One of the most frustrating affronts to the Gospel of Christ is watching Christians conflate national identity with their religious identity. This is never seen so clearly as on this day, the Fourth of July. As Christians, we believe that Jesus taught that we live in two overlapping realities at once- the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Man. Our aim is to see God’s Kingdom penetrate the Kingdom of Man through acts of love, justice, mercy, and grace.
Our primary allegiance is supposed to be to the Kingdom of God and that Kingdom includes every nation, tribe, ethnicity, faith, creed, color, and tongue. In the Kingdom of God, all of our “tribal distinctives” fall to the wayside. As the Apostle Paul so clearly points out in his letter to the church at Ephesus, in Christ there is no slave or free, Jew or Greek, American or Australian, black or white, gay or straight, blue collar or white collar, poor or rich…. but all are one in Jesus. That doesn’t mean we lose those unique defining factors that make us who we are, but those identities become much less central to us. Our true self is rooted in our identity as partakers in the Divine Nature, being united with Jesus Christ. Our common unity and bond with one another is found in the love of God and the reality that we are all his Children created in his image.
American Christians, however, often seem to get this wrong. Instead of upholding the unity and commonality of all people as children of God, we intermingle the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of America and soon blur them so closely together that we cannot distinguish one from the other- even though they are fundamentally different. We begin to speak of America as being “God’s Country” and begin to use religious language to describe our devotion and commitment to our nation. Out national patriotism then becomes a part of our worship of God. When this happens, we get mixed-images like these:
Now, if you don’t see what’s wrong with these pictures, you probably have had your vision of the Kingdoms blurred.
Followers of Jesus ultimately have no allegiance to any nation. Not America, Not England, Not Rome, Not Israel. No one. We are a body of people united in common faith to see the world transformed by the Gospel. However, when we as the Church allow national patriotism to enter our churches, we severely compromise the beauty and mission of Christ. We are not defined by our nationality. We are not a national entity. We have no affinity towards any government.
And no, God does not have a special love for America.
Our hope does not rest in our freedom as Americans. Our mission is not to “bring American back to God”. America has never been “God’s Country”. We’re not and have never been a Christian nation. We were not founded upon Christianity. And the Church of Jesus Christ should have absolutely nothing to do with patriotism, nationalism, or militarism. And yet, this weekend, even in spite of a pandemic, thousands of churches are going to be filled with people singing “God Bless America” and waving American Flags. There will be sermons preached about how America is “God’s country” and how we are called to defend our nation against the attacks of the anti-Christ racial, gender, or sexual “liberal agendas”.
None of this remotely resembles the faith of Jesus.
No, this Christian Nationalism is a false religion- one that has appeared many times throughout history when Christianity and political interests have been mixed together as a means of securing power and influence. It resembles the religion of Ancient Rome where the Caesar (or King) would be honored as a god. Instead of a single leader, in America, we honor our nation as a god. But America isn’t what we’re to be defending as Christ followers. We’re not called celebrate our nation. Instead, we are called to cast aside our national affiliations and recognize that all humans are truly citizens of one nation under God– the Body of Christ, which is made up of every nation in on the planet.
When local churches celebrate the Independence Day they are treading on idolatrous territory. I am not saying that local churches shouldn’t pray for our nation or even offer a word of thanks to God to live in our great country. Of course we should. The problem arises when we bring out the flags and play the national anthem in the House of Prayer for All Nations. It is at that point that the church is engaging in something very contrary to the Gospel of Jesus.
For in the person of Jesus, a new Kingdom has come, a new national identity has been born, and new life has burst forth. In Christ, all of our identifying labels fade to the background as we embrace our new identity rooted in Jesus himself. It is that identity- child of God- that unites every person on the planet. It is that identity that has the power to overcome our deepest prejudices. It is THAT identity we should be celebrating this Sunday.
Come to think of it, that’s what the Church should be celebrating every Sunday.
Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.“
John 18:36 NLT
(A version of this post appeared on my former blog Revangelical in 2015.)