The Religion of America

Are you waiting, hoping, and praying for the coming of a president founded on truth to restore America to the greatest country on earth?

Do you believe that returning to America's roots will bring back God's blessing to this country founded to proclaim freedom?

Do you know the restoration of this great nation will bring a better peace to all of its citizens, and provide an example to all nations as a light in this dark world?

We have all heard variations of these ideas, but are they right? 

Messiah save us!
The language, thoughts, and feelings we see pervasively through the Church in America are so very similar to the Jewish people looking for a Messiah. They wanted a leader, they wanted someone to rise in power to take their nation back for God. They believed that God promised them a leader who would overthrow the pagans and bring the Jewish people back to a place of influence, leadership, and power. They were not happy when Jesus showed up and told them they had it all wrong.

Jesus was not this warrior, or political leader that they had waited, hoped, and prayed for.  He was not interested in doing things their way. Jesus did influence and lead, but it didn't look like how the world does it.  He conquered in power, not with a sword or a rebellion or with the masses. He flipped the world upside down by modeling how we should live. Not in some hippie way, but in a way that the world does not understand.*

This is the way of Jesus, who calls us to something bigger and better than politics. This way of Jesus is far more beautiful than our small dreams of a Christian nation. This way of Jesus is far beyond trying to rule people from the top down, but creating real change from the bottom up. We should place our time and energy in living like Jesus, focusing on grassroots growth instead of tweaking secular rule. While we can vote if and how we see fit, our faith, hope, and trust  should not be placed in the political system. We must remember that the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Man should (and do) operate on different principles and values. Knowing this can relieve the stress of trying to make the government look more Christian.  

Let's take back this country for God!
We often hear what many are taught: that America was a Christian nation founded on Christian principles. Some seem to only selectively see through special spiritualized rose-tinted glasses the founding of America. Some believe that if we could just get back to our roots, we could regain our Christian status. But I need to ask when in our history where we this Christian nation?

To paraphrase Gregory Boyd, "was it before, during, or after" we manipulated, exploited, raped, and killed natives to take their land under the guise of Manifest Destiny? Was it before, during, or after we enslaved millions, treating them as property to be used, abused, and profited with? Was it before, during, or after we warred with each other, killing three-quarters of a million of our countrymen? Was it before, during, or after this "Civil" war when slavery was over, yet Jim Crow laws still oppressed? What roots do we want to return too?

Maybe some will point to certain Founding Fathers. But if you study them you will see most of them were at best Deists, and none of them claimed this was or could be a Christian nation. This all leads me to ask, is it possible for a nation to be Christian? Can a nation love its enemies? Die to itself? Pick up its cross and follow Jesus? A nation is an entity and can't be Christian anymore than a cheeseburger. America can only operate as an empire, as a world government. A physical nation can never be the Kingdom of God, therefore cannot be Christian. 

Land of the free, home of the brave!
You might wonder why this all matters, if you know what you believe. The necessity starts with the issue of citizenship. All too often we can confuse where our citizenship lies. Are we American Christians or Christian Americans, which do we hold up higher? Do we have more in common with neighbors who are non-Christians or followers of Jesus living in impoverished countries? Please, for the sake of honesty and integrity, don't rush your answers. 

As a test case, let's look at the principles of peace, bravery, and freedom. Is peace just the desired goal? Do we only value the bravery of someone willing to kill or be killed for freedom? Jesus taught and modeled a very different way. A way that loves enemies, blesses those who curse us, prays for those who hurt us, and gives when stolen from. Jesus' way looks like foolishness to those who don't really believe, because they believe the end can justify the means. But to quote Martin Luther King, "We cannot accept that, because we believe as Christians, that the end is preexistence in the means."

If we are going to use the label Christian, we must acknowledge that it means "Christ-like." If we don't want to follow all of the teachings or model of Jesus, we need to not pretend that we are. If we want to hold to some principles that are Christian and others that are American, so be it. But be honest about it. When we confuse and twist Christianity to fit being an a American, we  end up somewhere between ignorance and idolatry.

The Religion of America!
We have seen that instead of trusting our actual Messiah, we look for another. We do this because it's hard to put faith in a Kingdom who flips power, change, and growth upside down. We have seen how faith placed in the claim that American was ever or could ever be a Christian nation is not only unfounded, but historically ignorant. All of this and its applications reveal where we actually place our primary citizenship. Since this citizenship affects every aspect of our lives, let's look at four practical applications. 

Should a Christian say the Pledge of Allegiance?
Yes and no. Yes, if we completely ignore what Jesus taught on swearing oaths. And no, if we realize there is no way that we can promise our loyalty (which is what the Pledge of Allegiance means) to any government that is not the Kingdom of God.

Does God specifically bless faithful Christians with wealth?
Not once does the New Testament describe material possessions as a blessing in the Kingdom of God. On the contrary, Jesus called those who are poor as blessed, and woe are the rich. If we want to claim God blesses materially, He does so for the just and unjust, since Jesus said God sends sun and rain to all.  Blessings in the New Testament are always connected to spiritual benefits of following Jesus now, and physical blessing of the Resurrection later. While having money is not said to be evil, money is described as unrighteous and the root of many evils. Therefore if we claim to be citizens of the Kingdom of God, our view of blessings will look entirely different from the world. 

Can a Christian used justified violence?
Jesus explicitly explained in detail that His followers are to love their enemies. Paul repeated it and explained that while earthy governments don't wield the sword in vain, Christians are never called to fight evil with evil. Because Jesus taught us to love our enemies, absolute non-violence was taught in early Church without exception for the first four centuries. History also shows that if a Christian were to serve in the military, police, or government, they would be excommunicated. They said there was no difference between putting someone to death by word or deed, and that it would better to die than to kill, because as Paul wrote "to live is Christ, and to die is gain."

So now what?
My desire is that as followers of Jesus, who happen to live in America, that we will be always aware. It is so easy for our beliefs to look more American than Christian. If we continue to believe this way, we are lying to ourselves when we call ourselves Christians, since we are more following the religion that is America. I am defining the religion of America as the confusion we have discussed as well as the civil religion. A presence of civil religion is nothing new, but its prevalence may have never been stronger than it is now. When Christianity is discussed, debated and divided over in America, it has more in common with the religion of America than the way of Jesus. I hope that rather than blindly trusting what we have been taught, we can examine the Scriptures to better follow Jesus. I pray that we as Christians can repent, turn away from the Religion of America, and follow the model and teachings of our Lord. By doing so may we strive to be able to say "imitate me, as I imitate Jesus."
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  1. I was orginally thinking of breaking it up, but I thought having it as a one post would be better to refer to. I would like to break it up and unpack the individual points in the future.

    Where do you see blessing in Proverbs as explicitly equated to material things? Proverbs 10:22 is the closest, but its exactly defined. And there are other Proverbs that can argue against riches.

    Looking up the Greek and Hebrew I only see 6, maybe 7 verses that equate blessings with material things and that is specifically referring to Israel.

    The Kingdom of God flips all of that and Jesus and Paul makes that quite clear. But again and back to the article. I know I need to unpack that.

    One of my major desires in this article was to lay the ground work and be able to show friends in conversations where and how our religion looks more like America than Jesus.

  2. Hey Dan, yeah I was referring to Prov 10:22 The blessing of the LORD brings wealth, without painful toil for it. --I think that's pretty straightforward and is referring to actual money/material stuff. I don't think it outweighs much of what the Bible says about the need for sacrificial giving and generosity and helping the poor, etc., but it still needs to be in the blender and used to provide some balance, especially so as to not sound legalistic. I lean way toward the side of money being an idol and something we have our priorities way of out whack on and that Christians should live way below their means. But I've also had to allow verses like Prov 10:22 to keep my views grounded and balanced.