Wednesday, January 30, 2013

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Faith, Patriotism, and Ultimate Allegiance

I have spent a good deal of time over the past year considering the proper intersection between faith and patriotism for the Christian.  Bottom line:  can a Christian also be a patriot? In other words, how much can and should a Christian love his country?

On parade with a few of my friends, March 2011
Does that sound provocative?  After all, most people would consider me very patriotic.  I've worn my country's uniform for over 26 years, and have solemnly sworn to "uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies."  I have deployed into two combat zones.  I have twice marched proudly down Constitution Avenue in our National Independence Day Parade.

On the other hand, a Christian surely has a higher allegiance!  Scripture leaves no doubt that our ultimate fidelity is owed to our Eternal King, not any temporal one.  For this reason, many evil governments throughout history have oppressed and persecuted the church, fearful of what disruption unwavering allegiance to God might bring to despotic rule.

So how does this play out?  Does my country have reason to doubt my fidelity?  Let us consider an analogy (with the usual caveat that there's no such thing as a "perfect analogy"):

In a Christian marriage, each spouse's primary devotion must be to God. If they put one another over Him, they are guilty of idolatry.  Does that make them less devoted?  In fact, exactly the opposite!  The love and fidelity I give my wife is strengthened by loving Christ first.  He both commands and empowers it, pushing it beyond where I, in my natural selfishness, would prefer to turn inward.  He thereby makes my marriage to withstand many storms and failings--both hers and my own.  By loving God first, I love my wife better.

The same principle holds true of my country.  My willingness to be America's good and trustworthy citizen, to serve her well and faithfully, and even to lay down my life in her defense, is undergirded by my belief that in doing so I obey, honor and serve God.

Now, it is true that our allegiance to God may at some point bring us into direct conflict with the government.  This has happened throughout history, even in America.  Christians must be willing to disobey our earthly rulers when they attempt to force us into disobedience to our Heavenly King--such as refusing the right to worship and make disciples as we have been commanded, as occurs in many places even today.  We may even be called to engage in civil disobedience to voice our objection to grievous wrongs, such as human slavery or (more currently) abortion.  In other words, we need to know when it is time to stand and say, "We must obey God rather than men!" (Acts 5:29)

On the other hand, we need to be careful and choose our battles wisely.  The church frequently loses its way when it becomes so concerned with earthly government that it forgets its primary calling.  The freedom to worship freely is not the same as demanding civil society conform to our beliefs or value them above others.  While we can and should certainly advocate and vote for godly institutions and outcomes, God has not called upon the church to expend our best energies to perfect our secular governments.  That would truly be a tall order.  In fact, the church would do well to first examine our own legion imperfections, removing the plank in our own eye.  Purifying ourselves is hard enough, and more clearly our direct responsibility.

The Apostle Paul gives us the guidelines for our understanding of worldly governments. Besides flatly calling for our obedience (Everyone must submit ... The authorities that exist have been established by God ... pay taxes ... respect ... honor.  Romans 13:1-7), he also tells us how to pray for them:  I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

So then, when we have a government which will allow us to live out our faith peaceably, we have much to be thankful for.  And remember, Paul wrote this at a time when there were no "Christian" governments on the face of the earth!  In other words, he wrote this at a time when governments were far more oppressive, corruptible, and tyrannic than most of us who live in 21st century democracies are likely to encounter.

So can a Christian be a patriot?  Absolutely ... in fact, the very best kind of patriot.  The Christian is one who believes in godly obedience to every authority He has established ... but also believes in just and right governance, and therefore is willing to take a stand to obey God rather than men when necessary!

In short, I return to my favorite musician-poet, Rich Mullins, for a healthy perspective on Christian love for & allegiance to country:

Nobody tells you when you get born here
How much you'll come to love it
And how you'll never belong here
So I'll call you my country
But I'm lonely for my home
And I wish that I could take you there with me


    

4 comments:

  1. Good post, but perhaps missing a difficult and critical component. Our allegiance to country must not be above our allegiance to God. In the early days of the church, many Christians would not serve in the military because of the Oath that must be sworn to the Emperor and his gods. We must not every consider out allegiance to country higher than our allegiance to God. If you have read Eric Metaxes' biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, you get a good sense of the struggle that Christians can have balancing their devotion for country with their devotion for God when the government has clearly gone off the rails. Hopefully our government will not head down the path of the Nazis, but we must never assume that our country's goals and values are in alignment with our Christian goals and values. I hope I never find myself in such a position.

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  2. This is a tough one.

    If you lived in a country where relationship between the obedience to Christ and the obedience to state is clearly delineated and contradictory you would see patriotism in very different light than if you live in country like US.

    During Soviet era, standard protestant view of serving in the military was to withdraw from it. In fact since service in military was (is) a mandatory for all males aged 18-20 that would lead protestants into hot water, and hence various inconveniences and problems (as you can imagine), and disciplinary actions. It is only after collapse of the Soviet system that Ukraine for example [that's where I'm from] started to allow people the ability to avoid service in the military on religious grounds.

    I am saying this only to give you a different perspective and point of view of things. Very few Protestant/Evangelical denominations in America even share that view of military service.

    I don't see some patriotism as problematic, but in the end, the Body of Christ transcends the borders of politics or language... so my personal favorite quote on the subject goes to... John Chrysostom whom Jean Michel Hornus quotes in his book (http://www.amazon.com/Not-Lawful-Fight-Christian-Attitudes/dp/160608934X/) as follows:

    "In his Homily on St. Lucian, St. John Chrysostom observed that the martyrs had responded to all the magistrate's questions with the identical phrase, 'I am a Christian.' He then commented, 'He who answers thus has declared everything at once - his country, profession, family; the believer belongs to no city on earth but to heavenly Jerusalem." p. 97-98

    Saying that, I think there got to be some balanced view... and probably it would be true one. Not sure which one that is..

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  3. Nonsense. I have a King, I have a country, and I will never pledge my allegiance to another flag. The USA is where my sovereign Lord has determined that I sojourn, but to be a patriot here in my mind treason against the country of my citizenship. I could not imagine Paul encouraging the Romans to act like Patriots. This post looks like a way of justifying a career of collecting money from the State.
    RA Jameson
    declinationblog.com

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  4. I agree with the expectation that true Christians should be able to serve in the US military and government and in fact we need as many as possible to be serving. They are also the ones paying the taxes and providing the love of God to imperfect humanity. The question we should be asking ourselves .... If the military/government becomes too corrupted with iniquity will the true disciples of Christ among us continue to serve therein? I think not, they are already leaving. They can not remain yoked in a league of others' negativity, unbelief and sin. Godly parents who are veterans are less likely to encourage a military career. That said, some will stay as long as they can, risking hardness of heart, the carnal plagues and infirmities and pollution that beset the unsaved. They will still be saved themselves in Christ spiritually, but they may suffer the same affirmities of the unsaved in this life.

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