I apologize for the long absence. My duties as a youth pastor has preoccupied me over the past couple of weeks. But, it is good to be back! And as I sit here sipping on a cup of coffee and typing on my keyboard, I realize what weekend it is. That is, the weekend of July 4th, the holiday in which Americans celebrate their independence from 16th Century European tyranny. I hope and pray that you have a restful weekend with family and friends as you grill out together and shoot off fireworks. Further than that, I pray that you thank and worship God for the gift of freedom. However, I notice something that worries me concerning the calendar. Fourth of July falls on a Sunday this year. This makes me want to talk about nationalism and the devastating effects it can have on the Church.
First, it is important to define nationalism. What is it? Well, simply put, nationalism is the the extreme identity one places in their country. So, an American nationalist affirms their sole identity as an American. An Australian nationalist affirms their sole identity as an Australian. A Mexican nationalist affirms their sole identity as a Mexican. And so on and so forth.
Well, what is the problem of nationalism? There are a couple of serious problems that nationalism cause, especially for the Christian. First, when practicing nationalism, you are disregarding Christ as your identity. Galatians 2:20 describes how we have been crucified with Christ and now Christ lives in us. Christ ought to be our truest identity. It is in Him, we are fulfilled and experience everlasting satisfaction. Second, when practicing nationalism as a Christian, you are disregarding the universality of the gospel message. What I mean by this is the gospel is for everyone and we, as Christians, are meant to travel to the ends of the earth proclaiming this message. Daniel 7:14 reads, “And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (ESV). Revelation 5:9 reads, “And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.'” Christianity is not reserved for America. The gospel is not reserved for Americans. Christ will be served and worshipped by people from every tribe, tongue, and nation in the Kingdom of God. Do not allow a gram of nationalistic mentality stand in the way of your gospel proclamation. Yes, you may be an American. But, you are a Christian first, called to share the gospel to all who can hear, American or foreigner.
Where do we see nationalism in Scripture? Well, it is explicitly evident within the Book of Jonah. Jonah was a prophet of God whom was called to share the gospel to Nineveh. After running away from God and repenting of his sin, he finally goes to Nineveh and shares the gospel. However, something peculiar happens afterwards. Notice what he prays to the Lord: “And he prayed to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live'” (Jonah 4:2-3). Jonah was furious because God saved the people of Nineveh! Jonah even told God that the reason he refused to go to Nineveh at first was because he KNEW God was gracious and would save them! Jonah is committing racist nationalism here. Jonah, being an Israelite, thought highly of his country’s status as the “chosen” people of God. He was extremely proud of this status. And due to this nationalism, he committed the sin of racism by refusing them the gospel and being angered by them getting saved. Church, I urge you to learn from the mistakes of Jonah and do not tread the same path he did. Even though we are Americans, we are only temporary citizens of America. We, first and foremost, are citizens of the Kingdom of God, for which is home to people of all nations. We are aliens on this earth on a journey towards our true and everlasting home.
Now, there is a difference between nationalism and patriotism. Patriotism is a good thing, but can quickly turn into nationalism, which is a bad thing. I am a patriot. I love my country. And I will always honor my country because it is my earthly home and a lot of people sacrificed their lives to allow me to experience the freedom I know today. However, I will not be a nationalist. I recognize that America is not perfect and I realize America is not the source of true satisfaction. I also recognize that God does not favor America because He has children in every nation on the planet. So, I will always be an American patriot. But I will never allow my patriotism to turn into nationalism.
So, why do I write all this? Because I want to advise you on how to conduct yourselves this Sunday, the 4th of July. Go to church this Sunday. But do not go to church to worship America and to worship as an American. Go to church to worship our holy God as a Christian. Do not salute the American flag in church this Sunday. Instead, bathe in the words of Scripture and kneel at the alter. And if there are any pastors reading this article, I pray that you do not preach a sermon on the topic of being an American and how much of a blessing it is to live in America. Instead, I pray that you preach Christ and Him crucified. Remember, the gospel is not the American dream. The gospel is that we are sinners, Christ died for our sins, and He rose from the grave. And this gospel is meant to be shared to all those who have ears to hear.
Soli Deo Gloria,
Cameron R. Knowles