Christ Before Country
The sun is beginning to rise on the 4th of July here at Life is Story headquarters. The Madman hasn’t gotten much sleep yet due to a variety of projects cluttering his desk, but he wanted to take time out to share a bit about what he thinks the proper perspective for the holiday actually is.
Patriotism runs high this time of year. The flags wave. The fireworks boom. Yankee Doodle marches. Toby Keith reminds those that would harm our country that we’ll “stick a boot up their ass” if they even try. That’s assuming that we can actually get it out of our mouth first.
Yesterday, thousands of preachers filled their pulpits and thundered a sermon full of national pride. The phrases resound – One Nation, Under GOD!, GOD Bless America, America is a CHRISTIAN nation. Now I am all for the realization that the United States of America was a nation founded upon the basis of Christian principles by men who primarily held to Christian beliefs, but we are altogether arrogant if we take our national pride and apply it to our faith.
By all accounts, given the vast number and vibrancy of the underground church in China, perhaps God is more a God of the Chinese than the God of the Americans – speaking just based on numbers of course. Perhaps our national pride is a bit overzealous. I do not wish to impugn the great advances our country has made over the course of the last couple hundred years or deny that this is a great country in which to live – a country in which I can express my thoughts and my faith without fear of repression. But we err greatly if we assume that because a good number of us are Christian, or were Christian, or go to church, or claim Christianity as their religion, that we are a Christian nation. Even more arrogant is when we practically demand that God bless us.
There was once another nation that had such nationalistic fervor. They actually had a very good reason for taking pride in their nationality. They were Hebrews, Jews, citizens of Israel. Yahweh himself had said “I will claim you as my own people, and I will be your God.” (Ex. 6:7). And throughout thousands of years of history the hand of Yahweh was seen visibly and powerfully upon the Hebrew people and the nation of Israel.
Israel was zealous in their pride that they were God’s people. The Word of God had been bequeathed to them through God’s prophets and it was through conversion and adherence to their national law that men might be saved. Then a man named Jesus changed everything.
This Jesus was the incarnated form of the very Yahweh the Jews claimed to belong to. In Jesus, deity shrouded itself in humanity. The Word became flesh and tabernacled among his people. Those that recognized he was the Christ, the son of the Living God, asked him if he would at that time lead Israel out of the Roman bondage and become King of Israel.
Jesus answer was firm. “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom…my Kingdom is not of this world.” (Jn. 18:36) The entire time God was on earth in the form of Jesus, he worked to destroy the nationalistic fervor of the Israelite nation and bring the people to a realization that Yahweh was the Creator of all, the God of all, who desires to be in a relationship with all – be they Israelite or Samaritan; Jew or Gentile; American, Mexican, or Iraqi. Paul reminded those at Mars Hill that God “hath made of one blood all nations of men” (Acts 17:26) and that there are therefore no invisible lines that divide nations or features that divide ethnicity in the eyes of God.
Speaking with a Samaritan would have been the equivalent of associating with Al-Qaeda. James and John even suggested that Jesus call down fire to destroy them (Luke 9:51-56), but Jesus rebuked them and later showed Love and brought salvation to the Samaritans (John 4:1-42).
The message was clear enough that Paul, the Jew of Jews, came to understand it: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.“ (Gal 3:28). National boundaries are erased in the kingdom of God. We are no longer citizens of the world, for “As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I [Jesus] have chosen you out of the world.” (John 15:19b). He chose us such and “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors,” (2 Cor 5:20) meant to live a life that preaches his “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:19).
So on this day when we celebrate our national identity, let us as Christians be reminded that citizenry lies not with this country or even with this world, but “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,” (Phil. 3:20).
And so on this day I stand before you not as an American beside other Americans intent on celebrating the greatness of a country not yet a quarter millennium old but rather I stand in remembrance of the principles upon which our nation was founded, principles that find their justification and rationality only within the framework of Christianity and the Christian community.
I stand before you as a citizen of Heaven, standing hand in hand with those of every country in the world who have disavowed this world as their own. And I celebrate not a country wrapped up in its own greatness even as corruption becomes its downfall; I celebrate not that America is the most powerful country in the world, I do not even celebrate that we are land of the free.
I stand in celebration of the principles that founded this nation and the ideology its founders employed. But I am not proud to be an American. I am proud to be a child of God, a citizen of heaven, and only an ambassador to this world.
For the true disciple it is Christ before family, Christ before country, Christ before life itself. The flesh must always be sacrificed to the spirit and the heavenly placed ahead of the earthly, and that at any cost. – Christ Precedence, A.W. Tozer