Is the Word of God against feelings of patriotism? Is sentiment toward a fatherland sinful? Is saluting the flag and reciting the pledge of allegiance being unfaithful to the kingdom of God? Certainly, our first allegiance is to the Kingdom of God (Matt 6:33), but is it wrong to feel some affinity and loyalty to the country in which you live?
Most of us in North America trace our family roots back only a few generations to immigrants who came to this continent with very few earthly goods and bankrupt of spiritual wealth. They came in hopes of making a better life for their families. Chained to circumstances which limited social mobility and economic growth, they sought a better and different climate in which to raise their families. As a result, we all, virtually without exception, enjoy a lifestyle and standard of living which few of our forefathers dreamed possible. We have been blessed materially as few generations in history have been blessed.
However, more important than material possessions are the immeasurable spiritual blessings that have resulted from their coming to North America. Many of them, raised in religious darkness in their homelands, first heard the gospel and were reached and saved in North America. The freedom which the gospel enjoyed in N. America contrasted greatly with what marked their homelands. While those in the UK enjoyed the liberty of the gospel for centuries, many in other European countries were in spiritual darkness. While we owe all to the grace of God, one small part of that amazing grace is the blessing of a land where the gospel was able to be preached without restrictions.
The liberty and economic stability of our countries on this continent have been, in large measure, responsible for our material and spiritual prosperity. Behind it all, however, is a sovereign God Who, in His mercy, has overseen all that has been our portion. We give thanks first to Him.
Paul reminds us that we are to “owe no man anything” (Rom 13:8), as well as to render “honor to whom honor,” and “fear to whom fear” (v7). All this occurs in the context of our duty to civil authority in Romans 13. Peter voices similar sentiments when he states, sandwiched around the higher priorities of love for the brotherhood and the fear of God, “Honor all men,” and “Honor the king” (1Peter 2:17). While an entirely different set of circumstances were present in Jeremiah’s day, he did instruct the captives in Babylon to seek the peace of the city in which they dwelt and to build houses and become productive citizens (Jer 29:5, 7). Jerusalem was still to be their chief joy and focus, as is seen in Daniel praying toward Jerusalem (Dan 6), but there was nothing inherently evil about being a loyal citizen in Babylon.
Paul, in writing to Titus, enjoins the believers in Crete to “be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates … to speak evil of no man” (Titus 3:1-2). While we recognize evil and failings, we are not to be in the forefront of civil unrest or to adopt the vitriolic speech of some against the individuals in power in our land. We can disagree and point out their shortcomings, but we are not to speak evil of them. That is our duty, first of all to God, and then to them.
Paul was not reluctant to claim his Roman citizenship (Acts 22:25), nor to avail himself of its privileges and liberties for the spread of the gospel (Acts 25:11).
If patriotism, then, is defined as loyalty and honor to one’s nation for the privileges and blessings it has provided, then it would appear that there is nothing unscriptural about such an attitude. This does not equate to a, “My country, right or wrong,” type of arrogant attitude. We must admit evil and corruption where we see it, and we must never forget that the Word of God pictures governments as beasts. In every form of government apart from theocracy, there is corruption, evil, and oppression. We must not be blind to the limitations of every form of human rule. An appreciation for, and a loyalty to one’s country, is not rabid, fanatical patriotism. So, wave the flag if you wish! But remember to render thanks to the sovereign God Whose mercy has brought you the blessings which we all enjoy.
It is possible to journey beyond patriotism and arrive on the doorstep of nationalism. The spirit of nationalism can be found in many areas of society, expressing itself in chauvinistic blindness, bigotry, xenophobia, and military arrogance. We will not be occupied with the political forms which it takes but will key primarily on the strange development of nationalism among evangelical Christians in N. America. This is not to condemn the light-hearted bantering between Canadians and Americans, or between the English and their Scottish brethren. We are considering the mentality present in many circles of believers who feel that their country has a special place in the divine program and that it is the harbinger of God’s kingdom on earth.
Before embarking on some of the dangers of nationalism, it might be helpful to reflect on the Scriptural view of nations. Paul, in his discourse in Athens, reminded the listeners that God had “determined the bounds of their habitation” (Acts 17:26). In other words, God allows nations to rise on the landscape of history and then to recede. The lesson of history underlines the reality of the transient nature of even the greatest nations and empires. Each of the great dynasties of earth viewed itself as permanent and invoked divine favor – be it from from God or the gods – for its security. But they all were only for a season.
Nations serve a useful purpose for the good of humanity. While the spiritual needs of men are the primary concern of God, in His benevolence as the creator of all, He has instituted nations and governments for the wellbeing of the inhabitants of earth (Rom 13:1-5). Human needs for safety and the necessities of life are served by wise administrations of governments. A sense of “community” within a nation also preserves from individualism, which thinks that there is no greater concern than self. This sense of the greater good of a nation is what has led men to lay down their lives on battlefields and serve their country in a myriad of sacrificial ways, but appreciating the positive aspects of nationhood is not the same as nationalism. Perhaps the most tragic examples of nationalism in the 20th century were the blind adherence to Nazi dogma by intelligent men, or the fanatical allegiance of Chinese youth to Mao’s “Cultural revolution.” Millions lost their lives as a result of the fanatical fury of those who could not, or would not, see the evil within their nation and its leaders.
Here in N. America, the Puritan origin of our nation brought with it a theology which concentrated on establishing God’s Kingdom on earth. National pride soon, and with minimal effort, began seeing that kingdom as a nation which felt it had a divine destiny. In our own generation, some adherents to Reformed Theology, though not all, have espoused this mindset as well. While Reformed Theology does not denominate one nation as being God’s chosen nation for His purposes (in fact denying even Israel that role), it does limit the prophetic program of God to the return of Christ to establish His Kingdom on earth, without any thought of the pre-tribulation rapture or a future for Israel. It concentrates on an earthly Kingdom brought about by the spread of the gospel and an earth prepared for His reign. There are even those who label themselves as “dispensational” who ascribe a unique role to this nation in God’s purposes. We certainly believe, and look forward to Christ establishing His earthly kingdom, however, it will not occur through the efforts of believers on earth, but by His return as the “stone” to crush His foes.
Test yourself on how far you have bought into nationalism. Ask yourself this question: “If my country ceased to exist, would God’s purpose for the future be frustrated?” Some may object that, having read Mr. Jim Allen’s book Revelation Revisited, in which he postulates a role for America in the end times, that the USA must continue as a power until the end times. That is not the point of the question. Are we some special nation that God has raised up to accomplish His will “as a nation,” or are we just one of the nations in God’s great design, albeit a nation which has known His blessing in many remarkable ways?
Travel back to the founding of the nation. The Puritans on board the Arbella who left England in 1630 with their new charter, had a great vision. According to their future governor, John Winthrop, they were to be an example for the rest of the world: “We shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.” Eleven ships carried over a thousand Puritans to Massachusetts that year. The passengers were determined to be a beacon for the rest of Europe, “A Modell of Christian Charity,” in their words. “A City Set on a Hill” was the dream of our Puritan fathers as they landed on the shores of North America. The title, not without merit in itself, suggested the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth. Here was an attempt to establish a theocracy in a new land. John Calvin had tried to establish a theocracy of sorts in Geneva. The results were sad, tragic, and a shameful chapter in his history. The Puritans, like so many other groups, failed to learn the lesson of history. While it is commendable to have a just and moral society as a goal, the idea of establishing God’s kingdom on earth by legislation, coercion, and conversion, has no scriptural warrant and is doomed to failure.
The meaning of the word “Christendom” is a kingdom belonging to Christ. This concept was introduced as early as the 14th century to denote lands in which Christianity ruled, but God is not the sole province of any nation or nations, and will not be used by a nation. God uses the nations for His purposes, not vice-versa.
Two millennia ago, the Lord Jesus stood before a Roman governor and stated, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). That really should settle the question of any nation, aside from Israel, being indispensible for God’s purpose. There are those who believe that the purpose of the Christian is to make the world better through the gospel, until it reaches a point of such goodness, that Christ will return to establish His kingdom. It seems almost ironic that the very opposite is true: the world will get worse and worse until He must descend in judgment (Rev 19) to smash the kingdoms of this world and establish a kingdom characterized as “ the stone … cut out without hands” (Dan 2:34).
Patriotism and national pride are poles apart. Patriotism should make us weep over the condition of our nation, as it descends further into the moral abyss fostered by secular and humanistic reasoning. Rather than being essential for the divine program, we have arrived at the same state in which Sodom and Gomorrah were found prior to the Lord’s judgment descending upon them.
Those who view this country as having a “unique” place in history must either ignore the lessons of history and the transient nature of empires, or they must invest the nation with a special divine mission. The concept of a “divine destiny” has given rise to a spirit of evangelical nationalism which has no basis in Scripture.
Transcending national barriers is the link we have with believers in every land on earth – a spiritual link of being in Christ and being part of the family of God. National pride should never compete with the ties we have with each other in the Body of Christ. There is a danger that rabid allegiance to a nation could bring us into conflict with believers in other nations. The nation in which we live has a right to expect our loyalty and patriotism; but when it demands that we place it above every other allegiance, then it has overstepped the bounds of Scripture and we must give our allegiance to the Lord first of all.
Our primary link as believers is not with those who reside within a given geographical boundary, speak a particular language, or salute a particular flag. Our link is with all who own Jesus as Lord.