John Calvin once said, “Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.” What he was saying is that we, as humans, have hearts that because sin constantly churn out idol after idol after idol. I couldn’t agree more with this statement. An idol is something that you worship, something you bow down to, something that demands your allegiance. It takes your eyes off Christ and drags them down. It makes you trade in the Creator for the created. We all have them, and they’re all deadly. We are coming up on the 4th of July this week. A day where we as Americans celebrate our country, freedom, and democracy. I do not believe that there is anything inherently wrong with this, but we must be so careful. There is a manifestation of pride and idolatry that lurks right around the corner when we do this, the name of this sin is nationalism, and it is deadly. This is a sin that has infiltrated our churches. It has blinded people to the glorious light of the multi-national, trans-ethic, global Gospel that we as Christians have been called to preach.
You’re probably a little confused right now, wondering why I’m writing about this, especially around Independence Day. I can understand the confusion. Usually around times like this you expect some big patriotic sermon or write-up about how America is the greatest nation ever, and that if we’ll just repent as a nation God will make us some kind of Americanized theocracy. I’m not gonna do that. I’m actually going to do something in a complete other direction. We’re going to talk about how we have a duty to bring the whole world to knowledge of the Savior, not to make America great again. We as Christians should be about laying down our lives for the spread of the Gospel amongst even the most dangerous of enemies. Nationalism or hyper-patriotism is dangerous to our witness in the rest of the world because it kills the desire to see these people saved and converted, some would rather just have them assimilate to our values and our culture or be killed.
This could possibly strike a nerve with some, but I plead with you to bear with me. Here’s why: Someday kids will read about the United States in a history book, then they’ll go home to their parents and go to bed, then they’ll wake up on Sunday and they will go worship the risen Lord. Maybe it’ll be in an underground church, maybe it’ll be in a church like you go to now, but I can assure this; nations will rise and fall, America will rise and fall, but the gates of Hell will not prevail against Christ and His bride, the church. Someday, on top of the grave of every nation, the banner of Christ will fly unopposed. Will will live in the glorious monarchy of King Jesus, worshipping forever and ever in the Kingdom of God.
I don’t want any of you to think that I am anti-American or anything like that. I love this country, and I’m glad that this is where God has placed me. I’m thankful for the men who gave their lives so we could be free. The problem is where people place this country on their priority list. So many so-called “Christians” care much more about the state of American politics than the do about the state of the church. They care more about if there is a (R) or a (D) in front of the President’s name then they do about the church in other countries. They’d rather worship to Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” than beautiful Trinitarian songs like “Holy, Holy, Holy.” This is a tragic mix-ups of priorities, for we are not even truly citizens of this country. Paul says in Philippians 3:20, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ”. Guys, we are citizens of Heaven first and citizens of America way down on the list. Caesar is not our King, we have no King but King Jesus. America is not our Kingdom, our Kingdom is the Kingdom ushered in by Christ.
The Church is made up of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation from all times. In Revelation 5, when we see John’s vision into the throne room of God and the elders and saints are falling down in worship of the lamb that was slain. John says, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10). What we see here is that the throne room of God is distinctly non-American, and that is because Christianity is a distinctly non-American religion. Christianity is unquestionably a religion of no flag because it is made up of people of all tribes and tongues and nations! American, Chinese, Russian, Latin, Jewish, Greek, and all others are all made one under the blood of Christ. Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Now back to the subject of nationalism. Nationalism is where you take a sense of superiority because you’re from the USA over people from other countries. You think you’re better because you’re an American. It’s like racism, but with countries. We as Christians should never let this infiltrate our hearts or churches. You as a blood-bought saint of the Savior should have more in common with the Indonesian Christian that goes to an underground church and may be killed for his faith than you do with your co-worker that is just a nominal Christian kind of guy who really doesn’t love the Lord. Our Heavenly citizenship should mean so much to us than our American citizenship.
Nationalism isn’t just a problem that hurts the local church in and of itself, it is a problem that hurts the mission of the church as a whole. When our hearts get deceived by a disorderly love for the country, we tend to get our American values mixed in with the Gospel to where they’re almost indistinguishable, and that is a huge problem, for America has nothing to do with the Gospel. As David Platt says, “We desperately need to explore how much of our Gospel is biblical and how much is American.” So many people think the Gospel is “Freedom and Democracy” and our enemy is “socialism.” While I am by all means about as conservative as one can be, I also know that “Freedom and Democracy” never sent a soul to Heaven. We must be Christians devoted to preaching the Gospel to all people groups, not just the people who look like us in our hometown. Christ has torn down the dividing wall of hostility, and sometimes it seems like all we want to do as American Christians is put that wall back up. I beg you not to want this. I beg you to develop a love for the people of every nation that far exceeds your love for your country. This 4th of July, be thankful for your country, but don’t idolize it, if you do it can harden your soul to the things that are eternal.
Will Standridge is an 18 year old Youth Pastor at County Line Baptist Church. He is a founding blogger at The Baptist Review. He is an aspiring pastor and will be attending Boyce College in the Fall to pursue this goal.