HOW NATIONALISM HAS CHANGED THE FAITH
(My text for this message is the entire New Testament. I exhort you to read it from Matt.1:1 to Rev.22:21 in November.)
If you do any kind of study concerning the history of the faith called Christianity you must see just how it has changed over the centuries. And after the Industrial Revolution everything changed including the faith. Everything was swallowed up in an incredible wave of invention, education, success, and prosperity. And the visible church followed suit.
And in the early 1600s people began to sail to the new world called America. Some came to seek spiritual freedom, but most came to see a new beginning filled with hopes and dreams of prosperity. And this eclectic group began to experience a new found prosperity with the promise of much more. And when England started to dip into the well with some overbearing taxes the Revolutionary War began. And after much bloodshed a new nation called America was born.
This new nation was filled with ingenuity and industriousness and entrepreneurship. And there was a god concept woven into the foundation as well. The founding fathers embraced the concept of a divine being, however they had a wide variety of perspectives as to the essence of that divine being as well as an extremely wide variety of how that concept manifested itself in their lives. The nebulous term “God fearing” was the term du jour in that day.
And because they had such divergent views of spirituality they formed this new nation as a religious plurality which means every and all religions and spiritual perspectives were welcomed. In fact they made sure in the very first amendment to the Constitution that no particular religion was to be endorsed, much less promulgated, by this new nation. The unity sought was in order to achieve the maximum effectiveness for a prosperous and growing economy which would positively affect the economic lives of its citizens. And so a kind of religious unity was established very early on for the good of an effective economy. In fact the Revolution itself had begun as a result of England’s greed through unfair tax policies which triggered American greed and thus the Revolutionary War.
That entire scenario was to be expected in the natural. It is what man does and what man has always done. Not satisfied with many trees man must be able to feast on them all. And this new nation did indeed prosper beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. And the message of prosperity and the American dream spread throughout the world and caused millions to leave their homeland in search of this dream.
But living within the borders of this new nation were true followers of Jesus. Yes it is true that many of them practiced violence against the Indians and even murdered suspected witches, however they had come to America to seek religious freedom. But they were in the minority to be sure. But church buildings began to spring up everywhere and many people attended some type of religious gathering most of which called itself Christian. Although the nation was seen throughout the world in economic and even military terms, it cannot be denied that there was a religious flavor as well.
But that religious flavor was very nebulous and most of it had no impact on the culture of increasing hedonism and the seeking of wealth and the elevation of the American way of life. It would be very disingenuous and even diabolical if I did not mention that much of the prosperity which grew with lightning speed was fueled by the labor of African slaves. It would also be impossible to estimate just how much their free labor contributed in the incredible economic growth throughout America. Do not treat that fact as just another episode in the American economic story because in many ways it rises as an extremely prominent and important aspect of the overall prosperity that even now the culture enjoys.
But while this economic and military phenomenon continued to rise exponentially people that professed to be Christians began to experience something that was foreign to the early believers and most of the true believers throughout the centuries. They began to feel an attraction for the nation called America, and even though the nation was pluralistic, they suggested it was a Christian nation. And that suggestion became a conviction and eventually it was a core element in the way these professing believers felt about America. Yes, they came to the point of loving America and even pledged their allegiance which included their very lives.
And the visible church adopted that perspective and it only deepened as the years passed. This phenomenon that sees people love and pledge allegiance to an earthly nation is called nationalism. And as professing believers gave their hearts over to nationalism it began to change the church as well. No longer would sinners be seen as the fields in which we labor with the gospel. They now would be seen as either patriotic friends or enemies of the state. And if people were open hedonists or even members of cults but they were patriotic Americans the latter would trump the former. Now that is a real game changer in the evangelical world.
As difficult as it is to keep our minds fastened upon the eternal and things from above it now became impossible since the eternal had been completely muscled out, save a few references about a place called heaven, and in its place was a total and sometimes obsession with the temporal. And the nation called America was seen as a divine conduit through which temporal blessings had been given to believers. And it was taught and embraced that is was a divine responsibility to defend and protect that conduit in order to preserve the way of life to which we had become accustomed.
Suffering and hardships were now rejected and when someone disparaged us we loudly lamented it and claimed we were being persecuted. The faith that once was marked by gallows and the lion’s den and being burned at the stake had become an American religion which not only bore no resemblance to the early church, to say nothing of the New Testament, but it had become the antithesis of all Jesus taught and lived. Yes, the church in America had left Jesus and went a-whoring after the fallen nation to which it had been called to be gospel lights. Instead of being gospel lights the church became moral police. Believers championed certain moral causes and in so doing they not only left the gospel but they cultivated an atmosphere of hate and self righteousness. And all this was because the church experienced a form of the Stockholm syndrome where captives experience an illogical bonding with their captors.
Warning about the dangers of earthly prosperity disappeared because prosperity was universally embraced as a divine blessing in every and all circumstances. The church became happy in their prosperity and bold in their politics. Humility became a lost virtue and was now considered a weakness. In essence the church that sometimes used the name of Jesus was now a manufactured construction of the culture in which it lived. Nationalism was not seen as the diabolical evil that it is, but it was seen as part of a faithful Christian’s life. Think about that for a moment. Can you fathom the absolute horror of what I just said? That which is evil and sinful and which tears at the very fabric of the faith is now embraced as good and healthy and blessed by God.
And like the Mormons the evangelical community now embraced the founding fathers and their original documents as being divinely inspired. Think about that as well. Within the church there is almost a sacred aspect about the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. That is blasphemy at its zenith. And there is much more energy in seeking the White House than there is in seeking the face of God. Everything, and I mean everything, about nationalism is antichrist at its core and yet it continues to grip the majority of evangelical churches. We read how the Children of Israel worshiped a golden calf and we are appalled at how rebellious and ignorant they were. How could they not have known that worshiping an idol made of gold would sorely displease the Lord? And yet we worship all kinds of idols including ones made of gold. Let us ask ourselves the same question we ask the Children of Israel. In light of the clear teaching of the New Testament and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, how can we be so rebellious and ignorant? How can God’s people publicly and proudly embrace and practice that which is completely at odds with the faith they say they believe? How can we continue to walk like zombies in lockstep with a fallen culture and yet still insist we are following Jesus?
Look all around you and see the ruins of what was once a product of a mighty rushing wind. Oh yes there are magnificent buildings and great budgets and large staffs and all kinds of activities. There are many wonderful communicators and hordes of followers of those communicators. Yes, the evangelical community in America is vibrant and powerful. But look again and see how the mighty have fallen. Watch as dead men walk and talk. See the Sunday migration take place with the same redundancy as last week and with a confidence that next week will resemble this week. It is quite an astonishing feat of the flesh to see just how alive a corpse can look. As the underground Chinese pastor once told his congregation after having visited America and her churches. “It is amazing to see what American believers can accomplish without God.”
But do not think that just because you are granted an epiphany from God concerning the sinful ways of nationalism that your journey is complete. In many ways it has just begun because the Spirit begins to unravel decades of wrong thinking and wrong behavior. Layer upon layer begin to be removed, and many times one removed layer reveals another wayward attitude and sinful perspective of the heart. I have come to believe that the overwhelming majority of the evangelical church is so proud and so invested in this nation and its culture that without a sovereign move of God it will never repent of its ways. But we can rejoice because there is personal freedom in Christ when we reject the kingdoms of men and walk out from the fog and have the Spirit open our hearts and our eyes.
We have only one continuing city and that is in heaven with the Risen Christ. Our earthly journey is still headed toward our Wonderful Savior and our earthly lives are called to be incandescent pilgrims who are living epistles and earthen vessels who carefully and humbly carry the ark of His gospel wherever we go. Let us pull up the tents that we have pitched in this world and walk as servants of the Most High God. Our country is not of this world and our nation is holy. And as we repent of the subtle and diabolical sin of nationalism, let us draw near our God with a contrite spirit and allow the Spirit of the Living God to do in and through us that which we can never do in and of ourselves.
Yes, Let the world see Jesus through our lips and our lives.
That, my friends, is an amazing miracle that can only happen through a broken vessel.