Thursday, October 30, 2008

there is no such thing as a christian nation

when i was a little boy a great tragedy overcame canada: we were no longer, officially, a christian nation.

pollsters had realized that less than 51% of canadians professed to be christians, and so our "status" had changed forever.

this was something that was lamented in every church, christian school, youth rally, pastors gathering, etc. from then on (and continues today, albeit in a less "raw" sense).

but - here's the thing: i'm not sure canada was any different when i was 28 than when i was 8 or 18. the cultural issues were largely the same, the sense of dislocation felt by christians was largely the same, and the irrelevance of the church was still a big issue.

thing is, i don't think canada was ever christian

statistically, even when we were 75% christian, most of that was a cultural version of french catholicism practiced predominantly in quebec and among other francophones.

that's not to say that catholics aren't christians, just that most francophones consider themselves catholic much in the same way that midwesterners consider themselves christian even when neither group has paid any attention to jesus, the movement of the spirit, the mission of god, prayer, daily investment in the scriptures, etc.

their christianity is cultural, like a civil religion

if the olive garden is italian, these people are christians
if vanilla ice is rap, these people are christians
if the detroit lions are a pro football team, these people are christians recap...i don't think that the label of "christian nation" ever truthfully applied to the beautiful, honorable, greately missed, great white north.

but neither do i think it applies to the united states of america.

and neither do i think it rightly applies to any nation on the planet...ever.

of course, i make these claims for entirely different reasons.

see, i think that the idea that a nation is christian based on how many christians live there is entirely flawed. even if canada were 100% populated by christians, you could never call canada christian.

everything written about nations in scripture refers specifically to the nation of israel. so, when scripture talks about a nation being saved it's referring to the covenant people of god coming clean before god and making themselves right with god.

it's not talking about canada, america, mexico, uruguay, etc.

furthermore, in the second testament we're made to understand that christians are a nation unto themselves - meaning, christians are the people (read, nation) of God regardless of where they live.

you and i live in the same "christian nation" as our christian brothers are sisters in india. we are all part of the city of god. we all live as the people of god. and our "of-god-ness" has nothing to do with national or political lines on a map.

there are no christian nations because the real christian nation is comprised of those who follow jesus, regardless of wherever they live.

this is a difficult concept to grasp - i get that - and by talking about it i run the risk of being dismissed as abstract, obscure, or idealistic.

but the apostle paul himself refers to this as a "great mystery" in ephesians.

because it is so hard to grasp.

there is no such thing as a christian country. our countries are not good because they are christian.

our countries are good only to the degree that our policies and laws, practices and agreements, bring life to the world...but that doesn't just happen because the people who make those policies claim to be christians.

now, a couple closing caveats before anyone goes weird on me:

1. nationlism is still ok - love your country, serve your country, support the leadership of your country, but don't confuse loving your country with loving christ, and never think the former is somehow equal or (god forbid) more significant than the latter.

2. believing for your country to be saved is still ok - we can mine the scriptures for all kinds of hope and promise about canada, or the usa, being healed and made whole; about violence diminishing and cities being rebuilt and children being looked after. but don't confuse this with the notion that we are a christian nation and everything we do is in service to God because we've won this label.

3. believing that your country should be ethical is still ok - we should still demand that our governments make ethical decisions (and hold them accountable when they do not). we should still oppose evil, as a nation, wherever it is found through political, economic, and - yes - sometimes military intervention.

so...what am i really saying?

1. the church has to retain its right to criticize the government. that is the role of the prophet in scripture: to keep leaders honest before god. too often our churches have gotten political, and then there's no one left being spiritual. our role is to uphold ourselves, our world, and our people before god and demand that our politicians do the same to whatever degree they are able.

2. the state + its bureaucracy are soulless, meaning they are neither good nor evil. our goodness is determined by our actions. do we heal or harm? do we cultivate life or end it? does our intervention preserve justice or compromise it? we must insist on adjudicating our nation this way, rather than simply assuming that what we do is good because of who we are; or, as has become much more popular lately, assuming that whatever we do is bad because we think our current administration is evil somehow.

3. the people of god have a responsibility to live differently in this world. we often abdicate our moral responsibility to the state and then blame them for our own lack of courage. if you want to be a genuine follower of jesus christ then live differently. don't wait for america to become a christian nation in deed as well as in name; you should begin living now as a follower of jesus in deed and in name, and when that crosses over with your duty to your country (as it must on nov.4), you should spend deep time in prayer seeking the counsel of God and the movement of the spirit and vote with your conscience.

anyway, i write all of this out of concern for christians. many of us have swallowed some bad mojo about what it means to be a christian come election time.

many of us think that christians should all be republican.
many of us, an increasing number, have found that republicans don't really feel all that christian and so we're excited (almost unthinkingly) about being democrats.

but being a christian has nothing to do with whether you land as a republican or a democrat. neither party is the party jesus would support.
neither party is godly to its core.

every choice is a choice made despite our misgivings and in spite of our disappointment.

every christian is a republican with misgivings.
every christian is a democrat with misgivings.

it's not the party that makes us christians.
it's the misgivings and what we do with them that make us christians.

Ephesians 2.11-22
Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision" (that done in the body by the hands of men)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

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