The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

Apr 5, 2011

Some links and brief thoughts on patriotism in the church

     Although generally I intend to follow the sidebar entitled “forthcoming blog posts,” nevertheless once in a while somebody will post something on their blog that gets the hamsters in my head spinning on their wheels and forces me to write. Recently my academic advisor posted two fascinating links on his own blog that I would like to share with you (http://www.daveblackonline.com/blog.htm Thursday March 31st, 4:05 PM).
The first link is http://arbevere.blogspot.com/2011/03/we-must-reject-christendom.html Allan R. Bevere has written a forthcoming book that I am immensely interested in, entitled The Politics of Witness (Areopagus Critical Christian Issues; Energion, forthcoming). He offers this provocative quote on his website: “Functionally, by the church's political engagements and by aligning themselves with the left and the right, Democrats and Republicans, Christians in actuality display the unacknowledged belief that it is the nations that are indeed running the show.”
         Secondly, I am excited to read, on Nathan Akin’s blog (http://www.baptisttwentyone.com/?p=5285), a “Letter from a Minister about Patriotism in Corporate Worship” by music minister Carl Stam. Stam makes three key points on why his church will de-emphasize political celebration within the worship service on Memorial Day and July 4th. I heartily concur with him, and would like to quote something Stam states in his first point: “It is just too easy to confuse what it means to follow Christ with what it means to be a loyal U.S. citizen. Especially when hard-hitting emotional presentations are made with flags and uniforms and pledges, it is too easy to get mixed up about where our allegiance should be. However, we ARE quick to pray for our country and for our leaders and we are quick to thank God for the freedom of worship that we enjoy.”
         Let me expand on that in light of my own theological "paradigm shift" over the past 6 years. In John 18:36, in response to Pilate, Jesus clearly states, “my kingdom is not of this world” (ESV). In Peter 2:9, it is the church, rather than any nation-state, that in this dispensation is given the title “a holy nation.” In light of that, Christians must be extremely careful about mixing in the glorification of any nation-state in with the glorification God when it comes to corporate worship.
         Let me take this a step further. In light of 1 Peter 2:9, I believe it is a misnomer to label any nation-state a “Christian nation”; in fact, by very definition, I believe there will be no “Christian nation” (other than the church, see 1 Pet 2:9) until Jesus Christ himself sits on the throne of David and rules the world from Jerusalem during the Millennium.
         Clearly God has blessed the US, but He has blessed all other nations as well, and ultimately we are forced to confess with Isaiah that “all the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.” (Isa 40:17, ESV).
         One quick word to my fellow dispensationalists (with apologies to any Reformed or historic pre-mil reading this post; please bear with me as I deal with an “internal” matter). If indeed (as I firmly believe), God has done a unique work in this dispensation by founding the church at Pentecost, and if the church is to be distinct from both Israel and all other social-political entities, and if indeed Christ will reign someday in the future on the throne of David from a literal Jerusalem, then should not we dispensationalists be the first to recognize the danger of mixing nationalistic patriotism with corporate worship? Yet unfortunately the opposite has been true; we dispensationalists have, for all practical purposes, elevated the US to the position of both Israel and the church in God’s plan, despite the lack of Biblical support for any such position. We do so by glorifying the US in songs in church (though I have absolutely no problem with patriotic music outside the church, and can sing along in good conscience), pledging “allegiance” to the US flag (which, in my opinion, demonstrates that we truly do not understand the meaning of “allegiance”), and treating the constitution as if it were Scripture and the founding fathers as if they were inspired Apostles (e.g. I once heard Proverbs 22:28 applied from the pulpit to the US constitution). If anything, we dispensationalists need to be the first to recognize the dangers of such practices and to emphasize that among national entities, only Israel can claim such a massive role in God’s plan (though Scripture indicates that God will bless other nations as well, e.g. Isaiah 19:25; indeed, check out the entire context of this chapter).
         One more point: to those that are concerned that such a position means that I or others are somehow opening the door to the liberal, left-wing political agenda, let me quote Douglas Harink from his thought-provoking Brazos commentary on 1 Peter. While critiquing the journal First Things’ tendency to “often display in its pages a hope and vision for Christian America,” where “virtually all of the scriptural attributes of the mission of Israel and the church in the world, and God’s particular providence through them, are appropriated to the American nation,” Harink argues, “to be critical of that vision is not to be, as [Stephen H.] Webb suggests, ‘leftist’ or ‘liberal’; it is simply to assert a catholic theological vision of the people of God that accords with the teaching of scripture about the purpose of Israel and the church. Indeed, the leftist, liberal agenda gets its own vision and champion of Christian American in the journal Sojourners and in Jim Wallis’s God’s Politics . . . Wallis no less than Webb appropriates the attributes and mission of Israel and the church to the American nation and calls the church to serve it” (Harink, 1&2 Peter [Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos, 2009], 59 fn50). A middle-ground is needed that recognizes that both “left” and “right” politics are ultimately irrelevant to the Kingdom of God. Some issues, such as abortion, do indeed hold spiritual significance and should command our attention, but the Christian’s response is first and foremost to be that of a “do-gooder” (1 Peter 2:11-12) rather than a political revolutionary.
         So much for “brief thoughts!” I do hope to write more on this topic in the future. For now, I urge the reader to check out the above posts and to read Douglas Harink’s commentary on 1 Peter, especially on 1 Peter 1 and 2. While I don’t agree with all of what Harink writes, I am grateful that he is dealing with issues that most commentaries on 1 Peter do not.


  1. While I am not a dispensationalist; I totally agree with your thesis that there is no such thing as a Christian nation...and therefore there can be no such thing as a Christian political party.

    I have often argued the same thing myself..and therefore the church has no real right to impose Christian policy onto a national level...rather it has the mandate in teaching its people how they should live within a secular community.

  2. Thank you for your comments; it is certainly dangerous any time the church gets her focus off of teaching and living the Word and starts becoming more obsessed with political parties and agendas

  3. Paul,

    In light of this blog post, how would you encourage Christians to interact with politics? Particularly how should Christians engage sensitive moral issues such as abortion and homosexuality politically?

    Do you have any suggested resources on the subject?

    Thank you.

  4. Thank you for the excellent question. I would suggest that the primary New Testament imperative on moral issues such as abortion and homosexuality is that of proclamation and personal interaction rather than political involvement per se (though I don't think the latter is necessarily wrong). In other words, Christ's disciples in the New Testament were always fearless about both confronting wrong in the public and private sphere, while at the same time offering compassion and hope to those in need. Yet we never see them taking political steps to attempt to create a more moral society. It was the proclamation of Christ, not the passing of legislature, that took precedence.
    Thus Paul writes strongly agaisnt homosexuality, but we do not see him petitioning local governors to legislate it. John the Baptist fearlessly confronts Herod over taking his brother's wife, but we don't see John starting a political movement to depose him. And in Acts 19, it was the power of the Gospel that caused the "Diana" industry to be in danger, rather than legislation or organized protests.
    For us in the 21st century, then, I would suggest that the focus should be on preaching the Word and personal testimony. If a neighbor is considering an abortion, we should work with them on a compassionate, personal basis, showing them God's compassion for life in Scripture, (my father was able to rescue a child's life in exactly this manner), even offering to help with expenses involved in child birth, if possible. If we know people who are homosexual, then we must show them their need of a Savior and Christ's offer of a better lifestyle. These methods, in my opinion, accomplish more than attending a protest.
    As far as resources, as much as it erks me to cite him :) , Gregory Boyd's The Myth of the Christian Nation makes some excellent points in its later chapters on exactly the issues you've raised (for the record, I strongly disagree with his open theism, but this book is worth at least looking at). My own advisor's book Christian Archy is worth reading, but probably too general to specifically address these issues. I know Wayne Grudem has put out a fairly comprehensive book entitled "Politics according to the Bible" (not sure what his position is in relation to mine) Other than that, I'm afraid this is an area I'm personally looking for more resources in, and if you or anybody else have any suggestions on reading material, I'm definitely interested.
    I don't think political involvement or voting is wrong (I've voted in the past and intend to vote in the future), I just don't think it's the New Testament model for changing lives. I'm not sure I would either encourage or discourage a Christian's involvement in politics; I would just suggest that whatever they do, proclamation and personal witnessing (including living out the Gospel) take precedence over political involvement.
    Thanks for your interaction; I'm definitely open to further interaction or any suggestions on futher reading material (I intend to read Grudem's book eventually).