I’m worried my friends. Worried in a way I’ve never been able to fully articulate, despite my desire to shout it from the mountaintops. I’m worried because of what I see on the news and across my social media feed. Unlike times past, I’m not worried because actors, politicians, or even those behind a liberal agenda have hijacked the faith, I’m worried about us because I’ve see the American Church unwittingly plant seeds of doubt in the hearts of those watching us closely. I’m worried our ministers and members are falling into a trap set by the devil himself. I’m worried that our desire to be American patriots is getting in the way of our ability to be servant-minded Christians. I’m worried that we’re out of control and we don’t even know it, like a fire in the breeze, teetering on the brink of destruction.
Let me begin by saying I’m not the only one who’s worried. In just a few minutes, you’ll be able to read some testimonials from seven different preachers across our country who are worried just like me. I reached out to them and asked for their honesty. I didn’t put any suggestions or limitations on their writing, I just asked them to express their feelings, concerns, or observations. They see the writing on the wall that I do. They are troubled by it as well and they want to say something just like I do.
What I don’t want to be is pessimistic. I believe in the Church and its people. I believe we have the capacity to “turn the world upside down” (i.e. Acts 17:6). I believe in us and what we’ve accomplished. I’m still worried though. The last few years have seen an increase in our divisiveness, political involvement, and fear mongering. It appears to me that we’re letting the world influence us and doing a poor job of influencing it in return. I’m worried our uniqueness is washing down the drain as we busy our hands with worldly matters.
Just last week, I had multiple conversations with preachers, friends, and members of the Church who see the events in Washington, the hoopla surrounding the election, and the behavior of their fellow Christians as a dangerous trend that has been egged on by the radical schemes of even those we would consider brothers and sisters in Christ. The over-the-top support of a man who is far from a model of morality and character and the peddling of conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory aimed at discrediting something that’s never been proven flawed before certainly hasn’t helped either.
The easiest way to categorize and describe this type of behavior is Christian Nationalism. While it might not be something that immediately worries you, it’s a behavior and lifestyle that has far reaching implications because it’s not usually something that bodes well for the Church, the Truth, and God’s Kingdom in this world.
I’m not surprised this sort of thing happens, but the uptick in Christian acceptance, support, and involvement in the thought warfare of 2020 is deeply troubling.
I’m not sure when it began, or when it even escalated. I just know the verbal warfare has gone from annoying to apocalyptic in record time. To be completely transparent, I feel I’ve let you down. As I watched from a distance, I kept believing all of this would get better. I had hoped another election, another year, or the time spent away during the pandemic would trigger a return to decency, but it has, in fact, only escalated the situation to brand new levels of absurdity. The behavior hasn’t improved, the common sense hasn’t returned, and the division hasn’t been healed.
Over the last few months, Christians who I’ve respected for decades have used their social media platform to divide, disdain, and even mock their brothers and sisters openly. They’ve called anyone who didn’t see the election as a divine act of righteousness naive or foolish. They’ve become bullies, occupying the digital pulpit like a fiery preacher of old. Personally, I think it’s disgusting, unbecoming of our Lord, and quite frankly, the most dangerous trend in the American Church I’ve observed since I began to minister over seventeen years ago.
I used to respect preachers who spoke out, now I’m afraid every time one of them says “I’ve got something to say.” However, like all signs of trouble, we are not without hope. Rather, we have an immense opportunity in front of us. An opportunity that presents itself in the form of a dilemma. An opportunity that won’t be for everyone, but an opportunity none-the-less.
Before we go any further, let’s look at what the Scriptures say. First off, Romans 13:1 commands us to “be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.” Secondly, First Peter 2:13-14 tells us to “submit 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.” Those are ungetoverable commands, fully endorsed by the Holy Spirit that stand alongside other commands to evangelize, love, and live united as a “priesthood of believers.” That seems significant to me, since we in the churches of Christ have stood for years on a truth that we will not compromise – every word of God is equally precious, important, and inspired (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17). So, we can’t possibly conclude that one command is worth ignoring due to its political incentive and have a leg to stand on theologically, can we?
With that being said, we do have a responsibility to “obey God rather than men,” if someone orders us to stop preaching God’s Word (or following God’s commands) according to Acts 5:29. Along the same vein, we know that “our citizenship is in heaven,” (see Philippians 3:20) and that Jesus’ said “My kingdom is not of this world,” in John 18:36. We understand that we have responsibilities here, but none that supersede our responsibility to God. If you have any doubt, please remember Jesus told us to “render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” in Matthew 22:21.
That means none of us can use Scripture to claim that national allegiance has an equal footing or even priority in our lives if we are truly invested in our Father’s Kingdom.
I wonder, if we shouldn’t pray for the opportunity to live in a kingdom like ancient Egypt or Babylon. That might seem crazy to you, but I do believe it was easier for Daniel and Joseph to know what’s right when everything around them was wrong. There was no sense of compromise when they were asked (or expected) to disobey God. They served God faithfully in the upper most leadership of kingdoms led by immoral demagogues and produced mighty stories that still inspire us today.
I don’t think we’ll ever get the chance, but I still can’t help but wonder if what we truly need is a reason to be faithful in spite of those around us? Then, might we truly stand out like a “city on a hill that cannot be hidden,” (see Matthew 5:14) or a man thrown to lions (see Daniel 6), or even one when powerful people see our works ask “can we find such a one as this, a man in whom is the Spirit of God?” (see Genesis 41:38).
Without spending too much time addressing it, I’d also like to point out that God’s Kingdom has been uniquely described as a place in this world where there is “neither Jew nor Greek,” (see Galatians 3:28 and Colossians 3:11) and in the world to come as a place where “every tribe, tongue, people, and nation,” gather around the throne of God (see Revelation 5:9). Surely, that description is enough to denounce Christian nationalism in any age or across any region.
Now it’s time to get to the real reason you’re here. It’s time to see how many people feel about this topic, not just one. Earlier this week, I sent several friends the following message:
Hey buddy. I’m going to write an article later this week addressing Christian nationalism. I’d love your thoughts, criticism, and/or suggestions. I’m happy to keep everything anonymous, I just want to share the honest feelings people have (alongside of my own). Would you be interested?
Almost every single one of them responded enthusiastically because they had some of the same reservations I have. Along the way, I shared my early drafts with them and asked for their input because I want you to see this is bigger than me. This is deeply concerning to many people and while you’re bound to find some overlap in their statements, I encourage you to observe how all of them see the rise of Christian Nationalism incredibly problematic. Here’s what they had to say:
Nick Rice – Latrobe, Pennsylvania
American politics has always left me feeling as though I were on something of an ideological island. While I can endorse some party positions; I find others incomplete or completely missing the mark. There are red issues that strike accord with me and blue issues that ring true to me. There are politicians of all stripes that impress me, and those that frustrate me. I’ve come to accept the changing waves as a part of island life, so to speak.
When I look around me now, I see Christians endorsing things that are not of God. I see Christians excusing things that are unrighteous. I see faith, but not in the One True God. I see bold claims of truth about all sorts of things, and none of it is inherently Christian, while much of it isn’t truth at all. I look at the brotherhood and recognize many more Pharisees and Israelites than Christians.
In Acts 11:26, Christians were identified by others according to how they behaved; not by what they called themselves. When we become known for being sticklers of the rules, and longing for the way things used to be, and when we’re more interested in man made empires than the heavenly kingdom; who do we sound like? When we clamor for our kings and condemn the ways others interpret the things of God, when we grumble and complain and breathe threats of violence; who do we sound like? When we resemble something different than Christ our Lord; what are we left to do?
Just because we haven’t been worshipping in our local buildings doesn’t mean the Church is on vacation. It’s time to come back from the beach, leave the waves where they are and come home. There is work to be done and we’ve missed you here.
Zack Martin – Louisville, Kentucky
What we are seeing happening in our country, especially in regards to Christian Nationalism, is the direct result of the Moral Majority that began in the 1970’s. If you don’t know, that movement encouraged the wedding of religion and politics that was mixed with a healthy dose of power and influence. The fear for many has been that wedding politics and the Church together would ultimately damage the Church and destroy her witness. That was David Lipscomb’s fear, which he saw in a small way in his day. We are not far from that.
My heart hurts for the Church, which was purchased with the precious blood of Christ. It is foolish to think that the divide in this country does not affect the Church. At times it seems that Church leaders are spreading the division with their rhetoric. My plead for believers is to follow the Apostle Paul’s instructions in Ephesians 4:31-32 which says, “Let all bitterness, anger, and wrath, shouting, and slander be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.” (CSB)
Healing can only begin when we remember that God’s kingdom always comes first, and His kingdom is not of this world
Keaton Pearce – Savannah, Georgia
I love God and I love my country. The nagging question I ponder today is this, “how does a 21st-century Christian balance those ideas?” How can I love my God, my Savior, and still love and respect my country? Government and country are discussed to some degree in New Testament scripture, so why does this even need to be a discussion? Can’t these two ideas (national pride and spiritual service) co-mingle in my heart and mind?
The brief answer is yes.
You might ask “how?” and the simple answer is priority. The easiest way to think of this is to ask yourself one simple question “Do I love like Jesus?” We don’t see anywhere in scripture where Jesus tells us not to love our country, but in no uncertain terms, we see Jesus put the absolute top priority on people, on souls.
Every decision He made was an extension of that priority. My prayer for us today is in all ways to live like Jesus; to love like Jesus. That doesn’t preclude us from loving our country, but it serves as a constant reminder that this world is not our home. I’ll repeat, I love my country but I pray we won’t allow something like the country we live in, to separate us from the will of God and a home with Him in Heaven.
Colby Phillips – Tompkinsville, Kentucky
The term “Chrisitan Nationalism” is all over the news and media currently. Although it feels like a modern buzz word, it’s an idea that has been around for a long time. American Exceptionalism has been rampant in our country since its founding. This is evident in things like, “manifest destiny,” coined by John O’Sullivan, which basically said we have God’s blessing to push west and expand at whatever cost. It was used almost as an excuse, something similar to the “divine right” that monarchs employ to back up their claim to the throne.
The United States of America is an amazing place to live, that is without question. We are truly blessed to call this country our home for a myriad of reasons. But, is it the best place in the world to live? The answer to that used to be a resounding yes, as we led the world in basically every category available. Presently though, things are quite different. Countries like Denmark, Japan and Singapore have passed us in things like education and overall happiness of their citizens. Sure, they have much smaller populations to contend with, but there is no debating that things have shifted.
Biblically speaking, religious nationalism basically defines the Old Testament (OT). The Israelites were constantly referred to as God’s people. They were His special children, given a special set of laws by Him and set apart from the others. They were told not to marry outside of their own people, and to circumcize their male babies. This was as close to religious nationalism as one can get, in fact theocratc nationalism/theocracy might be a better term. The New Testament (NT), however, is very different. In many ways, it can be seen as the exact opposite. Philippians 3:20 says that, “our citizenship is in heaven.” That well known passage should clearly define the mindset of every NT Christian.
Yes, we exist on earth and while we are here we are people that live in certain areas of the world, and we can/should be proud of that. However, there is something that supercedes everything else, our heavenly citizenship and ultimate destination. Most would agree with the previous statements, but when push comes to shove they might still hold on to the reigns of American exceptionalism. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with that, rooting for the home team isn’t a sin. But, just like everything else, when we get our priorites out of order, it can be a real problem.
Why do we think there are passages in the NT encouraging christians to be good citizens? (see Romans 13:1-7) It isn’t so we can be walked all over and never stand up for ourselves, it is in its most basic sense, so that we can shine a good light on the name of Christ and in turn, each other. Galatians 3:28 uses the phrase, “neither Jew nor Greek,” to describe God’s Kingdom. We can easily insert neither American nor Canadian or whatever country you choose. The whole point is to know that “His kingdom is not of this world” (see John 18:36). We cannot lose sight of this basic NT idea – we are running towards something that is eternal, something beyond this carnal world.
To think of our country as a holy nation that used to be this utopian christian paradise is simply not the case. Of course it would be wonderful if every single person in our country was a Christian and we all followed God’s Word. But, should it really suprise us when it turns out that’s not that case? We live in the world, an imperfect place inhabited by sinful man. We have been told to “go into all the world” (see Mark 16:15), that would include the United States and every other single country. While the founding fathers were exceptional men who acted bravely and helped shape the state of the world then and now – they were only men, men who messed up, who didn’t have all the answers. Some of them have some pretty bad rapsheets and if you have spent anytime really learning about them, you can quickly see that while important, they were far from perfect. We can respect them and what they did while also knowing that were were humans, who like us, were sinners.
Ryan Scherer – Huntingburg, Indiana
I think Christian Nationalism has certainly been around for a very long time, but starting in 2015, during the presidential campaign I began to see it full force in the Church. In some corners, Donald Trump was portrayed as the “coming messiah” of the Republican Party and the United States. Personally, I liked a lot of his action plan at the onset. I was also a registered Republican because that’s what Christians were supposed to be, especially if you’re a preacher.
During the campaign however, I began to see two things happen: (1) a general manipulation of evangelicals to Trump saying, “hold a Bible and confess Christ and you’ve got our vote;” and (2) an outright denial on the “Christian” front that he was still indeed an immoral individual. I saw things differently then virtually everyone around me.
Even at the onset of his presidency, I saw the rhetoric as potentially divisive and dangerous. So much so, that for the first time in my life, I later voted independent. In so doing, I walked away from the ballot box with a clear conscience because had I voted upon my personal faith principles, not political principles masked as Christian ones. We all know what happened over the next for years, but 2020 has proven to be the tipping point for mistaking our American context for a Kingdom of Christ context.
It has caused many in our Churches to lump the “Freedom in Christ” idea with American civil rights. That led to the arguments against wearing masks, even if an eldership was requiring it. I see swaths of Christians disrespecting their church leadership in defiance of a mask mandate, when the sole purpose is to physically protect those who are vulnerable. I have seen Christians so convinced by the rhetoric of political parties that our religious freedom is within four years of being lost, that hatred and violence is the answer. It literally reminds me of the Jewish Zealots of Jesus’ day. But people don’t see the correlation. They believe this country was founded on both violent retribution and Christian principles, therefore, the two can and should go hand in hand.
This may also have a hand in our slow response to the issue of race throughout the summer as well. The Christian disdain for Black Lives Matter as an organization should have never shut our ears (and hearts) to the real problems some black brothers and sisters in Christ have been facing. Instead, we blanketed the complaint of racism by all black Americans as absurdity because the party we associate with predominately said that racism no longer exists.
The trouble we find ourselves in can all be traced back to one problem – our overdependence of politics to make things better. It hasn’t brought our nation, our communities, and our Churches closer. In fact, it’s doing the opposite. It’s making things like race, elections, and even mutual respect for other’s needs a cause to argue and fight. If that’s not something God’s people should be worried, about, what is?
Jason Haygood – Yorba Linda, California
A recent article in The Christian Chronicle made the following observation:
To many faith leaders, the Christian nationalism on display amid the mob violence that resulted in five deaths was most alarming – and appalling.1
Count me among those who are appalled.
God has never been a fan of syncretism, and issued a stern warning to Israel about coopting elements of other religions (see Deuteronomy 12). Nationalism is a form of religion, born from American exceptionalism. And when we try to merge worship of the State with worship of the One True God, we, like Israel, will suffer the consequences of such blatant idolatry.
When we begin to use language that should be reserved for the Christ to describe our favorite elected officials, we have fallen into full-blown spiritual adultery. God most certainly uses nations to accomplish His will, but He does not depend upon any single nation to do His bidding. There is no nation on earth so righteous that it fully embodies the kingdom of God.
There are reports coming out of China that the government there is replacing crosses and other Christian images with pictures of president Xi Jingping and national flags.2 We see the same phenomenon talking place in American churches as our nation’s flag and images of our chosen leaders replace the image of the crucified Savior. The difference is, we can’t blame an oppressive government. We’ve done this all voluntarily.
Bryan Dill – Hopkinsville, Kentucky
The danger that I see in Christian nationalism is that far too many have elevated the importance of country to the same (or higher) level as their faith, the Church, and even Christ Himself. It has become, without question, the most prevalent idol to which Christians are bowing a knee to in America. We place American flags in our places of worship, we sing songs like “America, the Beautiful” and “My Country ’Tis of Thee” as a part of worship, as though the nation in which we live were in any way as important as the God we serve. And, having had the opportunity to worship in several other countries, I can attest to the fact that this does not seem to be a world-wide phenomenon.
We have forgotten the conditions in which so many Christians have lived and thrived. We have forgotten that the downfall of the United States of America has no bearing on our eternal souls, or the souls of our children or grandchildren. We have forgotten that just because political policy changes, or certain “rights” may be infringed upon – that does not (and will not) take away anyone’s faith.
If anything, history has proven that Christianity is often at its strongest when those who are committed to Jesus are under fire. It is high time Christians put the condition of democracy, capitalism, and freedom in its proper perspective – it is all of this world. Jesus made it abundantly clear that the far more important investment in which we are to focus our lives, are the things of heaven in Matthew 6:19-21 which says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
If that’s not enough, consider also the words of Colossians 3:1-3 which says, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
I want to thank each of those guys for their contribution. I know we all wrestled with this topic and what needed to be said. I’m thankful that they are brave enough to put this out there and contribute to a much needed discussion.
As a final note, I want to remind you about something that worried Christians at the onset of our nation’s founding. Three leaders of the Danbury, Connecticut Baptist Association wrote to President Thomas Jefferson with these concerns:
Our sentiments are uniformly on the side of religious liberty – that religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals – that no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious opinions – that the legitimate power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighborsNehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, Stephen S. Nelson – October 7, 1801
Those men believed the Constitution left a grey area and were worried the state (i.e. federal or local government) may have the power to overstep its grounds and enforce upon their congregations something that defied their beliefs. I believe they wrote him seeking clarity years after the Constitution (written in 1787, ratified in 1788) forbid interfering from the government in religious matters. His response is rather famous (and wrongly assumed to be in the Bill of Rights or Constitution itself). Here’s Jefferson’s response to their concern:
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ʺmake no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,ʺ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.Thomas Jefferson – January 1, 1802
Today, I plead with you to respect that separation. While the desire to have a Christian nation is admirable, would it not be more damaging to the kingdom of God than anything else? Would an American theocracy not water down God’s teachings, accept blasphemy, and promote the same types of problems that plagued the Jewish kingdoms long ago? Would we not lose our peculiarity and our influence and simply practice institutional obedience, instead of demonstrating a life-changing devotion? Would we not lose the ability to give Caesar his due and then God His?
Personally, I love the separation and I believe the Church’s great falling away was precipitated by the Edict of Thessalonica in 380 BC which made Christianity (specifically Nicene Christianity) the state religion of Rome. From my vantage point, the Church doesn’t need an earthly kingdom to sponsor it, fight its battles, or elect its leaders. In fact, it needs the opposite.
We have a King, sitting on His throne, awaiting the day when all will bow.
We have a sacred document full of commands, dictates, and direction that supersedes all others.
We have example after example of faithful devotion and subjection to the cause of freedom, justice, and compassion.
We are already part of an eternal kingdom that has outlasted every single earthly kingdom to date and will survive the rise and fall of many more.
If American Christians want to be patriotic, be patriotic. Love our country, honor its righteous past, and spend every single day trying to make it better. Just don’t, under any circumstances, let that patriotism define you and set your priorities. You’re already spoken for. You’re a Christian and that should be what defines you. And it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who knows you because your life is a reflection of that fact in every possible way.
We have so much kingdom work to be about, let’s focus on that work and that kingdom and make a difference in this world and the world to come. I believe in you and I believe in the Church. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be so disappointed in all of this nonsense. So, let’s go out and “seek the kingdom of God first and stop worrying about all the things Gentiles worry about,” (see Matthew 6:32-33).
1 To read that entire article, simply follow this link.
2 To read the article about the circumstances in China, follow this link.
Unless noted elsewhere, all Scripture is taken from the New King James Version (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.