How many times during annual National Prayer Breakfast observances have you heard this scripture read? “[I]f my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14, NIV).
An implied connection is made between America and Israel. The connection concludes that America is the modern-day or “New Israel.” This leads the audience to conclude that America and Americans are the “my people” of the verse.
Events such as Independence Day and other national holiday observances often celebrate some mixture of our Christian faith and our nation’s heritage. This mix forms what might be called a “civil religion.”
Such a mixture tends to blur, even confuse the lines between our service to God and our service to country.
Many books contain information about this phenomenon. However, let’s focus for a few moments on how such widely prevailing beliefs might impact us as Christian warriors in the service of our country.
A Review of the Facts
America is a nation founded on godly principles, by God-fearing men. As a nation, we have convinced ourselves of our uniqueness with concepts such as Manifest Destiny and American exceptionalism. As a nation we appear favored and blessed by the Lord with success and prosperity unparalleled in human history. Don’t all these things point to our special status as God’s chosen nation? Do they suggest we are in a unique relationship with God, one not enjoyed by the other nations?
There appears to be many examples of God’s favor towards America. We should not have been able to defeat Great Britain, the premier maritime and land-power nation at the time of the Revolution–yet we did. We were blessed with a unique set of circumstances that enabled us to expand “from sea to shining sea” in less than three-quarters of a century. The amphibious landings at Normandy (WWII) and Inchon (Korean War) had the potential to be disasters. But they were resounding victories.
Despite all this evidence, plus our unrivaled prosperity, the fact is that America is still just one of many nations. Although, without a doubt, it has been under the Lord’s blessing and protection from its very inception. America is not God’s uniquely chosen nation.
Neither the phrase nor the concept of a “new Israel” occurs in Scripture.
A Theocracy and a Republic
Biblical Israel was what political scientists call a theocracy – a nation that expressly governs itself with divine authority as its supreme authority and according to God’s laws (as best understood). Modern parallels include countries such as The Islamic Republic of Mauritania, which identifies its state religion in the title, and carries a commitment to Islamic Sharia law.
America, by contrast, has never pretended to be anything other than a democracy – or more accurately, a republic. Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines a republic as “a government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them and governing according to law.”
By constitutional design, no federal- or state-endorsed religion is allowed in America.
True, it is undeniable that America’s laws at the federal, state or local level reflect the biblical concepts of justice and right conduct. However, as members of the military we take an oath to “support and defend the Constitution,” rather than an oath to obey the Lord Jesus Christ. This commitment to the Constitution can be described by such noble virtues as integrity and service. In the military we stress “Duty, Honor, Country,” rather than on our faith in God.
This is not to deny that America is mightily blessed nor that it’s primarily made up of Christians who daily try to do the Lord’s will in their service to America. But this is a far cry from America being God’s chosen nation or assuming that God Himself is an American.
The challenge for a Christian service member is to make sure that his/her priorities reflect the Lord’s priorities first and foremost.
Subordinated to every Christian’s obligation to God are their obligations to the nation in which God has placed them. This is concluded by comparing Christ’s own words, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” with those of the Apostle Peter, “We must obey God rather than man.”
We can (for the most part) be good Christians and good patriots at the same time. We just need to keep it clear in our minds that they are not always the same thing.
Now that we’ve seen that America is not somehow uniquely “God’s Country, the question remains: What does Christian patriotism look like?
Individuals, not Nations
It is common in the Old Testament (OT) for God to deal with nations. God’s judgments always begin, first, with His own people, Israel, and then extend to the surrounding nations. An example of this is found in the Book of Jeremiah. Most of the book contains a message of judgment against His own people Israel. But in chapters 46-51, God pronounces judgements upon individual nations.
However, in the New Testament (NT), the emphasis is on God dealing with individual people. There are no such “prophecies against the nations” in the NT as there are in the OT. In the NT we see Jesus and the other biblical writers addressing individual believers or individual churches. The only exceptions to this are Jesus’ own prediction of Jerusalem’s destruction in the Gospels (e.g. Luke 19:41-44) and the judgment upon “Mystery Babylon” in the apocalyptic literature of Revelation (Revelation 17-18).
Throughout the Gospels Jesus called individuals to follow Him (e.g., Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Matthew, Zacchaeus, etc.). Indeed, Jesus explained that His ministry would bring division within each household, not to mention division within each nation (Luke 12:51-53). Some members will follow Christ, others will not.
How, then, can God punish an entire nation without “destroying the righteous with the wicked” (Genesis 18:25)? The NT teaches God’s individual call to each person. Note the Apostle Peter’s words to his Gentile audience assembled at Cornelius’ home. “[H]ow true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right” (Acts 10:34-35).
This shows that God’s focus is less on nations and more on individuals. Our focus ought to be the same.
What does the Lord Approve?
As far as patriotism goes, what does the Lord approve? As with other “causes” not directly linked to our faith, the virtues of zeal, dedication, commitment, self-sacrifice and many others are valuable to the work and commendable in the individual. The Bible commands us to seek justice, correct oppression, care for the poor and sick, and other similar good deeds and practices. Serving in the U.S. military is only one way that we can align our life’s work with a “good cause.”
A few lines from the fourth verse of our national anthem place things in proper priority:
“Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n-rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: ‘In God is our trust’. “
Proper Alignment, Proper Devotion
As long as our Nation aligns itself under the righteousness and purposes of God, Christians are free to render their devotion to it. We go too far when we place devotion to our nation on a level equal to that of devotion to the Lord God Almighty.
Instead of embracing the notion of “My country; right or wrong, my country,” our patriotism would be better expressed by the thought, “I love my country, no matter how flawed it may be.” But blind devotion to country, regardless of the righteousness or wickedness of its actions, goes beyond what the Lord permits.
Remember Acts 4:19-20? The Sanhedrin (the highest national authority, under the occupying power of Rome) commanded the disciples to cease preaching the Gospel. How did they reply? Peter and John answered, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (NIV). Patriotism is a virtue – in its proper place.
Is your devotion in the right place? In the journey of “Christian Patriotism,” have you placed the Lord as your primary devotion? If not, today can be the day you find the correct balance in your devotion by placing Him first. See below for resources that can help you take this next step.