A Disembodied Head? Part 5: America

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18 Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 22.15-22)

After Friday’s post about the Pledge of Allegiance, I thought I’d follow up with the logical conclusions that led me to about America. As I said in that post, I am glad to live in America. I think there is much about this country that we have every right to thank God for. However, we must avoid the temptation to idolize America, or worship  any other native country in which a Christian might be placed by God. Christ clearly indicates to His disciples in the Great Commission, quoted above, that His followers should make disciples of all nations. This is an indication that Christ was expecting His Kingdom to finally become trans-national. That had been the goal all along, since Abraham had been promised that through his seed all of the nations on the earth would be blessed (some translations of Genesis 12.3 read all nations will be blessed through you, others read all nations will bless each other with your name), and clarified in Isaiah (Isaiah 41.1-7 and 49.6). The nation of Israel was God’s chosen representative, intended to show His favor and invite others to join their nation. It never quite works out that way, if you read the records from Genesis to Malachi (in the Christian ordering).

The early apostles made this clear as well. The Church does not need any certain government to do its mission. Even under the pagan Romans, and surrounded by hostile Jews, the Church thrived and advanced across cultural boundaries. Paul write this in Colossians:

11 Here there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all and in all. (Colossians 3.11)

Earthly nationality plays no role in the Church, he seems to be saying. And Peter explains the same idea:

9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 You once were not a people, but now you are God’s people. You were shown no mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11 Dear friends, I urge you as foreigners and exiles to keep away from fleshly desires that do battle against the soul, 12 and maintain good conduct among the non-Christians, so that though they now malign you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God when he appears. (1 Peter 2.9-12)
Here Peter is saying that in the earthly sense, we were not one nation, but people from various backgrounds. Now we are God’s people. Not as a nation (America), but as a Church, the Body of Christ. The member of Christ’s true Body who follow our Head are the new “Israel”. That is, we are God’s chosen people of the new covenant, a covenant in His Blood.
Where then does this leave us in our dealings with our earthly nation? Peter addressed that immediately following the section I just quoted.
13 Be subject to every human institution for the Lord’s sake, whether to a king as supreme 14 or to governors as those he commissions to punish wrongdoers and praise those who do good. 15 For God wants you to silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. 16 Live as free people, not using your freedom as a pretext for evil, but as God’s slaves. 17 Honor all people, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the king. (1 Peter 2.13-17)
Paul is also not silent about this. After discussing in Romans 12 how to interact as a Christian with those who oppose or persecute us (our “enemies”), he reminds us in the beginning of Romans 13 that the state does have that power, before returning to our conduct in love immediately after this passage:
1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except by God’s appointment, and the authorities that exist have been instituted by God. 2 So the person who resists such authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will incur judgment 3 (for rulers cause no fear for good conduct but for bad). Do you desire not to fear authority? Do good and you will receive its commendation, 4 for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be in fear, for it does not bear the sword in vain. It is God’s servant to administer retribution on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of the wrath of the authorities but also because of your conscience. 6 For this reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants devoted to governing. 7 Pay everyone what is owed: taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. (Romans 13.1-7)
Lest we think that this was just the teaching of the Church, Jesus gives the same idea with the same example:
15 Then the Pharisees went out and planned together to entrap him with his own words. 16 They sent to him their disciples along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are truthful, and teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You do not court anyone’s favor because you show no partiality. 17 Tell us then, what do you think? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” 18 But Jesus realized their evil intentions and said, “Hypocrites! Why are you testing me? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax.” So they brought him a denarius. 20 Jesus said to them, “Whose image is this, and whose inscription?” 21 They replied, “Caesar’s.” He said to them, “Then give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 Now when they heard this they were stunned, and they left him and went away. (Matthew 22.15-22)
It seems, in summary, that our national priority is now with another Kingdom. We are not, however, to use this as an excuse to shirk paying our taxes and obeying the law. We should do this, so as to set a witness that we are not bad citizens, we are just foreigners who want to represent our King well while living in another Kingdom whose claims to power and authority are of a different sort than that of Christ. Where no conflict exists, we may fully be citizens of our country (America for me), but the moment any sort of discrepancy surfaces, my true allegiance must come shining through.

3 comments on “A Disembodied Head? Part 5: America

  1. […] post is a follow up to the last two posts (Friday: Allegiance, Monday: America). Let me start with a quote from my conclusion yesterday to set the starting point for my views on […]

  2. […] the sword. What of these? If the state is authorized to use violence (the sword), when I’ve already argued that the state is imperfect. If the imperfect State is allowed the use of violence, then why […]

  3. […] post is a follow up to the last two posts (Friday: Allegiance, Monday: America). Let me start with a quote from my conclusion yesterday to set the starting point for my views on […]

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