Thereafter Samuel called the people together to the LORD at Mizpah; and he said to the sons of Israel, "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, 'I brought Israel up from Egypt, and I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the power of all the kingdoms that were oppressing you.' But you have today rejected your God, who delivers you from all your calamities and your distresses; yet you have said, 'No, but set a king over us!' Now therefore, present yourselves before the LORD by your tribes and by your clans."
1 Samuel 10:17-19 (NASB)
Hymn: "That Beautiful Name" Jean Perry, Mabel Johnston Camp
I'm not a very good American, if I'm being honest with you.
I hold to a view called Christian Nonviolence, which in essence teaches that the church has not been granted the right or power to take human lives or endorse the taking of human lives. It is distinct from pacifism, in that I don't necessarily believe all violence is wrong, or that there can be no right application of war and the death penalty, simply that I, as a follower of Christ, cannot participate or favor such avenues. This is not the post in which to detail why I believe that, but I mention it because it leads people to discuss my larger point. See, when I'm asked about the citizen's obligation to defend this nation, I answer that if this nation can only be saved by my disobeying what I believe is the command of God, then I'm comfortable letting the nation fall. And that answer is never received well. Nor is the fact that I have not stood for the national anthem in a number of years, simply because I viewed the entire affair as an unsuitable act of flag worship.
You see, I am not a very good American (nor, in the mind of some, a very good Baptist) because I happen to believe that the expected behavior of Americans is a form of idolatry that places the nation above, or at least co-equal to, our God. We have, for some time, allowed ourselves to view politics as a religious activity, to define Christianity as including certain political views as doctrine, to put our trust in our nation to supply all the promises of God, and as the perceived deliverers of some of those promises our troops and police are treated almost as a class of priests. And I find this to be simply unacceptable. Let's do a brief history of what I mean.
When the nation of Israel was founded, it was founded on God. It wasn't a theocracy, as we now understand the term, where the government was operated by the religion, but rather God ruled the people directly and would, as needed, raise up a judge to act on His behalf. This judge was generally outside the religious authority, and operated simply by doing what God had commanded them and frequently calling the people to participate. But that was it, there was no long-term human governing structure in place, there was no standing army, there was no capital. God delivered them from their enemies and provided their needs. But during Samuel's term as judge, the people of Israel sought to have a king like all the nations around them. God did not respond well to this; He gave them a king, Saul, but He condemned the request. Their hearts were described in 1 Samuel above where God called them out for trusting in human authority rather than His provision.
Now, because Saul was followed by David, I think there's a tendency to view the rule of kings as a generally good, or at least morally neutral, thing. In light of this, the promise that a descendant of David would sit on the throne forever was taken as a promise that there would be a restoration of the human government that would never fall again. The church, in light of Constantine, looked to the kings of Israel as an example of how religion should be bound to political authority. But remember, God condemned the very concept of a king over His people. We cannot read the rule of kings as anything other than a human plan inferior to God's design.
If Christ is the fulfillment of the promised descendant of David, then it makes more sense to read this promise as one in which God Himself will again rule over His people. And if that looks anything like judges-era Israel, then that means that we put our trust in God to provide our needs and stand as our defense. And such is promised throughout the New Testament. Christ reminds people that God is a good Father who knows what we need before we ask and will surely provide for us much more than He provides for the grasses of the field and the birds of the air. Paul reminds churches that God is faithful to provide. We have promises that the wrongs committed against us will be avenged by God's hand and not our own, that He will be with us through trials and tribulations, that God will be our shield and He ultimately wields judgment.
Now I know that some of this has yet to be fulfilled. I do not believe that Christ has instituted the fullness of an earthly kingdom, or that we have nothing to do with the nation in which we live. But when I hear Christians talking about how they need their guns because they have to protect their families, because they have to be ready to oppose the government with force if it tries to stifle our faith, the simple answer is that no, you don't. You are not the source of your family's security, and no amount of guns will make you the source of your security. We have ultimate freedom because Christ died to free us from sin, and no number of troops have ever or will ever die to secure us a freedom on par with that. Similarly, no law providing food or healthcare will ever match the provision that God promises to His people. Listen, the government and its programs are not necessarily bad things, but we cannot make them ultimate things. We have Christ as our ultimate ruler, and our desire to put our faith in earthly governments and armies and weapons and programs instead of His provision puts us in the same place as Israel when Samuel declared that they had rejected their God by putting their hope in an earthly king. It may be that God will choose to provide protection by means of a military, to provide food by means of a government program. He has that right and power. But when He does, we cannot lose sight of the fact that He is still the one providing it. We make our nation an idol when we hear the promises of God and put our faith in human rulers to deliver on those promises. We make our nation an idol when we treat the honoring of that nation's flag as important as the honoring of our Lord. We make our nation an idol when we declare assistance programs to be the only way to bring life to people that Christ died for. We make our nation an idol when we play at sharing even an ounce of His glory and reverence with the human agents He has chosen to use. But, "my beloved, flee from idolatry" (1 Corinthians 10:14, NASB).
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation