I recently saw a T-Shirt with the Statue of Liberty on it and the Bible verse “you are the light of the world.” I once saw a person stand in front of an altar and a cross in a church and heard them say “God raised up America to save the world.” People, quite often, tell me that America has a special covenant with God.
Christians don’t have to agree on politics. Jesus called both zealots and tax collectors to his group of disciples. Today that would be like asking a radical socialist and a Randian libertarian to co-chair the church leadership team. And yet some things transcend national politics, and those things are vitally important.
When we love our country, its understandable that we would start to think of it as a special nation in God’s eyes. When we see something unique in our nation, it is inevitable that we will assume that it must a divine light for the world. And when we see the insecurity and violence in our world and around us, we will instinctively turn to our government or institutions for hope. These things are human, and understandable, but at the point where our national politics take the place of the person of Jesus, salvation, hope, and the Kingdom of God, we have some eternal problems.
America is not the light of the world.
Jesus is the Light of the World. We can reflect that light. The light that Jesus shows us is the light of God, coming from God to our dark world. Modern nation-states are not the light of the world. We pray that our nations reflect charity, and goodwill, and that they are affected by the gospel toward grace, and service to others. We pray that we can work toward the common good and in that sense be a light. But our nation doesn’t become the Light of the World. Jesus remains our Light.
America cannot save us, and it can’t save our world.
God loved the world so much that he sent his Son into the world to save the world. In the words of the hymn by George W. Briggs,
Through the rise and fall of nations
One sure faith is standing fast:
God abides, the Word unchanging,
God the first and God the last.
It is disconcerting to think that our nation could fall. No one wants to contemplate the loss of stability, or the destruction of our way of life. And yet nations do rise, and nations fall. If we found our hope for salvation, or the redemption of the world on America, or any other nation or organization, we will find that our foundation is built on sand. God’s Word, Jesus, is our foundation and our salvation.
America does not have a special covenant with God.
God’s new covenant of grace is for all peoples, not for particular nations. There is no special covenant with America. There is only God’s love and grace shown to us as a people. The New Covenant is specifically for “all people.” Every time a Christian says that God has a covenant with America, we are shrinking God’s covenant people down. Instead, God’s covenant is offered to all who would believe and be baptized. The Church, within God’s covenant, is a multi-national or trans-national body.
God does love America. He loves us. We have done unique things in the history of mankind, many of which are celebrated across the world. God’s hand is no less upon us than any other people. But we aren’t his favorites, and we aren’t uniquely blessed. We are human beings like everyone else.
We may believe in the virtues of democracy, or the balance of power, or a free market, or of a social safety net of some sort. And if we do, we should, as good citizens, promote what we believe is the common good. And yet we should never confuse our Nation with the Kingdom of God or the Church.
God’s Kingdom spreads from shore to shore to shore, and covers the earth.
He rules and reigns whether we humans acknowledge that or not. He sets up rulers, and he takes down rulers. He is awesome. We can’t control his Kingdom, and we can’t locate it in any one group or nation.
The Church of Jesus Christ is the Body of Christ on earth.
We enter the church through baptism and faith. We become visible members through fellowship and communion. The church is a historical body, a visible human institution, and it is also a mystical Body on earth and in heaven. Our mission, the Great Commission, is to makes disciples of every nation, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and teaching to observe all things Jesus commanded. We need to make sure we aren’t instead merely making good citizens for democracy, baptizing in the name of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson, and teaching them to observe all things the Constitution has commanded. Being a peaceful citizen is a good thing, but it can’t replace salvation.
Kingdom, Church, Nation
God’s Kingdom and the Church are the leaven that Jesus has sewn into America and the rest of the world. The Church is human, so we fail and fall, but we trust in his promises. The Kingdom is growing and being revealed by God according to his plan, and he calls us to discern where it is being manifested, and to point to it.
Nations or States are important and the idea of government was instituted by God, and is good. Despite our abuse of power, the idea of governance is not the problem. But nations cannot replace the Kingdom of God or the Church.
If we fall into the error of confusing nation and Kingdom/church, we aren’t able to fulfill the mission. We aren’t able to speak the love of God to all people. We are asking them to first accept our nation and its values, and only after that to accept the Gospel of the Kingdom. Instead, we are called to transcend our national loyalties in order to share Christ.
American Virtues and Vices
In terms of the United States, we have a lot to be proud of and yet a lot to repent of in our history. It isn’t unpatriotic (or shouldn’t be) to repent for our sins, and the sins of our forebears. And it isn’t unchristian to celebrate the times when we’ve been a blessing to the world, and promoted the good of others. Patriotism, loving one’s country, is a good thing. But love isn’t blind, and the truth will set us free.
So God bless America, and God bless all people.
Jesus remains the Light of the world, the hope of the world, and the King of Kings. God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth.
Photo: Public Doman, adapted