So he began saying to the crowds who were going out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father,' for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. Indeed the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."
And the crowds were questioning him, saying, "Then what shall we do?" And he would answer and say to them, "The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise." And some tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, "Teacher, what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Collect no more than what you have been ordered to." Some soldiers were questioning him, saying, "And what about us, what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages."
Luke 3:7-14 (NASB)
Hymn: "Majestic Sweetness Sits Enthroned" Samuel Stennett, Thomas Hastings
It is common to hear the United States referred to as a Christian nation. This idea is raised in contrast to Muslim nations overseas, it is raised to discuss laws that seem fitting for us as a Christian nation, it is raised to talk about our influences and our founding fathers and the basic thread running through our culture.
I submit that this is not only false, but dangerously so.
The danger lies in the fact that, when we allow ourselves to believe that our nation is itself Christian in some fundamental sense, we set ourselves up to blur the lines between our faith and our nation. Patriotism is seen as a Christian virtue, absolute support for the military and police seen as Christian practices, despite the fact that neither of these are given in scripture. We allow ourselves to believe that what the nation does is what Christianity looks like, that we can tell a Christian from a pagan by their voting record. Israel believed they would be blessed by God because they had Abraham as their father; Americans act as though we will be blessed by God by claiming Washington as ours.
Now, it is true that John the Baptist was preparing people to receive Christ, but his words should not be read as something we must do before coming to Him. Instead John here states that this is the fruit Christ will seek to have growing on His branches; that those who are His will be producing good fruit, fruit that bears evidence of repentance. How does John here summarize this fruit? It is an opposition to materialism, it is a free giving to those in need, it is being content with what you have and not bending situations to get you more than you need. Is this the fruit of our culture? Do we live in a nation where those who hoard resources are called to task? Does our culture encourage us to live in humble means and give all we do not need to those who do, do we receive daily messages praising restraint in getting more and more? Who blankets our magazine covers but millionaires and billionaires?
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, [and] which has been withheld by you, cries out [against you;] and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and put to death the righteous [man;] he does not resist you.
James 5:1-6 (NASB)
When we allow ourselves to believe that this is a Christian nation, and thereby allow ourselves to believe that our nation somehow informs what our faith should look like, we end up practicing a faith that stands in direct opposition to the word of God. This culture is not Christian and trying to call it such spreads lies about what it means to be Christian. If we are to engage with the culture correctly, we must sever this notion and treat the culture for what it is. We cannot hope to grow as Christians, or show others what it means to be a Christian, if we are too blinded by our national pursuits to see the Christian life.
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation