Monday, 09 January 2012
Idolatry is the sin of glorifying and aligning ourselves with gods other than the Triune God of the Bible who is revealed in Jesus Christ. The first commandment given to Israel at Mount Sinai was to "have no other gods before" YHWH (Exodus 20:3). We know that idolatry does not demand we bow down to idols made of wood, gold, or stone but that it can occur within our hearts and that our gods/masters can be anything from Vishnu to the numbers in our bank accounts. Anything that we allow to reign in our hearts so that is has authority over us and ends up leading us, taking our heart and mind captive, that is a false god whom we worship.
A popular form of idolatry is nationalistic idolatry. It often comes to power under the guise of patriotism. What happens is that Christians mix up the priority of their kingdom-of-God-citizenship identity with their earthly-national-citizenship identity, allowing the two to mix together in a way that allows their earthly-national-citizenship to become more important to them, and thus more ruling in their lives, than their identity which is found in Christ Jesus. In shorter words, nationalistic idolatry is putting country before/above Christ or even confusing the two.
In this mindset it can be believed that God has created a new theocracy of sorts in one's own country. Since I live in the United states and it is a nation with the reputation of "a Christian nation" (whatever that is supposed to mean) we'll use that as the example. Those who live in nationalistic idolatry of this sort (in some forms Christ is dismissed altogether) often believe that God is using the U.S. as his chosen people and their government as his chosen means of operating in the world. In other words, Americans and their form of democracy are God's gift to the world and thus, in the words of Senator John McCain, "the last best hope of Earth." This statement, originally made by Lincoln, in a slightly less idolatrous context, has been publicly quoted by Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama.
We can easily see the leaders of the United States committing this type of nationalistic idolatry that mixes together the traditions and doctrine of the Church with the traditions and doctrine of the United States. President George W. Bush said, "There’s power, wonder-working power, in the goodness and idealism and faith of the American people." He also stated, "The ideal of America is the hope of all mankind. … That hope still lights our way. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” When we begin to replace Jesus with the United States we commit nationalistic idolatry. When we dismiss the commands of Christ for the sake of our identity and loyalty with a nation we commit nationalistic idolatry. We can often see nationalistic idolatry through art.
(This flag is actually for purchase)
If we're praying for the military of our nation to be blessed with good aim to kill their national enemies in war, we're committing nationalistic idolatry by choosing to love our country more than our neighbor and our God who demands we love enemies. If we "support our troops" and don't believe "their" troops belong to us just as much then we are committing nationalistic idolatry by allowing our nation to define us more than the Christ who lives and dies for all who are against him. It is nationalistic idolatry that leads to the creation of idolatrous bibles such as The American Patriot's Bible which likens U.S. soldiers to the Son of God and connect July 4th directly with the Incarnation of Christ by saying "Is it not that, in the chain of human events, the birthday of the nation is indissolubly linked with the birthday of the Savior? That it forms a leading event in the progress of the Gospel dispensation? Is it not that the Declaration of Independence first organized the social compact on the foundation of the Redeemer's mission upon earth?" (for a review of this scripture go here). It is this same idolatry which leads to situations like the one in Iraq where soldiers preached "Jesus killed Mohammed."
When we believe that Jesus has established the U.S. (or any nation) to do his will of reconciliation on this earth instead of the Church, which is the Body of Christ, then we commit nationalistic idolatry. The examples are endless. The issue comes down to identity. Do we know ourselves to be bond-servant's of Christ who are citizens in the kingdom of heaven or bond-servants of one particular group of human beings and citizens of one wordly nation which shall one day pass away? Which forms our identity and influences our words and deeds the most? Which serves which? Are we American Christians or Christians in America? Too many of us are Americans before we are Christians and this is not to be so. Do we know the Apostle's Creed as well as The Pledge of Allegiance? Are we more reverent during the National Anthem or the reading of scripture?
This type of idolatry tells us that a true Christian must be of a certain political party and must push that party's agenda. If, as Stanley Hauerwas states, "faith in God is indistinguishable from loyalty to ...country" there is a problem within our hearts and we must repent. God wants to bring all nations, though they be worthless (Isaiah 40:17), to himself (Psalm 22:27, Daniel 7:14), and has given the ministry of Christ, which is reconciliation, to the Church (2 Corinthians 5:11-21). When God previously used a theocracy it was so that they would be a blessing to the entire world, bringing them close to God and not necessarily into a particular nation (Genesis 18:18). We are to have renewed minds (Romans 12:1-2), new selves (Ephesians 4:24, Colossians 3:10), knowing that we are within this world but not defined by since we do not belong to it (John 15:19), away from our true home as foreigners (John 17:16, 18:36, 2 Corinthians 10:3), representing the king of kings as his ambassadors on this earth (2 Corinthians 5:10, Ephesians 6:20), loving all people (Mark 12:31, Matthew 5:43-48). We can be patriotic, thankful for the blessings that exist within the nation we're legal citizens of but we can not worship that nation by allowing to define us or to make us waver in our commitment to Christ. Jesus calls us to be a people for people and whenever one group of people tries to set us against another group of people for their own reasons we must refuse it, choosing to obey God rather than man. We are to be servants to all and mastered by One (Deuteronomy 6:4) and that One is Jesus Christ (John 1:1).
The Jesus of scripture is not wrapped in the American flag but in he banner of divine love. He is not expressed in America or her flag but in the face of Jesus Christ of Nazareth who died upon a cross covered in blood and rose again three days later. He is our Creator and thus our Definer. He models for us who we ought to be and how we ought to live, thus we are truly of him when we are like him in this world (1John 4:17). Let us be good citizens, honoring our authorities (1 Peter 2:17) but never allowing them to have our allegiance which belongs to Christ so that we may love all creation, doing good to all. Let us love our nations enough to not be enslaved to them in our hearts. Let us call them to their rightful spot beneath Christ, as his servant, to live in peace with the rest of the world (Romans 13:6). Let us know nothing but Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2) and be transformed into his likeness and not into whatever it is our nation may want us to be. As Colossians 2:6-10 states,
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.
For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.
What do you think? Do you see nationalistic idolatry around you? Do you see it within you? How can we be faithful Christians who are patriotic without committing nationalistic idolatry?