“Until American churches actually function as outposts of Jesus’ heavenly empire rather than as cheerleaders for America—until the churches produce martyrs rather than patriots—the political witness of Christians will continue to be diluted and co-opted” – Peter Leithart
I think we can all agree that biblically we represent King Jesus as the royal priesthood of ambassadors of light to a dark world to which we shouldn’t share allegiance. Our obedience is solely to Christ’s kingdom. In this way, the church acts as a sort of embassy for the government of the King. It is an outpost of the kingdom of God surrounded by the rival kingdom(s) of darkness. And just as the embassy of a nation is meant, at least in part, to showcase the life of that nation to the surrounding people, so the church is meant to manifest the life of the kingdom of God to the world around it. Our first and primary identity should be with the King of the universe, not with any worldly country or nationality or political party. But there is a lot to consider, our covenant with Jesus also impacts our kingdom covenants with others. Where do we draw the lines and how dynamic is this kingdom boundary within the context of Jesus’ prominent message of love, grace, and mercy admonishing us to have towards this lost and fallen world?
Few will argue that there is a place by which Christians should be thankful and perhaps even “indebted” to American freedom because of our covenant in Jesus. If there was a cost for freedom and it meant that we could freely worship Jesus, most Christians would be interested in the price.
We are in transition from beings of the world to becoming beings of the Heavenly father and His kingdom. Unfortunately, this journey of sanctification is going to be a long process (that likely involves time after this life on earth as we know it) and until we get to the culmination of this heavenly transition, we are torn between the two worlds and kingdoms continually representing aspects of both worlds within our beings. In many ways Christians are caught in the middle; we are torn not fully belonging to either realm. We are leaving the world but are also not fully transitioned into spiritual beings until the eschatological recreation of the new heaven and earth is complete and we become fully re-created spiritual beings of the complete kingdom.
This transitional problem is real for every Christian despite some of us being in different stages within the kingdom realm of sanctification, especially when you consider that only God can purely interpret our hearts. Some who know me locally (and know I own an NRA gun range) take me for an ardent patriot who would be ready to bust into a fighting revolution for freedom at a moment’s notice. However, many that read my Theology posts would get quite another picture and perhaps even take me for a pacifist to which I would rather turn the cheek in humility and step aside to simply trust God to whatever end may come (justice or not). If you know me well, you know I represent a little bit of both worlds. I believe there are seasons, and we need to be ready to go where God leads, but make no mistake, wherever you fall as a Christian on this issue your complete devotion and obedience is to be solely to Him and none other. I and many others along this journey attain to live by the Ideals of the Lord but are continually falling short.
Matt Mouzakis, the co-host of the Expedition 44 YouTube Channel whom we all know well and love deeply would take the position that we should solely belong to the kingdom of Jesus; other kingdoms are Rival to that authority and can’t or shouldn’t co-exist. Are you Roman, American, or Christian? This is hard to argue in terms of an eschatological finish. At the end of the day in a new Heaven and earth we are simply going to be Christians, there isn’t a place or room for anything else. In this way of thinking shouldn’t your target here on earth be the same?
In consideration of this view, early Christians were willing to be martyred rather than pledge allegiance to Rome or have any part in such a corrupt anti-Godly system of government. As Americans, our faith has become so nationalized that we in many ways represent America far more than Jesus. Patriotism has become our/their religion. This is an idolatrous problem. Most American Christians are indistinguishable from the lives of their pagan American neighbors. I would agree with Matt and also contend, that America’s values and government is overtly pagan and as Christians we can’t ignore this or continue to be part of the anti-God aspects of it. American Christian Nationalism often represents the near opposite of what Jesus taught. It is contrary or rival to His kingdom.
In the first century, baptism itself was a right of resistance (non-violently) in the early church. In its original meaning in the New Testament, it meant abandoning your loyalties to all other nations and pledging your allegiance to the kingdom of God. In Thessalonica in Acts 17:6 Paul and Silas get accused of “Turning the world upside down” by saying there is another king, Jesus. This had nothing to do with the style of government they were under (Totalitarian, democratic, republic, etc.), it had everything to do with being part of another kingdom and having another king. The early church, disciples of the disciples, echo this concept:
We have no country on earth- Clement of
I serve Jesus Christ the eternal king. I will no
longer serve your emperors… it is not right for Christians to serve in the
armies of this world- Marcellus the centurion
We (Christians) have no pressing inducement to
take part in your public meetings; not is there anything more foreign to us
than affairs of the state- Tertullian
Shall we carry a flag? It is rival to Christ-
How can a man be just who hates, who despoils,
who puts to death? And those who strive to be serviceable to their country do
all these things – Lactantius
This was the mindset of the early church until the mingling of church and state under Constantine. I believe we need to get back to an “exile” mindset. Matt will concur, that this doesn’t mean that we violently usurp the government, we follow the laws where we are exiled as long as it doesn’t compromise kingdom values. In 1 Tim 2:1-2 we are called to pray for rulers. The purpose of this is not to transform the government but rather that the church “may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”
Perhaps, the purpose of our prayers for the government is for them to stay out of our business so we can be about the kingdom and have less of their influence in our lives. As Jeremiah said to the exiles in Babylon to pray for it and seek the prosperity of the city because in its prospering you will prosper (Jer 29:7), but God never told his exiles to work in Babylon, simply pray and live a kingdom life where they were. The church needs to stop outsourcing its call to love their neighbor, to care for the hurting and the outcast to the government. The church is a colony (Outpost) of heaven that should promote only its kingdom and king.
Nugget sums this concept up perfectly,
“Our responsibility is not to make the world a better place, but to be the better place God has begun in this world through Christ. We are his kingdom work. We are ambassadors who proclaim what God has done, is doing, and will do. God’s strategy is for his people not to fix this world but to plant a new world in the midst of the old one and to woo the old world to Himself through it. As followers of Jesus, the body of Christ, the new humanity and new creation is us. A new creation as begun in the midst of the old world that remains. It is the new world of God’s Kingdom and its people. So God’s people are not responsible for making the world a better place, but for being the better place that Christ has already made… the early believers were vocal in proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and visible in living it out in community… the church’s calling centers on being the better place God began in Jesus.”- John Nugget (Endangered Gospel)
But there is another side to this argument within those that live wholly devoted to Jesus we may consider. On the one hand we are called as Christians to be singly allegiant to one king and one kingdom. On the other hand, some will argue that America was founded largely by God fearing men to fulfil just the sort of pro-liberty, non-interventionist role the Bible envisions. What they sought was simply freedom. This is why the founding fathers intended to produce a federal Constitution, which elaborately checked sinful men’s insatiable lust for power.
Keeping this in check; unfortunately, these desires of our founding fathers seem very lost compared to the current American dilemma of corruption in Politics and a nearly God-less America. Is the nation completely lost or can some semblance of faith in God exist again within the leadership of this country?
And let’s pause for a moment to make another clear point before we continue. To be clear America was started as a free country not a Christian country. To be frank, there shouldn’t be any thoughts of “returning to God.” Our country was never “with” God in that matter. But the founding fathers (many of whom were God fearing men) created a framework where God could be freely worshipped.
Isn’t this the very reason why our founding fathers drafted a Bill of Rights, which jealously guarded religious liberty. Essentially most of the founding fathers just wanted a government that would leave the church alone. They weren’t building a Christian nation; they were simply enabling a nation where Christianity could be built. In my mind this is noble but not purely “Christian.” It still poses a problem for me as my Ideal is completely Jesus not the world. I don’t desire the ideals of anything in the world as I long to be completely within the kingdom of God.
But still perhaps this “complete Jesus thinking” is impossible within the current spiritual condition of the world. Some will ardently argue that what America has within its political system happens to be the sort of civil government the Bible demands we pray for in 1 Timothy.
Many Christians feel that our role as ambassadors is to eventually be agents that partner with God (Edenic keep and cultivate language) to reclaim what has been lost to the world and the powers and principalities of darkness. We know we will eventually be used as God’s agents to do this but what does that mean? Are we there yet? Where do we draw the lines of allegiance until then? Can we be dual citizens or is that serving two masters? Is that being indebted to something that isn’t part of the servanthood to the Lord?
My good friend Steve Cassell (The pastor who fought and saved religious freedom in Illinois at the beginning of government church shutdowns in covid) would say, “Christian patriotism in the United States is needful and necessary because it is congruent with our Lord‘s command to love our neighbor, and has been established in a system of government that cultivates and represents the exact type of civil human government, committed to liberty, that the whole of scriptures would require.”
He and many other Christian Americans would say that we are patriots not because we have a love affair with the United States as such; we are patriots because the principles on which the nation were founded allow Christianity to flourish.
I do also see some ability to have a relationship that is completely first and foremost given to the Lord but also have secondary relationships within that spiritual covenant. I have always found it interesting in this way that Paul chose to keep some of his benefits as a citizen within Rome according to Acts 22.
I may be able to understand how my friend Steve views patriotism and Christian allegiance as not having to be the antithesis of each other. Perhaps they could both be done in a new covenant way; to the same regard as your covenant commitment to your wife should be and can be fully submitted within the covenant commitment with Jesus as the Bride of the church. There is undeniably the (limited) ability to maintain relationships based on covenant that are not in opposition to each other but submitted and prioritized to each other. For instance, you may be a martyr for your wife or the church because of your commitment to Jesus. Your wife can submit to you as her husband and God both within the same covenant and appear to be within God’s graces and not meet the spiritual definition of serving two masters. Could you die (or live) for your country because of the same commitment?
As much as I love, honor, and respect my brother immensely and agree with a lot of the comparisons made above; personally, I still tend to go slightly the other way because of desire of attaining to get closer to the eschatological finish line sooner than later, and largely while on this earth.
We live in a country where we aren’t regularly tormented or persecuted for Jesus, let alone the consideration of being martyrs for Him. We don’t physically have to decide every day to day for Him. Or do we or should we? Will we ever need to, or would God ask us to physically fight for that end? Matt and Steve would likely end up in different places if we took this conversation that far.
But perhaps the other differences of thinking are merely semantics. Something also tells me that my friend Steve (or Matt) would also likely agree with most if not all of my points mentioned. All three of us often seem to say similar things but then move towards slightly different directions of actions or conclusive ideals. Steve wants to fix the broken system and reclaim it (and everything else lost to the world) for Jesus and Matt wants to just end up with purely Jesus as soon as He can get there, leaving little if any room for the world. Both thoughts have biblical and spirituals foundations. When is the season to sever and when is the season to reclaim in the name of Jesus? When do you fight and when do you turn the other cheek? When do you stand and when do you step aside. When are you THE agent of Jesus and when do you get out of the way to make room for Jesus? These are the conundrums of the kingdom.
Where my friend Steve and I often land together is in agreeing that patriotism (or anything else) can take the place of Christ in a person’s life. Can Chocolate take the place in a person’s heart where Christ should solely belong? It might be a silly analogy, but the answer is yes. But most people would not spend a lot of time arguing against the antichrist principles of chocolate, even though gluttony is covered pretty blatantly in scripture. (But we would rather discuss politics than gluttony.)
Lastly, there is also a static/dynamic interpretation of scripture within modern times to be considered. One of the first textures of interpretation is to understand what the message meant to its intended audience before we can apply it to our situations. Once you understand what the message meant to the original audience and the context to which it was delivered, you can attempt to apply it in a similar way to your situation. However, it will likely never be an exact application or example of yours, yet still as Christians we are called to apply scripture to our lives. In this way, America may be different than Rome within the context of the application. For instance, you might argue that there has never been in history, nor was there in the days of the biblical writings, any system of government that was even close to what we have in America today. Or perhaps it might not matter… allegiance is allegiance.
Do you stand and fight to change the system or turn the other cheek and humbly and solely follow Jesus? How dynamic is the kingdom of Christ and calling of all in discipleship within the context of multiple relationships within a supreme covenant kingdom?
Perhaps some are called one way and others another with in the dynamic kingdom of Jesus. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I do press others to inteligently and strategically consider where, why, and how they should represent their God and the systems of the world. Wherever you stand, we can agree that we are each called to represent Jesus, to be an outpost of light in a dark world.
-written in partnership by Dr. Will Ryan Th.D, Matt Mouzakis, and Dr. Steve Cassell D. Min