Thursday, December 9, 2010

Patriotism and the Christian

How patriotic should the Christian be? In the United States we tend to live between political extremes.  The super patriots who say the country can do no wrong and the hyper critics who say we can do no right.  Where should the Christian come in on this?

The Bible says we should honor and be subject to the governing authorities (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17), but it also says there is a time we have to serve God rather than men (Acts 4:19,20; Daniel 3:17,18). The Christian cannot take the position of unquestioning obedience or total hostility.  I must respect and be subject to my country's leaders and laws as far as I can with a good conscience, even if they are questionable leaders and laws.  (The ruler at the time Paul and Peter wrote was Nero, an immoral tyrant.)  But there comes a time when I must stand up and be counted for what is right.  This is true no matter what nation I live in.  The truth is we are all sinners (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9), and there is no perfect nation and no perfect government.

But patriotism generally involves more than just the question of obedience or disobedience; it involves the  love of country, which is more complex.  Scripture does not address this directly, but it does mention the appropriateness of natural affections, of which patriotism is clearly one (Romans 1:31; 2 Timothy 3:3).  We also have examples of such sentiments in Scripture (Lamentations 1; Habakkuk 1:12-17; 1 Samuel 26:19).  But we also are not to put anything before God (Exodus 20:3; Matthew 22:37; Luke 14:26), and we need to see this world as not our final home (1 Peter 2:11; Hebrews 11:13).  This is a delicate balance.

I would follow G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis as seeing the basic idea behind patriotism as the idea of home, the place I grew up, my familiar associations, a shared history and a shared heritage.  The person who has this kind of patriotism will understand why people from other nations would also love their home.  They will also love their nation, even if it is not perfect, and will be willing because they love it to correct its failings as far as possible. If I love something because it is perfect, I will be in danger of rejecting it when it proves it is not.  But if I love something because it is mine, then I will love it with its faults, but nonetheless be willing to do what I can to correct them.  True love is after the pattern of the love of God, which loved us enough, in spite of our being in rebellion against Him, to send Christ to die for us (Romans 5:6-8), but which will not settle for anything less than our becoming a perfect church, without spot or wrinkle (Ephesians  5:25-27).  Our loves need to follow the same pattern.

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