Patriotism is Not Idolatry

In fact, as long as we're throwing around allegations of idolatry it might be interesting to explore the liberal Christians' faith in government as a form of idolatry. I could write a book about that.

The bottom line is that as long as Christians keep their love of country in proper perspective they are not guilty of idolatry. Dr. Wayne Grudem, in his excellent Politics According to the Bible, cites ample biblical authority for the compatibility of patriotism with Scripture, pointing out that it was God who established nations on earth. Paul, notes Grudem, said that God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place” (Acts 17:26). Grudem adds that God, as Job observed, “makes nations great, and he destroys them; he enlarges nations, and leads them away” (Job 12:23). The biblical meaning of a nation, says Grudem, differs little from our understanding of a nation today: “a group of people living under the same government that is sovereign and independent in its relationship to other nations.”

Grudem's most important point, in my view, is that we should consider independent, sovereign nations a blessing from God. They “divide and disperse government power throughout the earth.” This in turn militates against the consolidation of power in the hands of a global entity and “a worldwide dictator.”

On reading Grudem's rationale, I couldn't help but think of an analogy to our own constitutional framework. Our Constitution's framers, driven by their predominantly Christian worldview, believed in man's fallen state and his tendency to subjugate other men if left to his own devices and without restraints on his power. So they were careful to divide and disperse power between competing levels (federalism) and branches (the separation of powers) of government to deter the natural tendency of government, run by fallen men, toward absolutism and tyranny. It is all too easy for Americans to forget that tyranny has been the rule and not the exception in world history.

Madison famously wrote, in Federalist No. 51, “But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”

Likewise, if men were angels, nation states would not be necessary, and the story of the Tower of Babel -- in which God himself disperses the peoples of the earth into separate nations – would not be in the Bible. Alas, we are not angels. A healthy and biblically balanced allegiance of citizens to their nation-state is morally sound and proper and wholly in line with scripture.


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Please see the response of the esteemed New Testament scholar and writer Scot McKnight on these matters as well, and the response of Jonathan Fitzgerald.

9/30/2010 4:00:00 AM