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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Is America a Christian Nation?: A Letter from a Friend

The e-mail just contained this:

Dear C,

Thank you for sending me this video. Since you didn't make a comment on it, I don't know if it was just for my information or if you wanted my thoughts on it or something else, but since I do have some thoughts on it I thought I'd pass them along.

When it comes to the question, "What is a Christian nation?", Stuart Shepard clearly isn't satisfied with what he calls President Obama's "demographic argument"—the idea that a Christian nation is a nation composed entirely of Christians, and therefore, since America has lots of people that aren't Christians, it's not a Christian nation.

In its place, Mr. Shepard asserts what I would call the "origin argument"—the idea that a Christian nation is one that however long ago was founded by Christians for Christian reasons on Christian principles with Christian hope. He doesn't tell us why that's a better definition than President Obama's; he just puts it out there. But he does tell us that America's origins are Christian, and he gives examples on display around the National Mall to prove his point.

To a great extent I agree with him. Christianity has shaped this nation immensely, especially during particular periods (like the decades before the Civil War and the 20 years after World War II). It's sad and even disgraceful how often people try to tell our nation's story without talking about the huge influence of Christianity. In fact, I would go so far as to say that anyone who talks about our nation's history without talking about Christianity doesn't understand it.

But the argument Mr. Shepard makes has some big flaws. One of them is this: Of all the inscriptions in Washington that Mr. Shepard says proves that we're a Christian nation, how many of them mention Christ? None of them (although one inscription in the Lincoln Memorial quotes Jesus twice without mentioning him by name). The fact is, all those inscriptions just mention "God." But lots of people talk about God—Mormons, Jews, Muslims, and others as well as Christians, not to mention people who call themselves Christians but have no idea what the Christian gospel is.

And that's really the point. A Christian isn't someone who believes in God. A Christian is someone who has placed their entire reliance on the story of Jesus Christ, preexistent, incarnate, perfect, having died and been buried, risen, reigning, and coming again to save us from our sins and their consequences. You won't find that message on a single monument in Washington, D.C. You won't find it in the writings of many of our Founders and our most influential historical figures. Now, you will find it in some, and you will find in others (like Lincoln, for example) glimpses of some of it without embracing all of it. And you find it among huge numbers of people in our history who were never elected to high office but made a big impact on America. But "In God We Trust" in the House chamber and on the coinage does not make us a Christian nation, because you can't have a Christian anything without Christ.

So what does make a nation Christian? Is it the demographic argument, the origin argument, or something else? Fortunately, God answers this question in the Bible, so that's where we should look.

Before Christ, there was one nation that was specifically God's: Israel. Just before appearing on Mt. Sinai to give Israel the Law, God said to Moses, "And now, if you will listen to me and keep my covenant, then you will be my special possession out of all the nations, for all the earth is mine, and you will be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Ex. 19:5-6).

But it happens that after Christ came, Peter was writing to a group of Christians and he said that this promise by God applied to them: "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. You once were not a people, but now you are God's people. You were shown no mercy, but now you have received mercy" (1 Pet. 2:9-10). This group of people he called "a holy nation" wasn't from one nation, and they didn't have their own government or their own flag. They were a group of ordinary people who happened to live in the Roman provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia (1 Pet. 1:1). What made them distinctive from their neighbors in those provinces was that they were "chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father by being set apart by the Spirit for obedience and for sprinkling with Jesus Christ's blood" (1:1-2).

Peter shows us that once Christ came, God's nation wasn't an ordinary nation anymore. God's nation is a group of people from all nations scattered all over the world. God's nation is the group of people that he chose by the Holy Spirit to obey him and be forgiven through the death of Jesus Christ. That is the Christian nation—that is the only Christian nation.

So, is the United States a Christian nation? According to God's definition in the Bible, no, it certainly is not. A portion of the Christian nation happens to live in America; its members have dual citizenship. But the only Christian nation is scattered among all the nations, and none of those nations is wholly Christian.

Nevertheless, members of the Christian nation within this nation have for centuries wanted our nation to be as Christian as possible, and that's a good thing. Because "Christian/non-Christian" might not be just like "on/off." It might also be like "hot/cold"—you can always get hotter or colder. And we always want this American nation to be "hotter" than it is now—more Christian in its laws and its execution of its laws, its relationships with other countries, and the attitude and behavior of its people. I know that I want that, and I believe that you want it too.

So my concern not only for the President but for all American citizens is not that they admit that they are a Christian nation because of what our Founders said about God (and only sometimes Christ). I want him and all of us to see things in a more Christian way and to govern ourselves accordingly. But far more than that, I want him and all of us to be part of the only truly Christian nation—the nation that is bought by Christ and will, when he returns, be the only nation left standing when all others, including America, dissolve into ashes.

Grace and peace, and see you Sunday,
Pastor Cory

1 comment:

  1. Here is the address to another important letter, "My Heart Aches for America," about our nation from a friend of God; please take time to read it and consider what part we will play in sharing Hope with friends we care about in our community.

    "he who wins souls is wise" Prov 11:30