“The Earthly [city] has made for herself, according to her heart’s desire, false gods out of any sources at all, even out of human beings, that she might adore them with sacrifices. The heavenly one, on the other hand, living like a wayfarer in this world, makes no false gods for herself. On the contrary, she herself is made by the true God that she may be herself a true sacrifice to Him.” – Augustine
Before you continue reading, please take this short quiz:
1. Name 3 founding fathers who were instrumental in founding the USA.
2. Name 3 Christians who were martyred in order to give you a Bible.
3. Name 3 pivotal events in American history.
4. Name 3 pivotal events in Church history.
Save your answers for later.
With Memorial Day behind us and Fourth of July before us, homes, stores, and other establishments are flying the American Flag. The Anthem will play, fireworks will explode with bright colors, and all Americans, hopefully, will be grateful for the country they live in and the freedoms the American heritage has bestowed on us.
Another establishment that will participate in the festivities are the many churches in our communities. Churches will sing patriotic hymns, honor those in the military, and pray for our country. This observation has caused questions that need to be answered: How do Christians relate to these festivities? What does the Bible say about this?
The Practice of Many Churches and Christians
O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain / For purple mountain majesties, above the fruited plain / America, America, God shed His grace on thee / And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea
With pride in their hearts and reverence to their country, many Christians will stand singing this beautiful song in their churches. It is with gratitude they sing.
When it comes to American festivities and the identity of the American, many Christians follow a similar pattern. Even when it comes to politics, many American Christians post articles, memes, comments, pictures of who they are supporting and clear indications of who they do not support. These posts can be from a simple #trumpwon to #hilaryforprison. Or, posts can turn a darker turn by comparing one political party or a political leader to a World War II group or name calling. It can result in posting memes like this:
The two situations seem almost contradictory and as opposite as can be. Yet, many Christians attend church and yet their social media is filled with posts like the one above. Is this the right attitude for the church? Is one better than the other? Or are both not right? We must look at the Bible for a clear answer.
Romans 13; 1 Peter 2 and a National Identity
The Bible is to be our guide for life (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Yet, does it say anything about being an American? Yes, it does. Paul and Peter address the issue of how a Christian should relate to their government and to their national identity.
The books of Romans and 1 Peter were written to Christians who lived in the Roman Empire. Usually, the emperors were not friendly towards Christians. Nero, a Roman emperor, tarred Christians and burned them as torches. This isn’t the same as being sued for not baking a cake. These Christians were fed to wild animals for not renouncing their faith.
Today, many Christians around the world are being martyred for their faith. Yet, in America, this is not a reality yet. The early Christians experienced a government that found pleasure in these events. This situation is where Paul and Peter state: “Let everyone submit to the governing authorities, since there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are instituted by God.” How cruel these words must have seemed as they fell on the ears of those persecuted. Yet, both Paul and Peter (who were executed) instruct Christians to remember that God is in control of the government. Submit to them. Honor the emperor. This is God’s will. Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:11-17 are parallel passages. They were instructed to see God as their Sovereign Lord and King. They served God by living peaceably with all men. This means Christians first saw themselves as God’s and then under the Roman Empire.
Daniel: The Romans 13 Example
An Old Testament example is Daniel. He is a good example of a Romans 13 believer. He was taken as a captive to Babylon. In Daniel 1, he was made into a Babylonian citizen and was trained in Babylon ways, culture, and literature. Yet, we see that he would not eat the king’s food because it violated his fear of God. We generally see this as a good thing. Yet, let’s ask a different question: did he force his beliefs on his non-Jewish peers? No. He personally kept his faith. The king eventually promotes Daniel to be one of the three top administrators in the kingdom. Here we land in Daniel 6 (Daniel in the Lion’s Den). Remember, Daniel is one of the head administrators of the kingdom. He helped advise the king. Yet, due to jealousy, a new decree went out that banned praying to anyone but the king. As an administrator, Daniel would have known about this law. It does not say if he questioned the king. But, we do know that he prayed towards Jerusalem like he did before. He kept his faith. He remembered who God is and feared God above men. Yet, did he make a public protest or chisel a political meme “Darius and Pharaoh from Exodus are the same”? No. He went and he prayed. He knew God was sovereign and he acted on that.
Read Daniel 1-6 and see how Daniel follows a Romans 13 pattern.
The American and Romans 13
How does this apply to us today? Think back to that quiz. Which answers were easier to come up with? This reveals an attitude in many Christians. It tends to be the trend to know American history better than Christian history. This reveals that we have been caught up with being an American first. We have been bought from the kingdom of darkness and made citizens of the kingdom of our Creator. That is our first and primary citizenship. This leads us to some points:
First, do we submit to the authorities that God has put in our lives? Or are we slandering politicians on Facebook? What does that say to the world around us when they see Christians slamming politicians, political parties, and policies on social media? How much do we rant about political matters rather than praying about them? What does that say about our belief in the sovereignty of God?
Second, what do we honor more: America or God? Think of the lyrics to America, the Beautiful. The lyrics portray America and American heritage as better than our own Christian heritage. It seems that the many patriotic songs we sing in church are worshipping America rather than the God who gave us our country. This does not mean we throw them out. We need to be careful how we see these songs. Is it America that is worshipped during these services or is it gratitude to God first? It is good we honor those in office, armed forces, and those who have died and are veterans. However, since our primary citizenship is in God’s kingdom, how much do we honor our Christian heritage? How much do we know about our heritage? How much does our Christian heritage affect our thinking?
As we look at how we handle our government and being an American, it comes down to one question:
Are you an American Christian or a Christian American?