The “Patriotic” Church? (Part 2)

Christian Nationalism and the Prophetic Witness of the Church

This is the second of a three-part post. Part 1: Christian Nationalism and the Primacy of the Kingdom. Part 3: The Fourth of July and the Worship of the Church (forthcoming).

We suggested the other day that a truly “patriotic” church is one that reminds (and I would add encourages) the nation of its God-given roles and responsibilities. The church does this in one instance by providing the nations with a glimpse into the true Kingdom whose King to which they will one day bow down. The church can only be “patriotic” in this instance inasmuch as it continues to emphasize that, while the nation can be a good thing, it will never be the ultimate thing.

A second concern of the “Patriotic” Church must be a willingness to speak prophetically into the life of the nation, again as a reminder to the nation of who she is in relation to the Kingdom. First, please note that to speak prophetically does not mean simply to speak with foreknowledge or predict a future event. Rather, most prophetic messages were not spoken to foretell events, but to call forth and reveal the reality of God’s Kingdom and judgment that is hidden from the present age. As a seminary professor often reminded us, a prophet was primarily a “forth-teller”, not a “foreteller.” Thus, when the nations surrounding Israel are saturated with injustice, the prophets remind them of their fleeting status in the eyes of God; when Israel is unjust to her own people, they are reminded of God’s wrath. Indeed, the main theme of the Book of Revelation is the triumph of the Kingdom of God and the fall of the nations of the world — John’s vision is not mostly about what is to come, but about the present reality of God’s Kingdom and the reign of Christ. Today’s church must take up this mantle, speaking the reality of the Kingdom into the nation and calling it into its true and godly vocation. A truly “patriotic” church must use its voice and witness as a prophetic alarm to a wayward nation.

Now, to be clear, a wayward nation is not the same as a wayward person. The prophetic responsibility of the church is not to make “Christian” nations, but to remind these secular institutions that their power is given to them by God alone and that this power is temporal and limited in its scope. The nation is not able to be “converted” and it is certainly not the Kingdom — anticipating the Kingdom (however imperfectly) is the role of the church. No, the nation is called to a certain vocation for a certain season and, lest it forgets, the church is there to be the reminder.

This dynamic, however, is endangered when the church identifies too closely with the nation. As a particularly tragic example, note that the church of Nazi Germany had so identified with the concept of restoring German pride that its prophetic voice was rendered mute to the atrocities of Adolf Hitler. Such is the danger for the church that confuses patriotism with nationalism. When the church blends its identity with a particular nation or even a national party, it loses its prophetic voice. Ironically, the nationalistic church is far from patriotic because it has given up its ability to call the country to its God-given vocation. Rather, too often the church has exchanged its prophetic message for the purposes of self-preservation — either from the nation or one of its parties.

However, what if the church sought to fulfill its “patriotic” duty by forth-telling the reality of the Kingdom to the nations of the world? It might be a more challenging road, and one that alienates the church from both political parties, but a truly “patriotic” church would not only show appreciation for the nation and its God-givenness but call out national injustice and work for solutions. A “patriotic” church would not only thank God for the freedoms inherent in this country but call on the country to ensure they are enforced for all people (and religions). A truly “patriotic” church is a prophetic church, declaring the grace, sovereignty, and justice of God to a temporal national institution.

To be finalized with Part 3, The Fourth of July and the Worship of the Church.