A Worldly Citizenship
Patriotism is considered to be a characteristic of high virtue for a person of any culture. There comes with a source of pride for one’s national identity. There is no surprise when a culture’s engagement with politics is full of passion because the political arena is at the center of what we identify as a national identity. People have taken ownership of this concept and thus are compelled to react fiercely when something threatens it. What happens on the political stage affects what happens to one’s national identity and therefore emits a response from the people.
Today marks the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States. After an intense campaign season, election day, and post-election transition the emotions of the American people are stirred up. But that agitation extends beyond the borders of the United States, but also into other countries who fear the new administration’s impact on their national identity as well. In the midst of writing this article I received a warning from the U.S. State Department of plans for demonstrations tomorrow outside of the embassy here. With little regard for where one lives, today’s events are noteworthy around the world and elicit the deep emotional response we would expect for those whose identity is intertwined with the status of their nation.
The past 12 months have been a time of antagonism, indignity, and brokenness, regardless of who you did or did not support in this past election. Friendships were crushed and open dialog was crippled. From a secular world we have come to expect this, but those words do not describe the secular world only, but encapsulate what we saw within the Christian world as well (even when we use the term ‘Christian’ in a narrow sense of the word, we still saw attitude and strife). Today brings forth those divisions again as people remember what took place only a short time ago. I fear that in our proclamation of a national identity we have forgotten the gospel priority.
A Heavenly Citizenship
There is no doubt that each of us has been born into a specific culture with defined boundaries. Our passports give indication of our national identity, emblazoned on the front for all to see. For most people, this is a source of pride. Certainly it is not wrong to be proud of one’s heritage. However, lost in the sufficiency of one’s national identity is the recollection of ultimate authority, ultimate ownership, and ultimate identity.
In writing to the Philippians, Paul reminds them that their citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). Not only is this statement true, it is powerful. It is powerful because of what it conveys for the believer. First it means, that our oversight comes not from a worldly government, but from a heavenly God. It ties our identity then to something (or someone) that is not only greater than each of us, but also greater than all other powers, rulers, and governments in power. Our identity is more than one of nationality, but it is a saintly one.
A citizenship to heaven far outweighs a citizenship to any country in the world. To identify with the kingdom of heaven sets forth a series of responses and actions for the believer regardless of which earthly kingdom a person belongs to or who is in charge of that earthly kingdom. Our responsibility is to the Lord, our God, who placed those authorities into place. Therefore, we follow the Lord’s Word with these ways:
- Submission (Romans 13:1-7): Paul’s words here often reflected upon, but more with the intention of how to avoid fulfilling them. Indeed Acts 4 provides an example of John and Peter who disobeyed the authorities in order to what was right in the Lord’s eyes. From this passage is drawn the conclusion that it is OK to disobey authorities when being asked to contradict the teachings of the Lord. There are several things to note here though. First, this was not a commonplace occurrence. For the general citizen, obedience to the government without contradicting the law of the Lord did not have to result in intense conflict between the two powers. Second, there is a way in which disagreements can happen in a respectful manner so as to maintain the integrity of the gospel.
- Prayer (1 Timothy 2:1-3): There needs to be far more time spent in prayer for our leaders and far less time in criticism. For those who are not Christian, we pray for salvation and for those who claim to be, we pray that they are guided by biblical principles. Today we have before us an opportunity, an opportunity to turn fear of people (i.e. our leaders) into a fear of God. Instead of fearing the power, control, and authority that has been given to those leaders and instead, we should put our fear into the Lord by submitting to Him (thus submitting to others, as the previous point mentions) and by submitting our prayers to Him.
- Reputation (Proverbs 22:1; Matthew 5:16; 1 Peter 2:12): I fear that many have blown the testimony for the Lord during the election and transition. In all circumstances it should be our desire to maintain a positive testimony of ourselves to that the Lord may be glorified and receive a positive testimony. After all, our priority is the gospel.
These three initiatives work together for the purpose of drawing people towards the gospel by being an example of them.
The goal is not to have them conform to our own personal political will, but instead to see them transformed by the power that is the Gospel. Lost in the political rhetoric is the priority of the gospel. Perhaps then, it is better to remain silent on political issues, and instead teach Scripture so that others may be able to filter their own decisions through it.
Regardless of one’s personal political affiliations, candidate selections, or approval of presidential order, today’s inauguration is not about what you want. The inauguration is not even about what our country wants. It’s about God’s plan for His glory. Our part is simple: trust and obey in spite of our uncertainty. We must be careful not to forsake the gospel priority for our national identity.
(Photo courtesy of user Anthony Quintano and Flickr).