did much of his work from a prison cell where he was “content in all things.” As American Christians, we are comfortable, and certainly do not want the status quo to be upset. We are “rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing” (Rev. 3:17).
Perhaps the time is soon coming when we will be “refined by fire”, and many more will be called to salvation.
I do not believe that it is God’s will for Christians at this time to be “distracted” in a movement to keep His name attached to, or to reform, or preserve a government (kingdom) that is not His anyway. Petitions, and coalitions, and rallies, are a human response, and a “distraction” from the Work truly being done. Jesus, in His walk on this earth, never tried to reform the governments of His day. His attitude was to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”. If it is of men, let men keep it! It was of no concern or consequence to Him. He was about saving individuals, and granting them citizenship into His Kingdom.
Ultimately the governments of this world will fall, to be replaced by the Kingdom of Heaven, where our citizenship and allegiance really reside.
“Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!’” (Rev. 11:15)
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