NOTE: This piece was originally written some 13 years ago during the Obama administration. At the time, I was pastoring a small church in upstate NY. This particular topic was a hot one throughout Christianity and I was asked by several of our church members to address it. Despite being such an old piece, I believe it is still appropriate today. ~ Matt Gerwitz
As long as the United States has existed there has also existed a debate among evangelical Christians as to whether or not Christian Patriotism is Scripturally justifiable. With the current political landscape as volatile as it is, this question is again making the rounds among Christian teachers and preachers. Having been asked about it several times myself, I felt it necessary to put down in writing my official position on the matter.
In order to get started we must define the word “patriotism” which, according to Webster’s dictionary means, “Love of one’s country; the passion which aims to serve one’s country, either in defending it from invasion, or protecting its rights and maintaining its laws and institutions in vigor and purity. Patriotism is the characteristic of a good citizen, the noblest passion that animates a man in the character of a citizen.”
Armed with this definition it must also be understood that the main questions of the argument are:
- Should Christians hold and demonstrate a love for country?
- Should Christians participate in civil disobedience?
- Is there ever justifiable reason for Christians to engage in armed revolt?
The answers to these questions are of paramount importance in light of the fact that our forefathers wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
If indeed their actions were Biblically unjustified, our entire nation was founded on the sin of rebellion and is therefore illegitimate in the eyes of God. If, on the other hand, their actions were Biblically justified, are we not now compelled to follow in their footsteps in throwing off the current tyrannical Washington Machine?
Love of Country
Let’s begin with the question of holding and demonstrating a love for country. Critics of Christian Patriotism suggest that love for country is unbiblical in light of the Hebrews passage regarding Abraham’s vision of a heavenly country. Scripture states:
“By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing where he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: for he looked for a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” [Heb. 11:8-10]
The argument is made that since we are here only temporarily and the earth will eventually pass away, we should not be loyal or attached in any way to the United States; there is no room for love of country because we as Christians seek a heavenly country. That sounds reasonable if you throw away Old Testament History, but that’s something I can’t do so. While Abraham certainly looked for the heavenly country God was preparing, he also knew that God had promised him and his descendants a physical land on this earth. So much so that he gave very clear instructions that Isaac was not to return to his former homeland (Gen. 24).
We clearly see God repeating to Israel time and again the fact that he brought them into a “land flowing with milk and honey”, thereby implying that it was superior to the land they came from. He reminded them at the time of the Babylonian captivity that he would restore them to their land while also promising to restore Israel to her former glory.
Furthermore, the prophets of God demonstrated a love for National Israel that God never rebuked or corrected. The book of Jeremiah was written by the prophet as he surveyed the destroyed city of Jerusalem. It is a bitter book of lament as Jeremiah mourned the destruction of his country. Was Jeremiah a patriot? You bet!
Likewise, Nehemiah wept in the king’s castle when he learned his countrymen who had gone home to rebuild the temple were being oppressed. He mourned before God and pleaded with him to remember the covenant made with Moses, asking the Lord to help Israel. Because of his mourning, God raised up the heathen Artaxerxes to send Nehemiah home so he could oversee the rebuilding. Did Nehemiah love his country? Absolutely. Did God honor that? Absolutely.
To take the eternal promises of a heavenly country and twist them to say that Christians should not hold or demonstrate love of the United States is no different than taking the promise of the bride of Christ and saying men should not love their wives. It is absurd, to say the least. Knowing we have an eternal destiny doesn’t negate our current life on this earth.
The second question is whether or not Christians should participate in civil disobedience. The answer to this is obvious to anyone who has read the book of Acts. When challenged by the Jewish authority to cease preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, Peter refused to obey.
“Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you slew and hanged on a tree. Him has God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.” [Act 5:29-32]
“You shall walk after the LORD your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and you shall serve him, and cleave unto him.” [Deut. 13:4]
I would hope that any thinking evangelical Christian would agree that we don’t obey the government at the expense of our obedience to God. Any who would argue this point need not read any further. Instead, they need to get on their knees before the Lord and ask him to show them the truth.
Taking Up Arms
The third question, which is really the most controversial, is whether or not Christians should ever take up arms against their own government. There are four Biblical passages used by the Christian Patriotism critics to prove their belief that we should not. The first two are found in Hebrews and Romans, and are used to imply that complete submission to governmental authority is the obligation of the Church.
“Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” [Heb. 13:17 ]
“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whoever therefore resists the power, resists the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Will you then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and you shall have praise of the same: for he is the minister of God to you for good. But if you do that which is evil, be afraid; for he bears not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that does evil.” [Rom. 13:1-4 ]
The point is also made by critics that Scripture clearly teaches God puts men in positions of authority as he sees fit; a point I do not disagree with, but one must take the entire context of Scriptural passages before making a judgment. In both the Hebrews and Romans references it is made clear that those in authority are put there for the good of those they rule. They are to watch for our souls; they are to be a terror to evil, not to good works; they are representatives of the ordinances of God. Will you dare say that legalized abortion is good for the soul, is a terror to evil works, and is an ordinance of God? Of course not! I completely agree that our current government officials were put in place by God for a reason; where I don’t agree is the idea that they have been put there to lead our nation into wickedness.
The third and fourth passages are found in Matt. and I Tim.; it is implied by these verses that we are to pray for our leaders and not revolt against them.
“You have heard that it has been said, You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;” [Matt. 5:43+44]
“I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” [1Tim. 2:1+2 ]
I most certainly agree that we are to pray for our leaders, but how are we to pray? Are we to pray for the success of their wicked devices, the defeat of those that stand against their wickedness, and continued wisdom be be wicked? No. We are to pray for the salvation of their souls, as the Bible tells us that God desires all men to be saved. By the same token however, David prays many times in the book of Psalms for the destruction of his enemies. How do we reconcile the two? I don’t have the time or space here to go through the answer at length (it would take 20+ pages), but the long and short of it is the difference between individual souls and a group of people considered to be the enemy. We pray for the individual salvation of the soul but the destruction of the total group of wicked men that lead a nation into wickedness.
As it relates to Christian Patriotism we then must ask if there is justification for armed rebellion. The answer requires a diligent study of the Old Testament. Before I cite any OT references however, it must be clearly understood that war is an invention of God, not of men. Therefore, if used properly it is a good thing. The book of Jude explains the purpose of war being to execute judgment and slow down the tide of evil.
“And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” [Jude 14-15]
Israel was used to judge the Canaanites when the time of their iniquity was full; David was used to bring judgment to the Philistines; God raised up Persia against Babylon, Greece against Persia, and Rome against Greece. Furthermore, God himself raised up and trained King David to be a great warrior:
“He teaches my hands to war; so that a bow of steel is broken by my arms. You have also given me the shield of your salvation: and your gentleness has made me great. You have enlarged my steps under me; so that my feet did not slip. I have pursued my enemies, and destroyed them; and turned not again until I had consumed them. And I have consumed them, and wounded them, that they could not arise: yes, they are fallen under my feet. For you have girded me with strength to battle: them that rose up against me have you subdued under me. You have also given me the necks of my enemies, that I might destroy them that hate me.” [II Sam. 22:35-41]
“Blessed be the LORD my strength, which teaches my hands to war, and my fingers to fight: my goodness, and my fortress; my high tower, and my deliverer; my shield, and he in whom I trust; who subdues my people under me.” [Ps. 144:1+2]
Clearly there is Biblical justification for war, but how and when is that determined? It’s determined by God at the time he deems it necessary. Throughout the Old Testament, particularly in the book of Judges, we see God’s people being oppressed by their enemies. Granted, the oppression was a direct result of their idolatrous lifestyle. But when the people repented, God raised up judges to physically attack and destroy the oppressors. Read this passage from Numbers regarding the destruction of the oppressor, followed by a passage from Judges.
“And if you go to war in your land against the enemy that oppresses you, then you shall blow an alarm with the trumpets; and you shall be remembered before the LORD your God, and you shall be saved from your enemies.” [Num. 10:9]
“Nevertheless the LORD raised up judges, which delivered them out of the hand of those that spoiled them. And yet they would not hearken unto their judges, but they went a whoring after other gods, and bowed themselves unto them: they turned quickly out of the way which their fathers walked in, obeying the commandments of the LORD; but they did not so. And when the LORD raised them up judges, then the LORD was with the judge, and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge: for it repented the LORD because of their groanings by reason of them that oppressed them and vexed them.” [Jdg. 2:16-18]
Clearly the United States is being oppressed by the Government at all levels, and clearly it is the result of the Church of Christ living an idolatrous life, just as Israel did. But I have full confidence that a repenting people would trigger the promises of II Chron. 7:14 with God restoring our nation. I’m not sure if and when that point will be reached in the U.S., but I am confident that God would not hesitate to instigate a revolution if it became necessary.
Do Not Fight?
The final argument against Christian Patriotism is that Israel was told by God not to fight against the Babylonian invaders. They were told that whoever resisted would be killed and those who complied would be spared. Through this prophecy it is suggested that we Christians are to simply roll over and submit to the oppression of Washington, yet once again, proper Biblical scholarship is not practiced here. As with any position we take concerning Scripture, the whole Bible needs to be taken into account.
The command for Israel to submit to the Babylonian oppression was the exception to the rule. In fact, at no other time did God say this to his people. In previous times of oppression it was always a case of telling God’s people to repent and he would deliver them from the enemy; a system that was repeated time and again. So what made this instance different? Read the words of Jeremiah:
“Then said the LORD unto me, Pray not for this people for their good. When they fast, I will not hear their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and an oblation, I will not accept them: but I will consume them by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence. Then said I, Ah, Lord GOD! behold, the prophets say unto them, You shall not see the sword, neither shall you have famine; but I will give you assured peace in this place. Then the LORD said unto me, The prophets prophesy lies in my name: I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, neither spoke unto them: they prophesy unto you a false vision and divination, and a thing of naught, and the deceit of their heart. Therefore thus saith the LORD concerning the prophets that prophesy in my name, and I sent them not, yet they say, Sword and famine shall not be in this land; By sword and famine shall those prophets be consumed.” [Jer. 14:11-15]
God specifically told Jeremiah to stop praying for the good of his people; they had crossed the line, they had gone too far, they had reached the point of no return. This message is abundantly clear in Jeremiah’s prophecy as well as that of Hosea. They were not told to comply with the Babylonians because revolt was ungodly, they were told to comply because they had crossed the line and punishment could not be averted. Jeremiah’s call to compliance does not wipe out hundreds of years of Jewish history where God raised up men to fight against the heathen enemies.
Now, to be fair, there is one point the critics of Christian Patriotism make that I agree with completely. It is wrong and a total violation of Scriptural integrity for Christian Patriotism supporters to twist and change Scripture to defend their cause. Equating Joshua’s “choose you this day” speech with protecting the second amendment, through substituting the Bible’s words for your own, is completely irresponsible. Do not tamper with God’s Word to advance your own causes.
In conclusion, I would submit to you that Christian Patriotism is fully justifiable through God’s Word, and in fact, to dismiss it is to be a poor steward of the gift of democracy God has given us. If we stand by and do nothing we will allow the nation to be turned into a Godless, heathen cesspool, worthy of Babylonian destruction. If we repent and seek God’s face he will heal our land.