So Many Kinds of Voices: Nationalism

“Pride of nation” is one of the few “isms” that we find acceptable and tolerate. It, however, has the potential to divide and dwarf.

“Global community” are the buzz words of this millennium. The phrase means different things to different people, but in essence, envisages a seamless world order, free of the political, social, economic, and religious barriers that lie at the root of history’s conflicts and upheavals. Such a state is impossible until our Lord Jesus Christ ascends the throne of universal dominion to reign over the millennial earth.

Indeed, wherever Christ reigns, all earthly insignias and distinctions must disappear. Under His Lordship, His citizens delight to display the glory and worth of the Sovereign alone. If saved, we are in the kingdom as well as in the church, and throughout history, where this truth is forgotten, there is discontent, disunity, and disorder.

As we trace the progress and success of the gospel in the Acts, we see it spreading through the divisions of the Jewish world (ch 2), the racial world (ch 8,9,10 – descendants of Ham, Shem, Japheth), and the widest scope of the known Gentile world (ch 13-28). “Gentile, meaning “nations,” embraces the multitude of political and national divisions apart from the Jewish divisions.

Nationalistic pride associated with these former distinctions was carried into assembly life and caused problems that threatened the health of these assemblies. In Acts, it affected the care of widows (ch 6) and the fellowship of the apostles (ch 10, 11, 15). It necessitated the epistles to the Galatians, the Ephesians, and the Colossians. There are suggestions in Titus that characteristics found in the Cretians would be a detriment to the assembly there. And, could it be suggested that in the English-speaking world being Irish, Italian, Scottish, English, American, Canadian, Australian, or New Zealander has at times been given undue importance in the assembly life of God’s people when the mind of God is that there is now only, “Jew, Gentile and church of God “(1 Cor 10:32).

Our topic, Nationalism, has to do with Citizenship.

Among the many blessings of salvation, we have been made citizens of a heavenly country: “Having been translated out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Son of His love.” The heavenly takes precedence over whatever earthly claims we may make. Earthly citizenship may be ours by birth or adoption, and may or may not be to our liking. It is by Divine providence, and thus militates against pride. Whether in the most advanced or regressive of societies, regardless of the form of human government, we live in a scene which is godless and under condemnation. Presently, “the whole world lieth in the wicked one.” Acceptance of one another as believers is by virtue of the fact that we have “received a kingdom that cannot be moved” (Heb 12:28) and declare allegiance to the same “flag” and Sovereign. “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20). Earthly citizenship has to do with a passing scene where we make our living, but it is left at the door when we meet with the saints.

Nationalism also involves Cultural Distinctions. These may involve dress, social order, food, and hygiene, to name a few. Some of these may be preferable or “positive;” others may actually be detrimental or “negative;” while still others may be frankly “neutral.” In this mobile world, believers traveling or immigrating would need to keep in mind that these cultural differences may be apparent in the assemblies they visit. While they may be appreciated for contributing to the spiritual function of the assembly where they go, they will not be appreciated for statements or attitudes conveying the message, “It is better back home.” The Word of God sets out divine principles, practices, and moral standards applicable to all races and societies, and for all time, but the implementation of these may differ in some way because of these cultural distinctions. It is evident that the Lord’s Supper in the Acts may have been celebrated in the evening of the first day of the week, as there was no consideration given to the first day in pagan society. At least, this was the case in Troas (ch 20). Paul didn’t change the timetable to that in Antioch! The writer spent a Lord’s Day with the Perpignan assembly, in southern France, where, at the remembrance feast, the bread was a “French stick” and the cup was of white wine! Culturally different, yes, but a precious time was enjoyed around the Lord Himself.

But, nationalism reminds us of a Conduct Expected. Though heavenly by birth, hope, and destiny, we are on earth, and, practically, as citizens of the nation in which we reside, we have certain obligations. The Lord Jesus told his followers, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” Submission to the country’s ordinances and laws, payment of our taxes and dues, recognition of its rulers and officers, and living according to the ordinary customs, are God’s will for us. The believer should be a model citizen. He should be marked for the way in which he exemplifies Christ. Righteousness, benevolence, and goodness should be manifested by us, so that the gospel witness may be accepted. Readers of these lines may live in societies where Christianity is neither recognized, welcomed, nor legal, but reproach or persecution should be on account of Christ (iPet 4:14-16), and not because of poor behavior.

So while we are in the world, we are not of the world, and every earthly distinction that would give us status and preference in the reckoning of nations, is to be laid to one side as we move among God’s dear people. May our social fellowship in the community of Christians in our assembly be alone based upon our union with the Man Who died for us, who lives for us, and Who is returning to take us to our home.