Nationalism, the Gospel and Just War
Each Christian views the relationship they have with their country of residence differently. Some Christians are born into countries that are “non-Christian” or even “anti-Christian.” Others live in countries that either feel “increasingly Christian” or “decreasingly Christian.” In all of these instances, it can be confusing to know what our responsibility is to the country God has placed us in, and how that compares to our relationship to Christ and His kingdom. We hope that this paper can help believers live for Christ with confidence in any national setting, even if it changes over time.
In the Beginning…Truly One Nation Under God
Here at Fellowship, we believe that the Bible is God’s actual Word to the world,1 and that the Biblical account of historical events is God’s telling of history to us. Therefore, we believe that in the beginning, God created humankind to subdue and fill the earth as one ever-growing extended family.2 The intention was to share one culture, share one religion, share one language and see the whole world as shared “family land” in the singular Kingdom of God on earth. But as sin entered the world, so entered selfishness, greed, fear and the desire for a sense of safety and security from other people around us.3 Therefore, land, technology and people began to be seen as resources we were tempted to protect, hoard or take from others; Instead of resources to be shared in a familial way for the good of all.4
Sin Created a “Necessity” and “Temptation” Toward Nationalism
At the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11, we are told that mankind’s unified sin against God had grown again to the point that God wanted to do something to limit sin on the earth. Since God had promised not to judge the world again in a catastrophic way, in His grace, He scattered mankind throughout the world, confusing their language from one another. This was the beginning of the individual “nations” that have taken shape throughout history.5 In the same way that a capitalist economy would say that competition is necessary to curb the greed and oppression that a monopoly can create, God graciously created groups of people who would bond together and protect one another against the sin of others based on a sense of “nationalism.” Because of that, nations and nationalism are both good and bad. It serves a good purpose on the earth to appeal to broken people, in a broken world, to have a broken reason to care for others beyond themselves, whether they believe in God or His Gospel or not. But it is also a constant temptation to take pride in one nation over another, and compete, oppress or even war with one another over the resources God desires for us to share.
Israel as a Picture of the Kingdom of God in a Physical Nation
In the Old Testament era, God set apart one of these nations, Israel, to show the other nations who the true God that created them really was and what law, order, service, economics, and life as a fallen nation should look like under His authority.6 Israel wasn’t better than the other nations, but God chose them to show the world that He was better than their man-made gods and that His society was better than any society they could conceive of apart from Him.7 But Israel always struggled to realize God’s perfect nation because they were still fallen people trying to follow a perfect plan.8
The Church as an Expression of the Kingdom of God in Every Nation
When Jesus came to the earth, He began speaking and teaching about the “Kingdom of God” and the “Kingdom of Heaven” once again, casting the vision for a day when the Tower of Babel would be redeemed, and a singular Kingdom under God would be restored.9 This Kingdom is to consist of people from every tongue, tribe, and nation, not just one.10 And so people began believing in Jesus, being indwelt with His Holy Spirit to empower them to overcome their natural selfishness and sinfulness and being adopted into the family of God as citizens of this new Kingdom of Heaven.11 But the Church was not to be another nation-state like Israel in contrast to all the other nations. God is saving people from and planting His church within every nation like a mustard seed that will grow and gather people from every tongue, tribe, and nation into the Kingdom of God through His Gospel of love, not war.
America is an incredible nation. We are generous in the midst of world crises. We care about fighting for human rights in countries all over the world. And we have reflected Biblical values in many different ways in different eras of our history. We should all be thankful for the country that we live in. At the same time, America is a frustrating nation. We are in personal and national debt because of our greed and materialism. We have struggled to acknowledge the equality of all people within our nation. And we have rejected Biblical values in many ways in different eras of our history.
However, by the grace of God, as Christians, we are not only Americans, but we are also citizens of a perfect nation…heaven.
Every Christian should see ourselves as having a primary and secondary citizenship. Primarily and eternally, we are citizens of heaven, under the authority of Christ and His law of love and grace. Secondarily, and temporarily, we are citizens of the nation to which we are born or to which we have moved and become a citizen. So even though we do have earthly citizenship, our citizenship in the Kingdom of God comes first, as does His law of love, written on our hearts by the indwelling Holy Spirit. Therefore, if any earthly nation demands that we disobey King Jesus, we should maintain our allegiance to Him first and foremost.12 We should also see ourselves as fellow citizens of Heaven with disciples of Jesus from other countries even above and beyond our fellow countrymen from our earthly nation. The Kingdom of God is our first allegiance.13 Followers of Christ, gathered as churches, should also see ourselves as God’s chosen people in this era to gather as many of our fellow Americans into the Kingdom of God with us as possible, expanding our “borders” in love person by person, transforming America as much as God will allow from the inside out.14
That being said, because we still live in a fallen world, and because the effects of the Tower of Babel are still in the world, as is the sin that caused it, we also have a responsibility to join our non-Christian fellow Americans in protecting those around us from the oppression and sin of other nations, or those within our own, who would threaten our lives in their greed, oppression, and hate. We are Christians first and foremost. But we are American Christians. Therefore, we are called to submit to our governing leaders in every way except for any specific ways they might demand that we disobey King Jesus. They are the leaders, chosen by God, to limit America’s sin against other countries and the other countries’ sin against America, just as in the days after the Tower of Babel.15 However, as much as we may love America, we should never hate other countries or people from other countries.16 God wants to do His work to plant and grow His Kingdom in every country, just as He has in America. And even if we needed to fight against another country to protect others, we should do so with a sense of grief and prayer for Jesus to come and heal the sin that causes the conflict and beg Him to save them and be gracious to them as He has been to us. Instead of taking joy in any national victory, we should grieve the fact that there was any conflict in the first place.17
Because of this reality, Fellowship Bible Church will love and serve the country we live in and its citizens, but we will love and serve the Kingdom of God in every country and its citizens even more.
Is civil disobedience Biblical?
It can be. Romans 13 makes it clear that we are to submit to the governing authorities that God has put over us for the collective good, even when we disagree with their decisions. So Christians are not permitted to engage in civil disobedience for “any” reason simply because we have a higher King Jesus. Our King Jesus tells us He is in control of who leads the nations and commands us to submit to them. But Jesus is also higher than any earthly authority that He has put in place for His purposes. So if any earthly authority demands that we directly disobey Christ, we can and should peacefully and non-violently obey Jesus first and foremost. Peter’s example in Acts 4:19-21 is a great picture of this. We see it a second time in Acts 5:17-42, that the apostles were even willing to go to prison and almost be killed to obey Christ over the earthly rulers, but not fight physically against them for their freedom. They trusted God’s sovereign hand in how their persecution played out.
Since the fall of man, war has been an unfortunate reality. Each time a nation or nations engage in warfare, it brings to the front questions regarding the Christian view of war. The ability of modern media to visually disseminate the horrors of war has made the questions even more complex: How can war be consistent with the biblical principles of forgiveness and love? Is it a sin in God’s eyes to kill another man in war, a man created by Him? Are there causes dire enough to justify waging war against another nation? Does Just War exist? Reliable answers to these questions can only be found in the scriptures.
Biblical Truths Concerning War
Does scripture reveal God being personally involved in war? In the Old Testament we find:
- The courage and direction God gave David, allowing him to face Goliath.18
- The specific characteristics given to Gideon regarding warrior selection.19
- God’s detailed battle plans given Joshua to be implemented at Jericho.20
- God personally fighting the battle for the Israelites at the Red Sea 21 , resulting in the Lord Himself being called a Warrior.22
The New Testament contains passages regarding a believer’s participation in warfare. Both Peter and Paul revealed that we, as believers, are members of two kingdoms, one spiritual and eternal, and the other earthly.23 We are not called upon to physically fight for our spiritual kingdom. We may be called upon to do so for our earthly kingdom. The New Testament addresses that situation by outlining the citizen responsibilities we owe our earthly kingdom. The right of our earthly government (established by God) to punish evil is confirmed by scripture and Christians belonging to that government are instructed to obey their leaders. It follows that we are not forbidden active participation in a war waged by that government.24 We, as believers, would not be fighting on behalf of the church, but rather combatants representing the country in which we live.
Revelation reveals Jesus himself at the end times, will lead heavenly armies to wage war against nations, personally striking them with His sword.25
Does Just War exist? That question is answered in the scriptures. Our Heavenly Father, who can only act justly, has been and will be involved in warfare on different occasions in varied ways. Therefore, Just War does exist.
That answered question does not completely solve our dilemma. As Christians living in a complex fallen world, our view of warfare has become even more problematic. Is this war we are being asked to support just? How can we know? History has shown us that wars that appear to be just may have hidden agendas. The scriptures provide wisdom to help us deal with this:
- Revenge should never be the objective of taking another life in warfare. Taking a life should always present a dilemma.
- Taking of another life in war for the following reasons is not considered a sin:1. Self defense2. Restraint of life-threatening evil3. Protection of defenseless innocent people subjected to unspeakable evil
- Realize that God does punish nations and accomplish justice through warfare.
All war, just or unjust, grieves God’s heart. Attempts to avoid war (diplomacy, sanctions, etc.) should be exhausted before waging war is considered. As believers, we should be diligent to pray for wisdom for our government leaders facing difficult situations involving warfare and for our response to the decisions that result. It is also our right and responsibility as citizens to question whether a war is just or unjust and respond appropriately. It is most important of all, as believing citizens of a nation facing warfare, that we earnestly ask our Heavenly Father that his will be done.26
1 2 Peter 1:19-21; 2 Genesis 1:27-28; 3 Genesis 6:5; 4 Genesis 14:1-12; 5 Genesis 11:7-9; 6 Genesis 12:1-3; 7 Isaiah 48:9-11; 8 Matthew 21:33-46; Romans 10:18-21; 9 Mark 4:26-32; 10 Matthew 24:14; Revelation 7:9-10; 11 Philippians 3:20-21; 12 Acts 4:18-21; 13 Ephesians 2:13-22; 14 Revelation 11:15; 15 Romans 13:1-7; 16 Luke 6:27-28; 17 Luke 23:26-34,Romans 9:1-3, 1 Samuel 24:1-22, 2 Samuel 1:11-12; 18 1 Samuel 17:42-49; 19 Judges 7:5-6; 20 Joshua 6:1-27; 21 Exodus 14:23-25; 22 Exodus 15:3-4; 23 John 18:36; 24 Romans 13:3-4; 25 Revelation 19:11; 26 Philippians 4:6