Whose Kingdom, Which Lord? Jesus & Nationalism, part 5 (Concluding Exhortations… Native Americans as Victims of Nationalism)

This is part four of a five part series on Jesus and Nationalism.  It reads as one fluid written sermon so you may want to read the rest of the series.  I have never spoken this sermon but figured I would use the blog to get the text out there…

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So, lets return to where we began this morning.  Does the painting that puts Jesus in the center of our national identity help or harm the cause of the Kingdom of God?  In my experience in God and politics conversations that I’ve had, many people truly believe that God has divinely foreordained the form of government in America.  I have heard people appeal to the Constitution and its amendments as though they are a moral supplement to the Bible.  I have friends who have made comments to me on several occasions about how the right to bear arms is an expression of Christian freedom.  Or some will start a conversation on some kind of ethical issue by saying, “but the constitution says…”  In other political circles, the conversations sometimes can become dangerous in that people can put all of their hope in government to solve the world’s problems.  But, as we have seen this morning, the New Testament clearly is careful not to align the Church with any nation or political ideology.  This is not to say that God doesn’t want governments to preserve order and justice in societies, but we must understand that all human governments are his accommodation to our broken world; never a path to his ideal plan for the cosmos.  When we place the cross and the flag too closely together or put Jesus with our Constitution (as the picture we began with does) we are in danger of losing our unique identity as members of a Kingdom that is distinct from all other nations of the world.  The beautiful, counter-cultural kingdom of God!

I want to close by giving you an extreme and yet true example of what can happen when we align our national interests with those of God.  The following is a quote from a sermon entitled Comforting the Soldiers, Preached by Puritan Preacher Cotton Mathers, in 1642:

“We are the New Israel and the natives are the Canaanites, just as Jehovah commanded Israel to slaughter the Canaanites, so God is calling us, by Divine right, to take this land and to slaughter if necessary.”[1]

When our Christian identity gets lost in the identity of a nationalistic agenda, the results are almost always the opposite of God’s will for our world.  No nation is the “new Israel” except the nation that is by its very definition transnational: the church!  So, Whose Kingdom and Which Lord are we going to serve?  Have we bought into the lie of Caesar?  Have we believed that our American political agenda is parallel to God’s?  May it never be!  May we choose to bear God’s image by reflecting his Lordship over all the Caesars of the world.  May our politics and national identities, never get in the way of making King Jesus known.  May we decide that any form of politics that gets in the way of that vision (whether liberal, conservative, or any other ideology this broken world comes up with), must be brought down to their knees to bow at the throne of Jesus Christ!

THANKS FOR FOLLOWING THIS SERIES THROUGH!  HOPE YOU GAINED SOME INSIGHTS AND EVEN WHERE YOU DISAGREE, YOU ARE ABLE TO ASK NEW QUESTIONS!

ANY FINAL QUESTIONS OR THOUGHTS ON THE SERMON AS A WHOLE?


[1] Quoted from: Gregory A. Boyd, Sermon: Poverty and Generational Sin [29:03ff] (Series: Compassion by Command), November 15, 2009.

 

 

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  • http://www.jmsmith.org James-Michael Smith

    Awesome sermon, Kurt!!!

    Here’s a somewhat-related article I wrote that deals with similar thinking among Christians:

    http://jmsmith.org/blog/a-different-look-at-the-israeli-gaza-fighting-warning-meant-to-start-discussion-not-endorse-either-side/

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.s.harmon churchedunchurched

    I love the first picture — wish there was a way to put only-slightly-discernible horns on the head, though, to make that point that such a “Christ” made captive, or showing favoritism, to any particular culture is false.

  • Amy

    “May we decide that any form of politics that gets in the way of that vision (whether liberal, conservative, or any other ideology this broken world comes up with), must be brought down to their knees to bow at the throne of Jesus Christ!”

    Thank you, brother, for this wonderful sermon. As a culturally white person-with-Cherokee-blood, thank you for the clarification about how America is not the new Israel and Native Americans aren’t Canaanites.

    Again, thanks.

    Beautiful words :-)

    • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

      Amy,

      You are welcome. thanks for engaging this topic with me :-)

  • http://findingmeaningin.blogspot.com/ Tucker

    This is a truly radical sermon Kurt, as all our sermons should be. I pray that whether through this blog or through a spoken iteration, this Good News will do its work in calling us all to renounce Cesar and embrace the Lordship of Christ.

    I think this last post could be expanded into a series all its own. I read an essay awhile back by Robert Bellah entitled Civil Religion in America (link below) that brought a significant epiphany for me. From early on in the history of what would become the United States, her people have sanctified history and national identity in a way that is profoundly idolatrous. Where Luke intentionally claims the terminology of the imperial cult in order to challenge Cesar’s claims to lordship, the American imperial cult reverses the process by casting itself in the role of Christ and the Church. This is not new; we see the regimes throughout European christendom doing the same.

    The claim you mention above that was used to justify Native American genocide is still alive and well in the rather casual claims that America is a new and morally superior nation, qualitatively different from any other country on earth. America is called “the greatest force for good the world has ever known”. The constitution is, as you mentioned, treated as sacred and inerrant. This cult even has its own hymnody.

    What is unsettling for our context, is that the idolatrous claims of the American imperial cult have, to a large degree, been conflated with biblical faith in our public discourse. For many, it seems self-evident that Christianity and patriotism (or even nationalism) go hand-in-hand. We don’t distinguish between serving America and serving Christ. Or recognize the dissonance of nominally holding views of biblical inerrancy and supremacy while simultaneously holding the constitution in at least as high a regard as the Bible itself in our practices. We sing “God Bless America” and think the religious experience we are having is one of Christianity, when in fact it is something else entirely.

    http://www.robertbellah.com/articles_5.htm

    • Amy Stone

      The claim you mention above that was used to justify Native American genocide is still alive and well in the rather casual claims that America is a new and morally superior nation.

      And don’t forget, our moral superiority is the reason for our dominant role among the nations. We are rich and powerful because we are the only nation that is faithful to God at our roots.

      Bull! :mad:

    • Amy Stone

      Tucker,
      I only quickly scanned the Robert Bellah article. It looks really good and I want to spend more time with it. I am persuaded that the US nationalistic rhetoric is not simply influenced by religion, but is itself a religious system, which is why it is so alluring to Christians. It is a sneaky counterfeit that appeals to our greedy and self-serving tendencies.

  • Garrett Zajac

    This is great, but may I prod further with a question:

    So do you wish to keep the church/state dichotomy? because they were never separate camps until modernity.

    to ask in a more pointed/ethically driven way:

    Is baptism political?

    • Amy Stone

      Garrett,
      The church and state were never in separate camps until modernity?

      The first three hundred years of church history is characterized by periods of intense persecution. Roman rulers, and the church itself, defined the movement in political and religious terms. Baptism was a sign of rebellion against Rome.

      Constantine wasn’t emperor until the fourth century, and his rule contributed to the toleration and popularity of Christianity. It certainly didn’t make baptism a requirement for citizenship. Constantine himself wasn’t baptized until on his “deathbed”.

      It wasn’t until the ninth century, when Charlemagne was crowned emperor by Pope Leo III, that the church and state were finally married.

    • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

      Garrett, I am with Amy on this one on the historical side.

      However, I don’t want to say that all politics and all spirituality are in dichotomy. Quite the opposite. All of life is political, the question is who are we going to allow to set the agenda? The second the state and the church get married, we lose the scandalous uniqueness of the early church to create a ‘counter politic.’ I am happy to keep them separate organizationally, but they are not separate as far as how the church chooses to function as a political community. Every time we give money to the poor, we are political. Every time we give food to the hungry or clothes to the naked; we are political. Every time we speak the truth in love to the Caesar’s of this world (government), we are political. But in all these things, the second we tie them together organizationally, we rob the Gospel of the Kingdom of God of its power.

      So, I am for influencing government in a prophetic way, but not by taking the reigns of society from secular government, but by living in contrast to it, and by calling governments to do justice.

      • Amy Stone

        Kurt and Garrett,
        Believers baptism is a declaration of loyalty to a new nation, and a new family. Without turning away from one’s nation and family of origin, one isn’t truly turning toward loyalty to a new king. If this isn’t political I don’t know what is.

        • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

          Fully agreed here Amy!

  • http://criticalbelief.com/ Marc

    The Bible is fairly clear and Jesus and Paul fairly explicit that ALL authority and power comes from God. The flip side is that the powers are also accountable to God in a way in which peasants just aren’t. I’m not sure the evangelical view, which considers all sins damning, all non-Christians damned, can take this adequately on board. By this view the US is a Christian Nation, the epitome of what Christ wants and the idea of judgement is just laughable. There is much to be said for corporate judgement especially since this is the dominant mode of blessing and curse in the OT. I don’t think the NT introduced individualism.

  • Cesar Espinoza

    well said. Amen.

  • ianspeir

    Kurt,

    Your part 5 seemed to be in tension with your part 3. You said in part 3 that all systems of gov’t were under the dominion of Satan. In part 5, you indicate that they are God’s accommodation to our broken world and exist to establish order. I think your part 5 is on more solid ground given Rom. 13 and 1 Pet. 2:13-14.

  • Barbara Hansen

    I really enjoyed this sermon, both in word and illustration. There are so many people affected by this subject, or have rejected the church as a whole because of our church/state associations. Thanks for taking what has been bouncing around in my head and putting it in clear and logical thinking. This last section was powerful!

  • Calleen Bonilla

    Tucker: Well said!
    Kurt,
    WOW! What a sermon and so wonderfully stated! The image of our heavenly Father is being tainted by so many who claim His name as a springboard for their own agenda.It is a fine line that can be very blurred if we are not renewing our spirit with Christ daily and asking for His guidance. In times of trouble and uncertaintiy it is easy to search and cling to man for reassurance and saving. If we are not clear and strong in “who” we serve we are all capable of falling victim to Satan’s plan. Thank you for sharing and I look forward to reading more.

    I really loved your closing comment to Garrett.

    “So, I am for influencing government in a prophetic way, but not by taking the reigns of society from secular government, but by living in contrast to it, and by calling governments to do justice.”

  • garrett zajac

    Kurt and Amy,

    sorry, I should be more clear; I’m not talking about Christendom. church/state dichotomy is often understood as the shorthand of the fact that religious belief and political belief are now understood as two separate territories. This ONLY began in modernity beginning with its trajectory with the copernican revolution in the 16th century. The church/state dichotomy only began once the philosophical and scientific category of the ‘natural’ began. The reasoning for the dichotomy was that religious belief began to be perceived as getting in the way of political discussion. Plus, we were growing in scientific knowledge that seemed so different that religious knowledge, we began to separate them in our minds and later our sociology. A scientific fact becomes more weighted than a religious belief. So when I speak of Church/state, I’m not speaking of Christendom, but rather the psychological mixing of religo-political thought that was evident for basically all of human history until the modern era. So there was no church/state dichotomy (or even pagan religion/state dichotomy) in anyone’s thinking even before Christendom and only until the 16th century. This is why I asked about whether you perceived baptism to be political. Modernity will say no; it is rather a personal commitment of faith in the realm of religious belief that has no political position of its own. the first century was totally opposite. If you called christ messiah, you were seen as a revolting citizen of the empire because only caesar was called messiah.

    Kurt, your choosing to say that the church functions politically not in an organizational manner is your answering my question. and it’s one of many. my question, then, is why such a strong answer? Does God say we are to be without power or governance as Christians ispo facto? it’s easy to speak collectively, but let’s ask the same question of the church as individual: may a christian be a politician? there’s the million dollar question.

    • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

      Short answer to your big question… may a Christian be a politician… yes, this is possible and in fact i have seen it done. Now, a step further- is this “kingdom of God work?”… my answer is a hesitant “no.” there’s ambiguity for ya! Ha! Read Greg boyd’s “Myth of a Christian Nation” on this question.

      Regarding your first question about the dichotomy… perhaps you did not read my previous post where I state this about “give to Caesar” passage in Luke 20:

      “Many have assumed that this passage is an attempt by Jesus to split life into two spheres: the spiritual and the public. This would be a great mistake! This principle has been used to justify many things in the name of government and empire (especially war) because that kind of activity fits into the public/political box, not the spiritual one. But the passage here doesn’t allow for any such thing. Such an idea would be completely foreign to someone hearing this passage in the first century.” (Post 3 of 5)

  • garrett zajac

    also, I don’t know if anyone’s interested, but Bruno Latour’s “we have never been modern” is a great book on the topic of religio-political thought and how it became separated in modernity. It’s technically challenging but absolutely invaluable for doing theology in a postmodern era. Another must read is “Democracy and Tradition”, which speaks to our U.S. dichotomy between church and state and how it ultimately fails.

    • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

      Thanks for the book recommendations. I personally would say that whatever the US thinks such a dichotomy or lack there of should be has no affect on the church and her mission to be completely other than any kingdom of this age.

  • Michael

    Excellent topic. As much as I thank God that I was born in America as opposed to any other country in the world – I don’t think God “likes” America as much as we Americans do. We’ve warped our thinking into believing that God favors us while he rejects other “lesser” countries.

    It’s hard to grasp that God, while he loves me, doesn’t love me one ounce more than he loves Obama or Hitler or Bin Laden (no intent to draw a parallel between those three names implied).

    Too many times we Modern Christians also forget the First Century life and it’s implications on scripture. Thanks for the discourse on the context of the time of Jesus birth.


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