Is There a Place for Christian Patriotism?

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Is There a Place for Christian Patriotism?

June 01, 2024 - 08:06
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“Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” --Philippians 3:20-21

The Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Philippian Christians urging a heavenly-minded joy amidst a worldly-minded culture. The ancient city of Philippi was a retirement city for Roman soldiers, and their temptation was to give ultimate allegiance to Rome, with their hope in their coveted status as Roman citizens; Roman citizenship was the envy of the ancient world for its protections and privileges. In Philippians chapter three, the Apostle Paul had described people who live for their own ways, and who oppose the gospel of Christ. He then uses this accustomed imagery of citizenship to contrast worldly identity with a heavenly one. As Christ followers, our identity and loyalty are no longer bound ultimately to worldly things; our ultimate identity--our hope, our purpose, our focus-- is no longer in earthly government or leaders or personal achievement or plans, but in heaven with Christ.

In an election year, we are uniquely tempted to elevate patriotic earthly loyalties into heavenly ones. The longer I live, the more I see a repeated pattern, with every Presidential election—partisans on both sides of the aisle exclaiming, “This is the most important election we have ever had,” with many Christians equating the choice we make in the voting booth with our eternal destiny. “You cannot be a true Christian if you vote for this candidate or political party.” The reminder from Philippians 3:20-21 should challenge us, keeping our sense of ultimate heavenly priority.

Yet, we should ask ourselves the question, “Is there a place for passionate American patriotism in the fabric of our faith?” I believe there is. Christians should be patriots and good citizens of our great country. Woven into the opening preamble of our Declaration of Independence is the profoundly biblical statement all Christians should hold dear…

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Though the United States has not always acted consistently with its core values, our country’s founding principles are godly. American Christian patriotism is consistent with our biblical faith. For Christians, our God in Christ is the original foundation for our civil liberties, allowing us to live freely for God and share His love without hindrance.

Given our nation’s reverent foundation, loyalty to our country and defense of its founding principles is NOT at odds with our Christian faith; this is unique in world history. For example, in most contexts of world history, if Christians were to pledge loyalty to their native government, it would be problematic, because the foundational values of their governments were at odds with the Christian faith. Further, we have a treasured and unique opportunity within our Republic to vote, giving us a valuable voice in the protection of our liberties under God. Few citizens of any nation in history had such an opportunity.

For an American Christian, loyal to God alone as our ULTIMATE, saying the Pledge of Allegiance does not compromise his heavenly loyalty to God, as God is the foundation of our rights—as long as we remember our pledge to our country is not one of ULTIMATE loyalty. So, saying “The Pledge,” supporting our military, honoring and praying for our leaders, and displaying an American flag are valid expressions of faithful commitment to our country in a way that is consistent with our Christian faith.

But this brings me now to a dangerous temptation – to turn this valid and healthy civic support of our country into an ULTIMATE value. What has been called unhealthy Christian Nationalism is an expression of faith that elevates our civil rights, or the founding documents to the status of Scripture, and the passionate defense of them as our needed pre-occupation, the dividing line for our fellowship, and our default for all of our serious discussions.

For example, we might be tempted to spend inordinate time and emotional focus on what the “other side” is doing, somehow thinking politics is where the spiritual battle is primarily fought, or that elected officials or political parties are the enemy. Or, we might be tempted to descend into dishonoring labels or name-calling, or even profanity to describe elected officials. I have been deeply grieved to see Christians wearing shirts or sporting bumper stickers with profane sayings about our current President. Another pastor once told me that talking passionately to an unbeliever about culture war issues and conservative politics was the same as sharing the gospel! My heart sank.

Do we spend as much time and intense emotion on the things of Christ, spiritual growth, evangelism and discipleship? Does our fervor to mobilize others and convince them extend to leading others to the Savior and grounding them in authentic faith, or does it always hover in the realm of culture war topics and the erosion of our civil liberties? Would personal civil liberty, the degree of governmental interference in our lives, and the “liberal agenda” have factored strongly into the priorities of discipleship in the life of the Apostle Paul, or the early missionaries of our Christian faith? If we were to lead someone to Christ overseas, at what point would we need to make him an American? When should we introduce the right to bear arms as a central point of growth in that young Christian’s sanctification?

We live in an age of extremes and polarization. Simply making these points of concern about misplaced Patriotism might drive some to think I am saying these matters of liberty or personal freedom are unimportant. Not so. As I’ve stated above, protecting our civil liberties is valid and important— as long as we maintain a sense of proportion. As long as we don’t turn good things into ULTIMATE things. Any aspects of our faith, even good and right things, become dangerous when elevated to be ULTIMATE THINGS.

Yes, as Christians, let us be good patriots. Be informed, vote responsibly and with biblical conviction, and yes, speak insightfully about issues at stake in the obvious erosion of our culture. Christians are to be engaged in the public square through involvement in school boards and civil service. It is valid and respectable, should we choose, to be aligned with a political party and even advocate for candidates, as long as we maintain our gospel priority—Christ as our ULTIMATE. Voice concern and express resistance when God and His design are mocked or when what is good and right is challenged, but with a kind and loving heart, knowing your ULTIMATE citizenship is not as an American, but as a redeemed saint in Jesus Christ. Have loving discussions, not aggressive monologues, about personal liberties and cultural decline, but with Christ as your ULTIMATE, and His love as your highest ethic. Live out what Paul describes in Colossians 4:5-6…

“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

There are 2 Comments

Thank you for this reminder. I also read Pastor Deutschlander's book on Civl Government which expresses similar ideas. It is my belief that if more Christians were to bring their values into the world of politics then our political system would cool down and become more civil. If the only people participating are the power hungry then we're mostly going to get power hungry leaders. However, if the majority of people participating have the Kingdom of God and His values in mind then our government will express those values. To be frank, far too many Christians stay out of the political system and don't even vote. I believe they may be afraid of becoming infected by the meanness of politics so they simply don't participate. That has to change or the political environment will get even worse without their values to balance out the others. God's love is more powerful than the meanness of the power hungry. We just have to wield it more boldly in the public square.

Adding a bit to this article, if you read or think the Ten Commandments are important and lead to a good society, they are 100 percent good and Christian. If you are not a religious person but love America, then take a look at the Ten Commandments and single out what you disagree with. You will see these will still lead you to being an American Patriot, who needs to step up, and vote for America's stability, the world needs you!

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