Tuesday, January 19, 2021

A Christian Nation

One of the arguments that we often hear from Christians when they believe that America is suffering from her own affliction is that America has simply turned her back on God and needs to turn back to Him. If America was the Christian nation that God called her to be, then we wouldn't be where we are right now. 

There are a couple of very serious problems with this thinking. 

First, America is not a Christian nation. America was founded on the idea of religious freedom, and while she was grounded in the Christian (or semi-Christian) understandings of her fathers, the idea was never to make America a Christian nation. The idea was to make America a nation that didn't force her religion down the throats of her people, as was happening in Britain at the time. The idea that the early Americans had any idea of establishing a Christian nation is plainly historically false, even though they understood that their Christian morality was the only thing that would guide them correctly into creating the kind of nation they were hoping for. (We can talk about that later, if you're interested. Here, it's just basically an aside.) 

But second, and the most serious problem that we have with this thinking, is that it's simply not biblical. Not in the slightest. 

There is only one nation of God in the Bible, and it is the nation of Israel. But when the Bible talks about Israel as a nation, it is not talking about a nation-state the way that America is a nation-state; it is talking about a people as a nation of people. It is talking about the collective of individuals who are established on the faith. Even when Israel settles into the Promised Land and becomes a people with a distinct land to call her own, even when they appoint a king over themselves, even when they go to war with other nation-states, the Bible still doesn't talk about them as a nation-state; it talks about them as a people. 

(This is important, too, when we talk about the nature of the nation-state of modern Israel, but again, that's a discussion for another time, if you're interested.) 

So this notion that we somehow restore and redeem America and make her into all the things she was always supposed to be by electing Christians and legislating a Christian morality and humbling ourselves and getting our country to turn itself around and re-commit itself to God...is, plainly, terrible theology. It's really, really wrong theology. God has never had in mind a "Christian" nation-state - not for His people Israel, and not for His Gentiles today. 

And we should also note that not once when God's people have been foreigners living in strange territories has God told them that what they need to do is make the nation where they're living a Christian nation. Not once has He told them to upheave the entire political structure of...anywhere...in order to make it into a nation that lives by the rules they want to live by. Rather, God has always called His people to make righteousness the priority in their own lives. 

Which is what we should still be doing today. 

God's will for this world is never accomplished by having a Christian nation-state. We can't legislate our way into morality or righteousness, and if you don't understand that, look no further than the Bible itself. Israel had the law and couldn't even keep it. And the New Testament tells us that is precisely what a law is for - for people who can't keep it. The law can only do so much. It is the heart - in the New Testament, a covenant of grace - that makes a people into a Christian people. God's heart for this world has always and will always only be lived out in the love for neighbor that His people embrace. 

In other words, if you want America to be a "Christian" nation, you have to focus on getting her people, not her politics, to turn to God. Not in some faraway place where legislation is enacted, but on the street where you live. 

And it starts...with you. 

It starts with you not being the kind of Christian we've been talking about so far this week, the kind of Christian who does nothing but grumble about the state of politics in America and argues for a more "Christian" politic while living in a broken, self-righteous spirit that is antithetical to the entirety of the Christian heart. It starts with you loving your neighbor, even the one who voted differently than you did. It starts with you reaching a hand across your own aisle and declaring that no matter what happens in Washington, you are going to live the kind of life that God has called you to live. Whatever is happening in America doesn't keep you from doing that, unless you're just looking for an excuse. 

So let's stop talking about having a Christian "nation" when we know that that was never what God, or America, had in mind. Instead, let's focus on being a Christian people, real followers of God whose faithfulness starts and ends on our own streets and not simply at the ballot box.  

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