Summary: Written and published Aug. ’14. This article deals with the issue of Christian nationalism, and what biblical principles are associated with this topic. As in all the articles, we look not for human reasoning, but we only want to discover, by the teaching of the Holy Spirit, the thoughts of God from His word. In God’s eyes, has there ever existed a Christian nation? We know that individual sinners believe the gospel and become Christians. An individual does not constitute a nation. In Christianity, all the individual believers are baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ, the church (I Cor. 12:12-13). The question becomes, are there nations in the church? We soon discover, through Christian principles and the New Testament doctrine of the church taught by Paul, that the body of Christ was gathered by the Spirit of God sent down – gathered from out of the nations. In Christ, and therefore in the church, there are no Jews or Greeks (Gal. 3:26-28) – there are no nations, no nationalities. The believer/church is not of this world, so it doesn’t have these relationships. Regardless of how man looks at things, God’s viewpoint always lines up with His word. Read further for a more detailed explanation.
This question as the title of our article involves the understanding of biblical principles relating to Christianity and the doctrine of the church, as they apply to the concept of nationalism. Many ministers, as well as many Christians proudly believe that America is a Christian nation. But this reasoning is only human. Unfortunately, from God’s perspective, a Christian nation has never existed in the entire history of Christendom.
Now it isn’t a question as to whether man has ever tried to make a Christian nation. This has been his desire in his work throughout the history of Christendom, and he has from time to time declared such nations as existing. We need only be remotely familiar with the religious history of countries like Germany, England, Italy, etc. to have such thoughts. But when we come to America, in our mind this becomes a special case – America’s inception and government, it is said, was based on Christianity. At the very least the basis was Judaeo-Christian principles. We reason, if ever there was a Christian nation, America is it. And off we go in our thoughts and pride without ever checking in with the word of God to learn what God thinks. What are God’s thoughts?
There is no doubt that America began as a nation under a great amount of Christian or Protestant influence. Biblical principles had to be a great effect on America’s forefathers. They seemed to see the importance of the people having a faith in a God of love, justice, and holiness. The thought of being ‘one nation under God’ was intended to be the basis of the government of the people, the general faith restricting and governing the behavior of the people in a democracy and republic. The intent was to have a people as a nation ‘under God’, and for God to have His way, or at the very least, for God to have His influence and say.
However, this influence and say was always under the principle of human responsibility. The progression of the nation, its laws and government, was in the hands of men and whether they could remain obedient to God. This is the exact same principle that is the underlying basis of the law of Moses – human responsibility and its results, God looking for obedience, and the law demanding human righteousness.
But what is the testimony of Scripture concerning the history of mankind when man is given responsibility by God? It is always human failure. When Israel agreed to do the law, Moses went up the mountain to get the tablets of stone. By the time he made it down the mountain and back to the camp, Israel was worshiping another god. When the ‘times of the Gentiles’ begin and God places civil world government into Nebuchadnezzar’s hands, he sets up an idol to be worshiped in all his kingdom (Dan. 3:1-6). The Jews failed and the Gentiles failed, when given responsibility by God. It did not matter what the particular case was – priesthood, royalty, prophets, civil government, law, etc. – there was always human failure. Jesus came to the fig tree and found no fruit. Then He cursed it; it would bear no fruit forever (Matt. 21:19). Human responsibility in the first Adam was found wanting. The fig tree in particular is Israel – they produced no obedience to God, no proper fruit that pleased Him, when given the opportunity (Is. 5:1-7, Matt. 21:33-44). In general the fig tree refers to all men in Adam, Jews and Gentiles alike (Rom. 3:9-20). Man in Adam, man in the flesh, could not please God (Rom. 8:8). Also he could not keep the law, which was his responsibility (Rom. 8:7). Man’s utter depravity was proven by God.
This is an important Scriptural understanding. God proved mankind’s utter depravity by giving the law to Israel. They served as the test case representing fallen man in Adam. In innocence God gave Adam one law to test responsibility. He failed. Now man is fallen and a sinner, and God gives man in Adam ten laws. Israel failed the testing from the very beginning, making a golden calf. In responsibility man always fails, and that from the outset when it is given to him.
Nevertheless it is good to consider what the law is in purpose as given by God to fallen man. In considering Scripture there seems to be two important reasons God gave the law to Israel:
1.) The law tested man in Adam. For 1500 years Israel had the law and were responsible to practice it. The law of God was their religion, Judaism. Their failure proved the utter depravity of mankind. Israel, though privileged in all the ways that God could possibly favor a group of people in Adam, Israel treated as special above all other nations (Deut. 7:6-8), could not produce the fruit of obedience. After their failure in the law, Israel was given one more test of responsibility. Would they receive the Son when He was sent to them as their Messiah (Matt. 21:37). They rejected Him and cast Him out. This was the end of God testing human responsibility. The world was condemned (John 12:31). Man in Adam’s utter depravity was conclusively proven by God’s testing. He went to the fig tree looking for any fruit and found none. God curses the tree forever (Matt. 21:18-19).
In this it is good to see what the law was the standard of, especially as the law is related to government. The law, as given by God and therefore God’s law, is the perfect measure of human righteousness. Can a man do right in the two areas of relationship he has – that with God and then with his neighbor. This is why Jesus condenses the law into only two commandments (Matt. 22:36-40) saying, “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” It is the perfect standard of man in Adam doing right before a holy God. Then it is easy to see why so many governments base their laws on the last half of the decalogue – man doing right to his neighbor.
2.) The law also had the purpose of separating Israel from the Gentile nations. When God delivered Israel out of Egypt and brought them on eagles’ wings (sovereign grace) to Himself at Mt. Sinai, He gave them His law. As a nation Israel was to worship Jehovah, the one true God. All the Gentile nations had worship of idols and demons. The law, Judaism, was used by God to build up a wall of separation around the Jews (Eph. 2:14). As long as God acknowledged Israel as His people, He was bound to honor this wall of separation, for He alone was the one who built it. The law distinguished what was Jewish from those things that were Gentile and heathenish. The law was the worship of the true God, and it was the wall of separation around Israel.
When God’s presence was on the earth, living in the midst of Israel, He directly governed the world. But this arrangement changed with the apostasy and idolatry of the Jews. God sets Israel aside as His people (Hos. 1:9), takes the principle of government away from them, and gives it to the Gentiles (Dan. 2:36-38); His presence was no longer in physical form on the earth. Now God exercises a providential control over all things, and He alone is responsible for setting up all civil powers that exist – there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God (Rom. 13:1-7). This He does in providence.
But once God places a person in civil authority, regardless of how high or low his position may be, that individual fulfills his office by human responsibility. In responsibility, God is always looking for obedience. In civil government and in any position of authority therein, the obedience God is looking for translates into justice and righteousness.
Responsibility is always the result of the relationship one is in. In a general way, as concerning all humankind, there exists two forms or levels of human responsibility – that which is in the first Adam and that which is of the second Adam.
Responsibility in the first man stems from the relationship of the creature with the Creator. Responsibility attaches itself to every creature that can be conscious of a relationship with God, the Creator (Rom. 1:18-22). Whenever there is awareness of this relationship, there is obligation in it to God. The Creator expects obedience in the creature, and therefore looks for this production of fruit or results. This was present with Adam from the very beginning of creation, and all men, even in their fallen condition, are without excuse (Rom. 1:20). Also, the first Adam was part of God’s first creation. There were many types of relationships associated with this fallen world which all had their unique responsibility — husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and servants, nations with nations, etc. But man’s relationship with his Creator was supreme.
The second level of responsibility is with all true believers in Christ. Here we are all sons of God by faith in Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:26). If we are sons, then God is our Father, and this is the relationship from which our new responsibility flows as children of God (Gal. 4:6-7, Rom. 8:15-16). This is the believer’s responsibility as positioned in the second Adam. It is an entirely new position and relationship apart from the first Adam and God’s first creation (Eph. 1:4-8). It is the new creation of God, where all things are new and all things are of God (II Cor. 5:17-18).
An individual placed by God in a position of civil authority has responsibility in their decisions and behavior based upon what their relationship is with God. Is it a relationship in the first Adam or the second? It is not biblical to think you can be in both; you are either in one or the other. All unbelievers are ‘in Adam’ and are ‘in the flesh’ (Rom. 8:8-9). They are responsible to God as the Creator, just as the first Adam was. The believer is in a different relationship, and as I said, his responsibility is on a different and higher level – not as a child of Adam, but as a child of God.
There is no direct government of God on the earth today. God’s direct government over the earth ended when His presence left the temple, left Jerusalem, and left the earth in the time of the Babylonian empire (Ez. 10:18-19). This was when the ark of the covenant, God’s throne of government, was lost forever. All these things happened because of the apostasy and idolatry of the Jews. God could no longer tolerate dwelling in the midst of Israel and He begins a new age of Gentile world government – the ‘times of the Gentiles’ (Luke 21:24). God acts from heaven by His hidden hand of providence, while the Gentiles are given responsibility for civil world government (Dan. 2:31-45). This is the age the world is in today. It will go on until the end of the future tribulation and the return of Christ to this earth. Then there will be the dawning of a new age. At that time the presence and glory of God will return to the earth and be in the midst of a restored Israel. There will be a rebuilt millennial temple and the Promised land will be divided as an eternal inheritance for the saved Jewish remnant (Ez. 40-48). Israel will grow and prosper in the land and will become the greatest nation on the face of the earth (Ez. 39:21-29, Is. 60:12-14, 61:2-9). God will again have direct government over the earth – during the reign of the Son of Man in the coming age – in the millennium (Matt. 24:30, 25:31). (For a more detailed description of this present age please read in ‘The Blessed Hope of the Church’ book, the chapter titled, ‘This Present Evil Age’)
There is no doubt that God guided in providence when America won its independence and first became a nation. But we can hardly say that these events are the same as God delivering Israel out of slavery in Egypt. With Israel God was birthing a nation that from the outset had both the principle of His calling and the principle of His government. And He did this by direct involvement and direct judgments. From a Scriptural perspective there is quite a difference between Israel as a people and a nation, and America. Although the principle of government is currently with the Gentiles, there are many Gentile nations. America is not unique in this respect. The idea of democracy or a republic form of government is not a Christian idea or form – where do we find Scripture that teaches such a thought? America cannot be labelled a Christian nation based on this.
Israel were the people of God because they also had the principle of God’s calling. When God acknowledged the Jews, we could say, “Israel, God’s people, God’s nation.” Their calling is as a people, as a nation. You could never say that about America, not by biblical principles and truth. The principle of God’s calling was with Israel. Their calling is currently set aside and God does not acknowledge them as His people (Hos. 1:9). God’s calling is now with the body of Christ, the church – howbeit, a very different calling from that of Israel. Nevertheless, the church’s calling makes the members of the body ‘the people of God’. But in no biblical way or understanding is America the body of Christ. America has no calling from God, and never did. This is the difference; Israel had the calling of God; now the church has the calling of God; America never had a calling from God. It should be easy to understand why we should not say that America is a Christian nation. Also we should not pretend that America is God’s people, God’s nation. Israel was all this, and when acknowledged by God, will be this again in the end – for the gifts and callings of God are irrevocable (Rom. 11:29). But this was never America in any biblical sense. It is just this in our emotions.
When we do not have the proper understanding of these biblical principles, we will often be found misusing Scripture. For example:
II Chron. 7:12-16
“Then the Lord appeared to Solomon by night, and said to him: “I have heard your prayer, and have chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people, if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to prayer made in this place. For now I have chosen and sanctified this house, that My name may be there forever; and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually.
How can this passage ever be applied to America? Jehovah is speaking to Solomon, the son of David and king of Israel. He is speaking about Israel as a nation for He acknowledges them as ‘His people’. He is speaking about the temple of Solomon, prayer and repentance in that temple by the nation, and how this might benefit the ‘Promised land’. Jehovah never calls America as ‘His people, called by His name’. America has no temple that Jehovah has chosen to place His name there forever. America has no ‘Promised land’ given to them by God. So many ministers attempt to apply this passage to the church and to America. It is gross error on their part.
The doctrine of the body of Christ, the church, excludes the concept of nationalism. All proper Christian doctrine rejects such reasoning.
Gal. 3:27-28, (Col 3:10-11)
“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew or Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
In the true church there are no nations. All the relationships associated with the first creation and the first Adam are not to be found in the new creation of God and the second Adam. There is no male or female, there are not many families, there are no distinct nations in Christ. The church is not of the first creation, and therefore has none of the relationships that God established with the first creation. The believer, who is with Christ and in Christ, is the new creation of God. Church doctrine does not support the idea of Christian nations – no such thing ever existed in Christ.
If we speak of the Jews and God acknowledging them, it is always as “His people” and as a nation (Jer. 31:31-33, 36). The reason for this is because Israel is connected to the earth and world and the first creation, and therefore has all the relationships associated with the first creation. It is in the first creation that we have God establishing the dividing of the earth into nations after the flood (Gen. 10:32). In the future millennium Israel will be the most exalted nation and the center of the earth (Deut. 32:8-9). When God acknowledges Israel, He deals with them as a nation. When He sets them aside, as they are set aside today, they are not His people and He is not their God (Hos. 1:9). So He makes their house desolate (Matt. 23:38-39) and scatters them among the Gentiles (Luke 21:24), to live there as the Gentiles and in the Gentile nations, without their wall of separation from the Gentiles.
God only acknowledges Israel when He recognizes their calling as a nation – it is a calling from God as a people and a nation, and nothing less than this. Their calling – the entire nation to be separated to Jehovah, to be ‘His people’, and for Jehovah to be ‘their God’ – is what makes Israel special and different from every Gentile nation (Deut. 7:6-8). Their calling will always and forever keep Israel separated from all Gentile nations. In Scripture, the only nation that ever had a calling from God is Israel. No Gentile nation has a calling from God. America does not have a calling documented in Scripture. No amount of human emotion will legitimately give America a calling from God. Are there any callings of nations divided out in the body of Christ? No, there are not. Therefore, there are no Christian nations in Christ or the body of Christ. America is not a Christian nation in any biblical sense.
When God’s calling of Israel was set aside, God had the Roman army destroy Jerusalem and the temple. This served, in a physical way, as the symbolic consequence of their calling being put aside. The calling of God is now with the believer/church. But make no mistake, it is not Israel’s calling being given to the church. Israel’s calling is earthly and connected to the first creation; their calling is irrevocable (Rom. 11:28-29). The church’s calling is heavenly and of the new creation of God. The believer’s citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20); it is not on the earth, and in America, or England, or Germany. The government of God over the earth remains in the hands of the Gentiles. God never gave the principle of government to the church. God never intended Christendom to desire and seek governmental authority and power during its time on the earth. This was not the mind of God, or His will. It would be a violation of the principles that explain the counsels of God.
It is noticeable how men, in responsibility in Christendom, have perverted the proper understanding of both principles we have been discussing here. They give the church an earthly calling and teach us with the earthly teachings of Judaism. They make the church merged or grafted into Israel, or present the idea that the church replaced Israel. It is all human foolishness and pretention. It is an evil leaven infecting the teachings of Christendom, and misleading the church. Yet these false teachings and understandings are found everywhere in the professing church. Many theologians and ministers hold these thoughts in the background of their minds, and it colors and taints the character of all their doctrine. To give the church an earthly calling is to pervert biblical truth. To have the church involved in civil power in this present age is also a perversion of biblical principles. Yet this is what we find that men in responsibility have done in the history of Christendom (Rev. 17:1-2).
The principle of civil government is currently with the Gentiles. From the beginning of the ‘times of the Gentiles’ there has been failure in responsibility. It is an established pattern in Scripture. What do we see with America? Yes, a good beginning. But when responsibility is in the hands of men it is a steady decline and failure. This is what we see in the history of civil government in America. As government moves further away from honoring and depending on God, it will not treat or govern our fellow men according to God’s law. Instead there will be unrighteous abuse of power and authority. This is the testimony in Scripture of how the Gentiles have failed when given responsibility in civil authority. America is no different.
Many believers wonder whether it is God’s will for them to hold a position in civil government and enter the political arena. The simple answer is that if you win an election and gain a position of governmental power, and God is responsible in His providence for placing all civil authority, then God favored you in this. Nevertheless, consider the position you are in – your responsibility as a true believer and son of God is to serve God and His will, not to serve the state or do man’s will. It is hard, if not impossible, to serve two masters. As Jesus said, you will love the one, hate the other. But also it is worth considering this thought – at the end of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the great Gentile statue, a little stone, made without hands, comes out of heaven and strikes the statue on its feet, grinding the entire thing into chaff. This is the judgment and end of all Gentile power and civil government on the earth and in the world. So the question begs to be asked, why do you want to be part of what Christ specifically returns to this earth to destroy? It is hard to make sense of that.
It is the evil leaven of human pride, effort, and accomplishment that inspires in believers these thoughts of involvement in civil government. The world is attached to its own objects and pursuits, its own grandeur, power, pleasures and gains. It is not attached to Christ, and therefore is enslaved to the evil one who governs the world by these motives. The world will not get better in this present age. When Christ came into the world as God in the flesh, the world did not receive Him, but rather hated Him and put Him to death. The world did not change in response to His coming. The world only ripens in evil. If Christ did not change the world when He came in grace, how is it that the believer thinks he will change the world now? We are still in the same evil age.
The principle of God’s government of the earth centers in upon the nation of Israel. Their Messiah King will rule the Gentile nations with a rod of iron during the coming millennium. All the nations will serve Israel (Is. 60:11-12) and the glory of God will return to the earth. His glory will reside in the millennial temple in Jerusalem, in the midst of a restored Israel (Ez. 43:1-7). This is the principle of God’s government and these are the things associated with it. It was the same on the earth in the time of Moses’ tabernacle and Solomon’s temple. All of these points, whether past or future, depend on the presence and glory of God being on the earth and in Israel. God has never intended for the church, while it remains on the earth, to hold any civil power. Christendom has only become a great earthly power through its grand failures in human responsibility (Matt. 13:31-32).