This is a scheduled post. The contents were finalized June 26, 2020.
I grew up attending a church that sang patriotic songs on the Sundays nearest each national holiday.
We recognized our servicemen on Veterans’ day.
We said the pledge of allegiance at Vacation Bible school.
I tear up before I finish singing the National Anthem.
Don’t get me started on taps.
In high school, I entered the 4-H public speaking contest with “4-H and Patriotism,” opening singing “God Bless America.” (I thought this was a ringer. It was not.)
I have gotten multiple calls on a Sat phone from an undisclosed location from callers wearing combat boots.
I love my country, but the United States of America is not my home — I am a pilgrim in a foreign land (See Hebrews 11:13 and surrounding verses).
An American Christian
The first time someone suggested to forego a patriotic service near a patriotic holiday I probably looked at them like they had sprouted a second head. I tried to have an open mind but it was SO foreign to me that I couldn’t really process. The person started to explain that we should place God above country and the focus of our worship should be Christ, not country. (If your head is starting to spin in exorcist-worthy fashion and you want to plug your ears, please bear with me.) I likely rolled my eyes (I have a terrible habit of doing that), but after the shock of the statement eased, I allowed myself to consider- why do we go to church? what is the focus of our worship? should we depart from that focus during corporate worship? do patriotic services create a danger of misplaced faith?
These questions are much much bigger than this blog, but they give rise to a more central question – am I an American Christian, or a Christian American? Those sound the same, but they are very different. The first term is a descriptor. The second term is the identifier. Put another way, I have a primary identity and a secondary identity….. and it is not a close second place.
This world is not my home.
“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.” Philippians 3:20-21
When God calls us to Christ, He calls us to be his children. We are told that we must love him so much that even our love for those closest to us will look like hatred (Luke 14:26). We join His family, His kingdom, forsaking all others.
When Paul writes in Philippians 3 regarding his citizenship in heaven, he does it on the heels of explaining just how perfectly Jewish he was– and how his earthly citizenship meant nothing compared to his relationship with Christ (“But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.” Philippians 3:7)
It’s an odd thing for us to process. I can sing with Lee Greenwood at the top of my lungs (and have – in a red sequined shirt while making jazz hands), but here, Paul has every reason to brag and boast, but counts those point of pride as … not. He repeatedly points to Christ and what Christ has done. I don’t know what you have accomplished, but I certainly don’t feel as “accomplished” as Paul was.
Paul tells us in Galatians 3:26-29,
“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.“
Our earthly identity must be subjugated and secondary to our identity in Christ. To live as a Christian American means that we are an American who happens to be Christian. This is a backward way of identifying ourselves — and when we get our identity backward, our priorities follow.
As a Christian that happens to live in the United States of America, I should have more in common with a believer that lives halfway around the globe than a nonbeliever that lives next door. Pause. Let that marinate, and then let’s unpack that. If I am looking at an issue, I should have more common ground with a believer I have never met who lives in Africa or China than a non-believer that grew up in my hometown. This is true regardless of family structure, age, gender, or socioeconomic status. Christ should unite us as a family and unify our perspectives– not with each other’ — but with His. I am not ceding my “American views” to another believer. That believer and I are both ceding our cultural viewpoints to Christ because our identity flows from Him.
Jesus was not American. In fact, we often forget that the United States of America is not mentioned anywhere in the whole canon of scripture. Passages of scripture about God’s chosen people and nation do not refer to the United States or the American church. The American church is not the only, the first, or even the most prominent church. According to the Pew Research Center, roughly 12% of the world’s “Christian” population is found in North America (See http://www.globalreligiousfutures.org/religions/christians, but note the definition of Christian religions is determined by a secular entity).
American values often line up with Christian values, but the two are not the same. Several of the 10 Commandments make a crossover when treating others, but America values self-made men and financial prosperity. Scripture tells us our righteous deeds are filth rags and we should lay up treasures in Heaven, not on earth. The American Dream is a dangerous happy little idol. Hard work and financial prosperity are not intrinsically bad. Trusting them for security can be.
So how do pilgrims act in a foreign land?
Pilgrims remember their final destination. If I’m just passing through on my way home, I don’t want to put down roots and build my “home” here. I must be choosy about what baggage I take on.
If we are pilgrims, where is home? Philippians told us that our citizenship is in heaven. Neither America nor any other nation can be home for a Christian. Our hearts will always long for the healing and perfection of heaven. We will never be home until we reach heaven.
I love my home.
It’s so much better than this place.
Let me tell you about it.
Come home with me.
Recommended reading: The Unsaved Christian: Reaching Cultural Christianity with the Gospel by Dean Inserra, specifically Chapter 10)