Today is Independence Day.
During the past few months I’ve been studying my family history. I recently found out two important things: I am the descendant of Patriots and Prophets. I discovered that I have relatives on both sides of my family that fought during the Revolutionary War (one being an armed guard for George Washington). They risked their lives to fight for liberty. But I discovered another reality: I have a relative who was a Baptist pastor and church planter. This man was jailed in 1773 for preaching without a license. So American liberty and gospel preaching runs through my veins. For this I am thankful.
I didn’t always have this appreciation for American liberty. At one point during my early college years I refused to place my hand over my heart during the Pledge of Allegiance. I believed there was a dichotomy between being a citizen of a pagan nation while trying to be a citizen of God’s Kingdom. But I am convinced now that I can live as a citizen of America while also maintaining my primary citizenship in the Kingdom of God. My conscience can acknowledge the tension.
On this Independence Day I remember our “certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” On this day I remember that liberty from tyranny will be difficult and that freedom will be costly. Later on today I will read the Declaration of Independence (a yearly tradition). But I do this with a healthy tension. While I celebrate the 4th, I do this knowing that as a Christian my primary citizenship is in God’s Kingdom. I firmly believe that Jesus is raised from the dead and is exalted as King of the universe. God has transferred me out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His Son (Col 1:13-14). Though His reign is veiled now, one day Washington D.C. will bow before the New Jerusalem and the Supreme Count will give an account to the True Judge, Jesus. On that final day it won’t matter that my passport identified me as an American citizen because I’ll be part of a multi-national chorus of praise to the Rightful Ruler of the universe. While I sing “My Country, Tis of Thee” now I do so knowing that it doesn’t compare to “This is My Father’s World.”
I believe knowing your country’s traditions and history can result in a healthy love for country. I think it is good to have this respect, knowledge, and appreciation. Unfortunately I’m afraid to say that most Americans are ignorant of American history. But in light of this, I think it is important to honestly acknowledge the deep scars of its past and present. Not everything in our past is glorious and beautiful. American patriotism is not blind idealism. As a Christian I weep over the moral tragedies of racism, inequality, and abortion. Social injustice should cause Christians to seek the Lord. Indeed America has its issues and sin. But in the USA I have the freedom to preach the gospel to my neighbor without the fear of government opposition. This is the healthy tension of maintaining dual citizenship.
Instead of believing in the dichotomy of citizenship, I believe there are a few ways we as Christians can live as Kingdom citizens while being productive American citizen:
Jesus is Lord and rules over every sphere of life (Philippians 2:11)
As followers of Jesus we are ultimately citizens in exile awaiting a Better Country (Heb 11:16/1 Peter 1:1-2).
We can freely proclaim Jesus to our neighbors with love (Colossians 1:28).
Work to support your family and contribute to your community (2 Thess 3:10-12).
As followers we should pray for our nation and its leaders as we live quiet and peaceful lives (1 Timothy 2:1-3).
As exiles we should seek the welfare of the city in which we live (Jeremiah 29:7).
As American citizens we should be thankful for our individual freedoms while knowing true freedom is found in Christ (Galatians 5:1).
Living in a free country we should call the government to maintain its God authorized responsibility (Romans 13:1ff).
As the church we should prophetically call the nation to repent (Jeremiah 18:8).
The church should take care of the oppressed (Isaiah 1:17).
Our goal is focused on the renewal of all nations, not just America (Psalm 22:27).
We should live with the tension that nations, including ours, will rage against God and act beastly toward His people – we shouldn’t be surprised (Psalm 2 & Revelation 13).
Remember that the New Creation is multi-national/ethnic (Revelation 5).
I believe Christians must maintain a healthy theology of citizenship. We should celebrate our freedom as American citizens with the hope that one day all the nations will celebrate freedom in Christ. Today I live within a tension: I celebrate American independence while maintaining my true citizenship in God’s Kingdom.