For two thousand years Christians have lived under many different earthly rulers and nation-states. Many Christians today live as citizens of the United States of America. America has provided many blessings for Christians: we have not known much persecution and have enjoyed general religious tolerance for many years. We have freedom of speech and freedom of religion; we can freely promote the faith and distribute materials regarding the Gospel boldly. Many today live in other nation-states and under different rulers who do not provide these freedoms or benefits. We should not only be thankful for the benefits which come from living in America, but above all things to be sure we take full advantage of them so as to advance God’s purposes to further His glory.
Nevertheless, contrary to the belief of many, the United States of America does not represent the Kingdom of Christ on earth. God no doubt has provided blessings upon the United States, and likely has some plan or intention to accomplish in and through it, but we have no justification to suggest that God has chosen or favored the United States of America over any other nation-state, or that citizens of the United States of America maintain special standing or benefit before God. Even with all its benefits, the United States of America is a nation-state among nation-states: it has risen, it maintains power, but one day it will also fall (unless the Lord returns first). And yet the Gospel of Christ will remain; Christians serving in His Kingdom will endure (1 Peter 1:23-25).
Christians must never be deceived by the powers and principalities of the world to attempt to wrap the cross of Christ in the Stars and Stripes of America. The goal of Christianity is not the attainment of the “American Dream”; one can be a perfectly fine citizen of the United States of America while remaining disobedient to the purposes of God manifest in the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 7:21-23). While many aspects of American governance and culture may be commendable, many other aspects of the United States of America stand in variance against the values of the Kingdom of God in Christ. We do well to explore some of these points of divergence.
If there is a national religion in the United States, it is the pursuit of the “Almighty Dollar.” In America everything has its value and price; Americans seek to monetize more and more aspects of life. While Christians ought to work to make a living, they also must find contentment in whatever they have been given (Ephesians 4:28, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15, 1 Timothy 6:6-8). Far too many Americans have fallen prey to the idolatry of covetousness, believing the accumulation of money and things will provide solace, comfort, and strength, and have pierced themselves with many griefs (1 Timothy 6:9-10).
One does not have to travel far in the United States to perceive the power of its patriotism and nationalism. Americans often prove excessively proud of their country, its ideals, and its heritage; many remain convinced that the United States of America is exceptionally the best at almost everything. Christians ought to be thankful for the benefits and blessings they enjoy as citizens of the United States of America and use those benefits to the advancement of God’s purposes (1 Timothy 2:1-3); to find value in one’s identity as an American is not automatically a bad thing. Unfortunately, however, Americans all too easily fall prey to overweening pride: it is easy to attempt to justify, rationalize, or excuse the evils done by past generations and presume that the United States has always been in the right when it has acted. What Paul and John says about people in Galatians 6:3 and 1 John 1:8, 10 is true of such a view of the United States of America: its people have sinned, and to deny that sin is to be self-deceived and a liar. Americans can be easily seduced into thinking that American lives are worth more than the lives of people in other countries; while we certainly understand that any nation-state must consider the interests of its own people above the interests of others, Christians must confess that each and every person has equal value as a child of God and can obtain equal standing before God through faith in Jesus (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11, 1 Timothy 2:4).
These trials, and many others, all stem from the root of selfishness. The American ethos has prized the “self-made man” and the “lone ranger”: indivdiualism is highly prized and exalted in the United States and has grown ravenously in recent generations. While Americans have become sharply divided in their politics as of late, both sides attempt to prove themselves the champions of individual freedom and liberty on some issue or another and portray the other side as involving the government in your personal business. Americans have always looked askance at inherited authority or authority figures; Americans do not like being told what they should do. God loves each individual person and wishes for their salvation (John 3:16, 1 Timothy 2:4); nevertheless, in the Kingdom of God, emphasis on individualism is decried as selfish ambition, and runs contrary to God’s purposes in Christ (cf. James 3:13-18). Jesus died for all mankind to be reconciled to God and to one another; oneness in relationship demands concession, compromise, humility, and the willingness to consider the interests of others greater than our own (Matthew 20:25-28, John 17:20-23, Philippians 2:1-4). Christians are to obey earthly authorities, recognizing that they all have power because God has given it to them (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:11-18); they must privilege their citizenship in the Kingdom of Jesus over any other loyalty (Philippians 3:20-21). One cannot be in Christ unless one is part of Christ’s body, which is manifest on earth as the church (Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, 12:12-28, Ephesians 1:22-23, 2:18-20); in Christianity, a “self-made man” lives under a delusion, and a “lone ranger” is easy pickings for the Evil One (Galatians 6:3-4, 1 Peter 5:8).
We Christians who live as citizens of the United States of America have a choice: we can be Christian Americans, wrapping the cross in the flag, establishing our purpose as “re-Christianizing” America, and emphasize our identity as Americans, or we can be American Christians, obeying our elected officials, paying taxes, and being the best citizens we can, but recognizing that our short time on earth is best spent attempting to advance the purposes of the enduring Kingdom of Jesus and manifesting less concern for the fate of the particular nation-state under which we live. American Christians can find commendation in Scripture (Philippians 3:20-21); no such commendation can be found for Christian Americans. We must not allow ourselves to be deceived into thinking that whatever America is or does is best for the Kingdom of God; we must be on guard against the idolatrous tendencies of covetousness, patriotism, nationalism, and individualism. May we serve God in the Kingdom of Christ!
Ethan R. Longhenry