A Better Country

 

by Mary Van Nattan

 

Hebrew 11:16 But now they desire a better country,
that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed
to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.

 

The Trouble with Patriotism

There are a lot of people who are very caught up in patriotism. Here in the United States it is often equated with being a "good Christian." That is to say, if you are a "good Christian" you will also be patriotic, you will also "love your country", and your allegiance will be to the "good, ol' USA". "God and country" is a common theme, though I'd say that "country and God" was a better word order judging by people's speech and actions.

This is an election year in the U.S. and emotions will be running high in many churches. Politics is a BIG subject and many pastors will be openly or covertly plugging for the candidate they want all "their members" to vote for. (Too bad more of them don't think of the people as God's heritage, as it really is, and let Him lead the people to vote or not vote as HE sees fit.  1 Peter 5:3 Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.)

I wonder what some of these folks would think if they heard that  Christians in the former USSR were trying to restore that nation to "it's old glory." Or, how about the Christians in Germany trying to restore it "to it's former power and glory." They would more than likely rush to tell us that those were not "Christian nations." Well, neither is this one in reality. And besides that, Germany did have much salt during the time of the Reformation.

The point is that their greed for "old glory" and exaltation of "The Constitution" is very subjective. As long as it's old American glory and the U.S. Constitution, then it's worthy of being exalted, even worshipped.

Think about that in the context of being pilgrims and strangers on this earth (1 Peter 2:11).

Another common thing we see among American Christians is the "need", even urgency, to "rescue America" and "restore it to it's Christian foundation." These people talk, dream and try to live in the context of "restoring America". I've even heard people go so far as to say that it is our responsibility to "make the leaders of this country live by the Constitution."  Some even suggest a new revolution to enforce this.  (You won't find a chapter and verse to support that one, by the way.)

Unfortunately, many of these people either don't know or don't bother to get the whole truth. This nation had a salted origin, but it never had Christian foundations. The "founding fathers" were a hodgepodge of deists, agnostics, possible Christians, and probable Christians (...the LORD looketh on the heart, 1 Sam. 16:7). The U.S. Constitution is not a Christian document, and it does not take long to find things in it that are contrary to the word of God. Nevertheless, there are many Christians today who are under the delusion that this country was somehow "Christian" at one time. This is ignorance, whether willful or otherwise.  The only real way that a nation could be "Christian" is if every citizen were a born again believer.  This is not possible in this present evil world (Gal. 1:4).

It is grievous to see God's people putting nationalism and patriotism before our true Christian heritage. Our "Christian heritage" IS NOT connected with the history of the USA in any way. Jesus Christ is our only foundation!

1Corinthains 3:11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; 13 Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. 14 If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. 15 If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

When American Christians, or any other Christians in the world, begin to connect their faith with patriotism, nationalism or tribalism they are building on another foundation. Or, they are building wood, hay and stubble upon the foundation of Christ. They will not receive a reward for these wasted efforts.

There is no scripture to prove that we are called as the people of God to rescue world governments. We are not commanded to vote anywhere, not even in Romans 13 where Paul specifically gives detailed instructions regarding dealing with the higher powers. He was writing to Christians in Rome and it is highly likely that some of them had the "right to vote" as Roman citizens, yet he nowhere admonishes them that it is their Christian duty to exercise that "right".  Apparently Paul did not have a "vision" to see the Roman Empire "rescued for Christ." That was a ploy that came later with the development of the Roman Catholic church. Please stop and think about that.

Paul's vision was for Jesus Christ. He said, For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. Philippians 1:21 And again, Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13- 14

In the same passage he said, ...4 Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: 5 Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; 6 Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. 7 But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. 8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, (Philippians 3)

For a Jew, nationalism is of extreme importance. It is key to their very existence and personal identity.  To be able to prove one is the seed of Abraham is great, to be able to prove what tribe one is from is highly enviable. Yet Paul says he counted all this loss for Christ, even dung - that is manure! Friend, that is strong, strong language for a Jew!  I doubt that any non-Jews can even truly comprehend that without a lot of study into Jewish history.  Yet, if Paul counted all this as dung that he might win Christ, what should believers today be thinking regarding nationalism and patriotism?

Now, if a Christian today feels they should vote in national elections for one reason or another, they are certainly free to do so. There is no command in the New Testament that we should not vote.

Romans 14:12 So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. 13 Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way.

We each answer to the Lord, and we should not be judging one another for not doing exactly like we do. But, Christian zeal should not be measured by political, national or tribal zeal. If a Christian does not participate in national voting or in tribal councils or whatever the situation may be, they should not be judged. And those who do feel they must participate in these things ought not to be judged either, provided their first zeal and interest is always the one foundation, Jesus Christ.

Daniel and Nehemiah both worked for the governments in which they were held in captivity.  Both of these governments and cultures were wicked.  Yet God blessed them and prospered them on behalf of His own people. The important factor was that their faithfulness to God was far above their faithfulness to the king or the government.

A Better Country

As the people of God, as His children and ambassadors in this wicked world, we are not citizens of any country or tribe. We are the children of the Highest. Our country and nation is a city - the city of God.

Hebrews 11:13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. 14 For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. 15 And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. 16 But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.

First of all, this is referring to the fathers of the nation of Israel. Abraham was promised a land. And yet, the scripture tells us that he considered himself a stranger and pilgrim here, not because he was waiting for his earthly promised land, but because he sought a better country, an heavenly country!

Next notice that God is not ashamed to be called their God because they do desire a better country - a heavenly one! If I may be so bold, what do you suppose God thinks of His children who are looking for a better country here on this earth?

Christian friend, is God ashamed of you? He will not disown you, but if your patriotic or nationalistic zeal overshadows your zeal for heaven, He is not pleased, at the very least. If you are looking to "restore" or "rescue" some nation on this earth for God you are not doing His will. He wants you to consider yourself a stranger and pilgrim on this earth.

Hebrews 12:18 For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, ...22 But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, 23 To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, 24 And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.

I'm reminded of the words of Samuel Johnson who said that "Patriotism is the last resort of a scoundrel."  It seems to me that as the American church wanders farther and farther from God's truth, they are much inclined to embrace and promote patriotism, military support and national zeal.  Because patriotism has been so heavily connected with "Christian duty" in the minds of American Christendom, clinging to patriotism gives the impression that they are still clinging to God's truth, when in fact nothing could be more false.

The book of Hebrews was undoubtedly written to Jews as the name suggests. To the Jewish people the mountain where the law was given was a geographical place of great importance. Yet the writer of Hebrews says that as Christians, that mount was no longer significant to them. They were come to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem; and so too have we. Our "fellow citizens" are the church of the first born and the spirits of just men made perfect.  This crosses all nationalistic and tribal lines.  It is totally unrelated to earthly loyalties or patriotism.

With a city this great as our home, why would you want to waste your life "rescuing" some washed up country on this earth? Why not spend your life trying to get more people to go with you to that better country!?

Hebrews 13:12 Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. 13 Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach. 14 For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.

Jerusalem is a city of great importance to the Jewish people. Since the times of David their heritage has been tied up with that geographical place, and possibly even before that. To them Jerusalem has been a city much desired. Nehemiah was grief stricken when he heard what a terrible condition it was in, Neh. 1. Many Jews looked forward to the return of the captivity to Jerusalem as God had promised them. After the second great captivity they looked for that again, and they were no doubt ecstatic when it was retaken in recent years.

But look at what God says through the author of Hebrews to the Hebrew Christians. ...Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp... Jesus Christ was crucified outside the city of Jerusalem. We are told, along with the Hebrew Christians, that we should go forth to HIM - "without the camp", meaning outside the camp.

For the Jew this is to leave the Jewish religion and heritage. It is to count nationalism as loss, even dung. For the Gentile Christian it is to leave behind patriotism and nationalism and follow Christ alone. Why?

For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.

 

 

background & graphics by mary vannattan

updated 2012