We have been considering a DVD produced by the World Video Bible School entitled The Silencing of God: The Dismantling of America’s Christian Heritage. The DVD features Dave Miller of Apologetics Press. The DVD is an attempt to galvanize Christians regarding the current state of culture, especially in regards to abortion and homosexuality. Most of the emphasis on the DVD is how America used to be a “Christian nation” and how that foundation has been “eroded.”
We previously demonstrated that the primary concern of God’s people should be the conversion of souls, not the fate of a country. We also saw that Christian Americanism is far from representing New Testament Christianity, and that under no definition with any viability can America be called a “Christian nation.”
I would like to continue our analysis by considering whether any country can really be a “Christian nation.” Perhaps, when considering what the Scriptures say about such a question, we can see how the approach espoused by Miller et al is fundamentally flawed.
Perhaps one of the greatest failures of “Christian history” is one that is often seen as a triumph: the legitimization and eventual political success of Christianity following Constantine’s “conversion” around 312 CE. Before this point, Christianity represented a minority belief that was often persecuted. This was its condition from its beginning.
After 312, many compromises were made to accommodate the new reality. The Roman Empire, having been demonized since the end of the first century, was now approved and justified. Augustine wrote The City of God in part as a defense for Rome taking up the cross and being a “Christian empire.” He also set forth the theory of the “just war,” which has been used and abused ever since.
Ever since, those countries that would in some way claim a Christian heritage have abused power, compromised the religion, and, in the end, both have suffered. The Crusades, the Protestant Wars of the sixteenth century, the Spanish Inquisition, and even Nazi rhetoric all show the great shame that comes upon the cross when it becomes a political object.
The process seems to have some consistency. Christianity is promoted by the state, and thus in some way receives the state’s protection and/or blessing. Those practicing Christianity now feel obligated to justify the state and its actions, and are more than amenable to compromising or leaving the rough edges of the religion aside so as to promote the state’s purposes.
This has happened in America, it happened in most of Europe for a millennium and a half, and it has not yet led to a state truly espousing every Christian value. It has led to a host of difficulties and compromises justified in various ways.
There is a lesson to be learned in this.
It is without a doubt that the New Testament never foresees the existence of a “Christian nation” in terms of a physical nation-state. No instruction is given about how one would go about setting up such a government. No guidelines are ever given for its rulers. Indeed, whatever one would come up with would come mostly from the Old Testament and how God worked with Israel. We will consider that matter later.
The reason that the New Testament does not foresee such a nation is because it is impossible for such a nation to exist. Consider the following explicit commands in the New Testament:
But Jesus called them unto him, and said, “Ye know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Not so shall it be among you: but whosoever would become great among you shall be your minister; and whosoever would be first among you shall be your servant: even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28).
“And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. And if ye love them that love you, what thank have ye? for even sinners love those that love them. And if ye do good to them that do good to you, what thank have ye? for even sinners do the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? even sinners lend to sinners, to receive again as much. But love your enemies, and do them good, and lend, never despairing; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be sons of the Most High: for he is kind toward the unthankful and evil. Be ye merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:31-36).
Avenge not yourselves, beloved, but give place unto the wrath of God: for it is written,
“‘Vengeance belongeth unto me; I will recompense,’ saith the Lord.”
But if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him to drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:19-21).
These are just some of the many statements made about the Kingdom of God that simply do not function within kingdoms of men. Servant leadership might be praised in political circles, but when is it practiced? Loving your enemies? Doing only good to them and not harm? Not taking vengeance on wrongs?
How long would a state last that tried these principles? Probably not very long. And guess which principles in the New Testament are the first to be compromised in terms of the nation-state? These very passages.
There is also wisdom in what Jesus Himself does and says. After all, if anyone would start a “Christian nation,” one would expect it to be Jesus Himself. Who else could be sufficiently worthy?
Jesus therefore perceiving that they were about to come and take him by force, to make him king, withdrew again into the mountain himself alone (John 6:15).
If God was going to establish a new set of guidelines to run the affairs of men, this was the chance. And yet Jesus did not take it. Jesus could certainly have been a king, and this was His opportunity. Yet He did not take it. Why?
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence” (John 18:36).
His Kingdom was not of this world. Instead, it transcends the world and conquers the world.
And in the days of those kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, nor shall the sovereignty thereof be left to another people; but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever (Daniel 2:44).
Jesus did not become a king of a physical nation because His Kingship was greater, and His Kingdom more enduring, than any nation of the earth. Indeed, many mighty empires have risen and fallen in the past two millennia, and yet Jesus’ Kingdom remains. Many great rulers have erected monuments to their greatness; some are still there, others have fallen, but people around the world gather even today to partake of the bread and fruit of the vine in the Lord’s Supper.
Jesus’ intentions never involved setting up an earthly kingdom. Instead, He is Lord of all (Matthew 28:18). His Kingdom is greater than any other kingdom. It cannot be limited by physical boundaries, the whims of a government, or any other such thing.
Furthermore, His call demands complete loyalty. Those who are in Christ’s Kingdom are to put it first (Matthew 6:33). Those who make anything greater than their devotion to Christ and His Kingdom– family, friends, and yes, even a country– are not worthy of Him (Matthew 10:34-39). Those who follow Jesus should be citizens of the Kingdom first and foremost (Philippians 3:20), and that is to be the source of our ultimate loyalty.
The Kingdom of God transcends every nation-state and any loyalties to a particular nation-state, even though each nation-state would demand complete loyalty and self-sacrifice. These are perhaps the greatest reasons why there cannot be any one state or nation that is a “Christian” nation.
Ultimately, any concept of applying “Christian” standards to a government requires a return to the Old Testament and God’s relationship with Israel. In that covenant, God did have a chosen physical nation, Israel. He did establish rules for that country, and even guidelines for the country’s leadership. The Old Testament is replete with stories of how God fought for Israel at times, against Israel at times, and was personally involved in that nation’s dealings and circumstance.
Could governments gain a lot from the standards of the Law of Moses, especially the pronouncements of the prophets? Absolutely.
But the danger enters in when we start looking at a modern country and believing that as God blessed Israel, God is blessing that country.
This is the trap into which Christian American has fallen headfirst, and it fell from the beginning. Views of America as the new Israel go as far back as Puritan days; perhaps the greatest extreme can be seen in Mormonism, which posited that some Israelites departed from Israel and traveled to America in days gone by.
The problem is that there is a new covenant, and one that does not operate under the same principles.
Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a feast day or a new moon or a sabbath day: which are a shadow of the things to come; but the body is Christ’s (Colossians 2:16-17).
But now hath he obtained a ministry the more excellent, by so much as he is also the mediator of a better covenant, which hath been enacted upon better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then would no place have been sought for a second (Hebrews 8:6-7).
And for this cause he is the mediator of a new covenant, that a death having taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant, they that have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance (Hebrews 9:15).
In the old covenant, God specifically chose the people of Israel. In the new covenant, however, God calls people of every nation (Matthew 25:31-46, Revelation 5:9, 7:9). In the old covenant, God’s specific care and concern was the singular nation of Israel. In the new covenant, God’s care and concern would extend over all the citizens of the Kingdom of His Son.
Therefore, if Christians live in almost every country on the earth, which one is God going to choose over another? Which nation gets to be “Christian” to the detriment of others?
Is it still true that God operates in the affairs of nations? It is entirely possible. The downfall of Hitler and the Third Reich is likely not coincidental. Neither, perhaps, is America’s ascendancy. But the ways of the Lord are not necessarily known to us, and we should not presume to know them (Deuteronomy 29:29, Isaiah 55:9-10). Furthermore, there is Matthew 5:45:
“That ye may be sons of your Father who is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust.”
Many people automatically attribute God’s blessings upon a country as a sign of divine favor. The early Americans did so with America. Many do so today. And that certainly could be the case. But is that necessarily the case? After all, there are many other very wealthy and blessed countries, and we would not automatically believe that they would fit the designation “Christian.” God’s blessings (or, for that matter, withholding of blessings) is no sure guarantee that God looks with favor or disfavor upon a certain country or not. It just means that a country has received blessings or disfavor.
God’s desire is for all men to come to a knowledge of salvation (1 Timothy 2:4). The Gospel is His power to save souls (Romans 1:16). Nevertheless, God does speak about the role of a Christian in terms of government. The Christian is to render obedience to earthly authorities and show honor to those in leadership (Romans 13:1-8, 1 Peter 2:13-18). Christians are to pray for authorities so that they may live tranquil and quiet lives (1 Timothy 2:1-3).
These are not statements that you make to people who are going to be in positions of power, or even to those interested in positions of power. Instead, they are statements you make to people who live by a higher authority with greater governance.
We return to the superiority of the new covenant and the Kingdom of God to all which came before and exists on earth now. The Kingdom demands our highest loyalty (Matthew 6:33). How can it be, then, if God tells us to love our enemies in His Kingdom, that we can fight earthly enemies of a nation-state (Luke 6:31-36)? After all, there are Christians in all sorts of nations. Can we imagine a scene in which two Christians, part of God’s Kingdom yet citizens of different countries, lining up in battle to kill each other for the glory of their particular nation? What a travesty! And yet this is what happens with the compromise of the values of God’s Kingdom with the demands of nation-states.
The Lord provides a higher calling (Philippians 3:14). The Lord’s interests are greater than any particular nation-state. The Lord’s interests involve every soul in every country (1 Timothy 2:4), and those in His Kingdom must be devoted to His work (Matthew 9:37-38).
What is too often forgotten is that, in the grand scheme of things, the quibbles of nation-states are just that: quibbles. Countries before them quibbled, countries quibble now, and they will continue to do so until the Lord returns. America arose, America is ascendant, and time might see America fall. The Lord’s Kingdom will remain. If America is mostly righteous or mostly sinful, the Lord’s Kingdom will remain. If America puts on the pretense of honoring God or not, the Lord’s Kingdom will remain. If abortion and/or homosexuality are condemned or accepted in American society, regardless, the Lord’s Kingdom will still remain. The only shame that would exist is if America presented a distorted view of the Kingdom of God that hindered souls from entering in (cf. Matthew 23:13). That is something concerning which we should be greatly concerned.
The sad reality is that according to what we read in the New Testament, we cannot have confidence in the salvation of most of the souls that have ever inhabited America. Yet it is deemed a “Christian nation.” And many are willing to expend much effort to make it “Christian” again. Certain issues are pressed, and yet greater issues of concern– covetousness, hyper-individualism, a lack of compassion, mercy, and community– are swept under the rug or ignored. Is it really worth it to re-instate a pretense that does not conform to reality?
I wholeheartedly agree that we need to work quite diligently to make America Christian. But we cannot do that by changing the government of the country, what it stands for, or what it legislates. America can only be Christianized when its constituents subject themselves to the King of kings and Lord of lords, and become part of something greater than themselves, greater than America, and greater than any other earthly thing: the Kingdom of God. That Kingdom cannot be limited to any country, nor can any earthly country claim the mantle.
Countries can promote righteous behavior in their constituents, for it is indeed righteousness that exalts a nation, as Solomon says in Proverbs 14:34. But it is people acting righteously– not the pretense thereof, or legislation– that truly exalts the nation. That is something that government cannot truly coerce or compel. It must be the choice of the constituents of that country.
No one, therefore, is going to be saved because they were a good American, or stood for “Christian American” values. The only way anyone will be saved is through obedience to the Gospel of Christ (Romans 6), being part of His Kingdom (Colossians 1:13). Let us never put the interests of a country before God, and neither devote our energies to that which perishes when so much is to be done for the Kingdom!
This discussion concludes with The Silencing of God: The Dismantling of America’s Christian Heritage, IV: The Apocalyptic Scenario.