On citizenship

But our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to subject all things to Himself, will transform our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body.” (Philippians 3:20-21)

We have a great deal of ungodly pride in our nation.  We see ourselves as special, an example to the world, a beacon.  Recent events of these last few year have proven that false.  The attack on our nation is now coming from within.  We are imploding on ourselves.  The Bible is clear that every tongue and tribe and nation is created by God and equally valuable in His eyes, but I do not think the American church reflects this. 

Our citizenship must be first and foremost in heaven.  Our identity must be first and foremost as believers, not as Americans.  As St. Augustine wrote, there is a city of God that is eternal, but the city of man will fall.  Kingdoms rise and fall and we cannot put undue hope in our country.  Our US leaders have altered the meaning of John Winthrop’s City on a Hill speech to imply that the US is the light of the world, not that believers are to shine forth Christ who is the true light of the world. As Alexander Hamilton wrote at the beginning of our nation, “Self-sufficiency and a contempt of the science and experience of others are too prevailing traits of character in this country.” According to Hamilton’s autobiographer Ron Chernow, he was troubled by “the Jeffersonian faith that Americans had much to teach the world but little to learn from it.” Too many people confuse the role of the church and the role of the country, so let me be clear. The US is not the light of the world. Christ is.

This almost worship-like adoration of America was never more apparent to me than in a life group a few years ago when we were discussing identity.  I said that my identity was first as a child of God and only secondarily as an American.  One of the women in the group looked at me as if I had spoken blasphemy and it was clear from her words that she thought my stance was seditious and dangerous.  In return, I was also shocked.  I have always been so involved in missions and lived so many places in my life that I just assumed all believers valued the nations as I did, even if they hadn’t experienced being overseas.  I think this idolizing of the US  is why people attach themselves so much to leaders which they will defend their view of our nation. 

We must have a clear biblical understanding of culture and nation. The apostle John’s vision of heaven included people of every race and nation. “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands” (Revelations 7:9). I believe that there is a special glory of each nation that reflects God in a unique way. I saw aspects of Jesus ingrained in Kazakh culture such as hospitality and long-suffering just like I see aspects of Jesus in US culture such as creativity and a longing for freedom. So many American Christians see Muslims moving to the US as a threat, but isn’t this rather than as an opportunity to display the love of Christ? The gospel isn’t about self-protection but rather laying down our lives for others.

What is the way out of this unbiblical thinking that pervades our nation? On the micro level we each must search our hearts, asking God honestly “What am I truly putting my hope in?” “Do I want heaven?” “Do I want You or just the life I think You can give me?” On a macro level we must consider our biblical training. Too many pastors today have not attended seminary. Too many seminaries and Christian colleges do not require or even offer courses on cross-cultural ministry and theology. In the past, adult Sunday school classes were an excellent venue for in-depth Biblical training but these have been taken out in an attempt to keep Sunday services shorter. These have been replaced with life groups which are excellent for spiritual support but not equipped for in depth Biblical teaching. If we are to return to the biblical value of our primary citizenship in heaven, then we must find ways to give this issue the time and attention it deserves. Otherwise our country may become our idol. Otherwise in putting our hope in our country to save us from “Babylon” we may be surprised to find out that we have unwittingly become Bablyon ourselves.