Christian in America or American Christian: A distinction

Image result for american flag

I am a Christian.

I am an American.

God saw fit for me to be born into a great country as well as born again into a great covenant–that is, the covenant of grace.

In the midst of this tumultuous election season, replete with a variety show of interviews, articles, and debates, I find myself at a loss. To quote my fellow millennial/Gen Y folks, “I can’t even.”

The question for me comes down to which one of these phrases best describes me. In view of my life, my hope, my spending, my conversations–both in person and on the other side of a screen, which is more accurate? I am an American Christian–or–I am a Christian in America.

Is there really a difference? I think so.

I don’t believe “Christian” should really be modified by any adjective. But that’s another blog.

For me it’s about how I am to be Christian in America. The same would be true for a Christian in Africa, in Iraq, or in  Barbados. I believe a drastic blurring between these two  notions of Country and Faith is prevalent in Evangelical churches across the US.

The “American Christian” understanding, albeit painting with broad strokes, is predominant among self-identified Republicans, perhaps some Libertarians as well.

I don’t consider myself a Republican or Democrat or Libertarian or Whig. So it’s not about red state, blue state for me.

Where I see the grave disconnect is that point when identifying as a “conservative” equates to bashing leaders, not praying for leaders, and making soul-level judgments based on a veto or policy.

Lest my historiography fail me, the President of the United States does not sign on to be the protector of all things “Christian.” Religious liberty, yes. And I can argue that such liberty is being infringed upon. But for those buying into the rhetoric that a certain president will make life better for Christians, I simply don’t see it.  Moreover, what constitutes better? The Church has been thrown to lions and hung on trees since her inception.

I love freedom. And there’s no freer place than America, as far as I know. If Christians in America spent as much time praying for her leaders as bashing, condemning, or judging them, God would be honored in that. Perhaps God would honor those prayers.

As one pastor in Tennessee put it, “We have about as much chance of changing America battling over hot  button issues as we do of curing malaria by swatting all the mosquitoes in the world.” Not a lot of amens after that one.

What if–just try to imagine this, please–what if…

  • Evangelical Christians in America experienced as much angst  over poverty in the US and across the world as over politics?
  • Or if they expressed the same degree of indignation over their neighbors and coworkers not knowing the Lamb who was slain to make them sons and daughters of God?

Come Monday morning, would the same damning vitriol spit towards a person created in the image of God come out of the mouth that, just fifteen hours earlier, sang of God’s amazing grace?

It’s not easy to see oneself foremost as a citizen of heaven. In fact, everything about this world is aimed at blinding us from such a vision. But I know of no other way to live faithfully according to the gospel, since it is the gospel that informs all that we do, whether in word or deed.

Image result for crown and cross

The writer of Hebrews speaks to this tension of citizenship and identity,

These all (saints of old) died in faith without having received the promises, but they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth. 14 Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland... 16 But they now desire a better place—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:13-14,16, HCSB)


 

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Pledging Allegiance In Word and Deed

Pledge of AllegianceIf I asked you what makes someone a citizen of a particular country, you would most naturally, and correctly, answer, “It’s where they were born.” That’s the simplest answer.

Now of course we can move to another country and go through the requisite process to become a citizen.

But what are we to say of those men and women who are born in a country, possess citizenship, and then betray that country?

What about the Timothy McVeigh’s who pledge allegiance to country with hand over heart, serve in the military, and then park a truck filled with explosives in front of a government building and blow it to smithereens?

Most countries call such actions treason. Punishable by death. Which basically says, “You’re no citizen of this country.”

So beyond birthplace, pledges, and oaths, it seems that behavior is of utmost importance in the discussion of citizenship.

How you behave says more about your allegiances than birthplace, pledge, or oath.

Does that same line of reasoning apply to the spiritual realm? What of those who pray a prayer, confess faith, are baptized, but who behave no more like a citizen of heaven than the devil?

In Philippians 1:27-30, the apostle Paul makes the case that one’s behavior is indicative of his true citizenship. He commands those who call themselves citizens of the kingdom of God, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ…” Our English translations don’t use the word citizens, but it’s there: “Only behave as citizens worthy of the gospel…”

Paul proceeds to list behaviors becoming of a citizen of heaven.

1. You stand firm (v.27)–like a soldier prepared for battle. The same word is used just prior in Ephesians 6:11 “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.

If a soldier is prepared for the physical assaults of the enemy, shouldn’t a citizen of heaven be prepared for the assaults of hell? To push it further, isn’t it true that you know when and how you’re most likely to be attacked by the devil? A pet sin, private indulgence, proclivity towards a particular evil? You know it’s coming and yet you stand unprepared. That’s suicide.

Be prepared to stand firm against the specific attacks of the enemy.2.

2. You strive side by side (v.27)–like an athlete determined to be victorious. The word for strive is where we get our word athlete, so it makes sense to take advantage of the metaphor. In an age when there was no ‘tapping out’ in boxing or wrestling, he who lived won.

That’s why Paul takes this issue up elsewhere, such as 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. Athletes discipline their bodies and train and diet and compete with utmost intensity. Why? For a perishable wreath. A bonus. An over-sized ring. A gold medal.

If an athlete will exercise such discipline for that which fades and is left behind when s/he dies, how crazy would it be for us to not train all the more for that which never fades?

We train together and run alongside one another, side by side. Paul says we do this “for the gospel,” but he isn’t saying we strive in order to attain the gospel. Rather, we strive ‘on behalf of’ the gospel mission and message. We run to the next person who needs to hear of Jesus. We discipline ourselves to flee from temptation. We shed sweat and blood in order to help rescue a teammate in need. Our citizenship drives our behaviors.

And,

3. You show courage (v.28)–like the outcome is known. Your opponents can’t shake you because you know that Jesus has overcome the world. When your opponents see that you aren’t flinching, it’s a sign to them of their destruction and your salvation, their defeat and your sweet victory.

Who are these opponents?

– A friend who encourages you to seek vengeance against the guy who wronged you.

– A boss who asks yo to cut corners in order to increase profit margins.

– A husband who asks you to view pornography or act out pornographic fantasies.

Be not afraid. For you’ve not been given a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control. Jesus has overcome your opponent in that moment. Your victory and your salvation are from God.

Lastly,

4. You suffer for the sake of Christ (v.29)–like Christ himself suffered. Suffering comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. But one things must be made clear.

Having the 10 Commandments taken off the courthouse walls is not suffering. Not being able to pray out loud at a designated time in school is not suffering.

Our brothers and sisters around the world who are being beheaded, bombed, and raped, they may speak a better word as to what constitutes suffering.

The strange thing about the way Paul says it here is that “you should not only believe in him,” which translates, “you won’t JUST believe…you’ll go over and above belief…you will also suffer.” It’s counted as a grace to suffer for Christ. Blessed are the persecuted.

While the most intense sufferings have yet to reach the US, we do suffer by way of disease, decay, and death. And how we suffer says much of our allegiances. Can we say with Paul, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain!”? Do we bear on our bodies the marks of Christ?

Are you standing, striving, showing courage, suffering? These are behaviors that mark a citizen of the kingdom of God. What does your behavior say of your allegiances?

How at Home are You?

Consider this a survey without any free offers awaiting you at the end. I will list out a few passages of Scripture and ask one question. Feel free to answer how you’d like.

20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3.20-21)

 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11.13-16)

14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. 15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. (Hebrews 13.14-16)

Question: In light of the emboldened phrases signifying another home, a better home, etc., if you believed that to be true would it change the way you live now?

No need to give your Sunday School answer. Be honest. Do you believe those things? If not, then obviously it won’t impact your life. But if you do believe, is it impacting the way you live?