Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Biblical Patriotism (?)

I expect this will make me less popular in the eyes of some of you, but I hope only to call your attention to what Scripture teaches. This post comes about through a combination of the study of Christ’s birth with dear brothers I gather with each Thursday morning and a DVD discussing the merits of the black-robed regiment of “patriotic preachers” who promoted rebellion against England at our nation’s birth. The connection will become clear if you bear with me.

We had an epiphany!
I don’t remember exactly who said it, but as we gathered around God’s Word and the announcement of the birth of the Messiah, I asked a question: What did the Pharisees miss as they looked forward to the Messiah? The answer came in what seemed to be a remarkable recognition of the nature of their blindness. They were spiritually blind (see John 10) and could not see that the Messiah was coming to set them free from their bondage to sin, not from their bondage to a foreign government. They had misidentified the enemy of the Messiah as described in many Old Testament prophecies. They thought it was a political system that was keeping them from worshiping in freedom. They were wrong.

We dare not fault them or judge them too harshly as we as Christians cannot seem to come to agreement on the nature of the events of Christ’s Second Coming and there will surely be some of us, barring God’s grace in revealing it to us, who will miss it (unless the pretrib rapture folks are right and then it doesn’t matter). Much of the language of the prophecies is focused on “ruling” and “reigning.” We can understand their mistake.

We make the same mistake the Jews at the time of Christ made by misidentifying the freedom that the Messiah was to bring at His first coming. They thought Christ was to release them from the political oppression of the Romans when, indeed, His only mission was to free them from their bondage to sin and the Law.

Now, on to the DVD. Let me be clear: I enjoy the freedoms I have as an American and thank God for placing me here. I recognize that many brave men and women have fought to secure those liberties. I do not intend to defame what their efforts and sacrifices have provided for me. Yet, I do not agree with the way that our country was founded. Our founding fathers and the ministers who preached in support of them, even leading men into battle, equated the spiritual liberty that they had in Christ to the civil liberties they sought to enjoy and believed were God’s desire for a civilization.

If we stop and think about the formation of the Church in the New Testament writings, we cannot find any examples of the Apostles or their followers making such an equation. The Church was born in a governmental system that was far beyond the tyranny of the King of England in 1775. Yet, I know of no references in the Epistles or the Gospels that call for a rebellion against Rome. There were surely many opportunities to express such sentiments, had they been the objective, but Christ and the Apostles never broached the subject.

When we equate spiritual liberty with political liberty, as the film supports and states the “patriot pastors” did, we twist Scripture to allow us to fight for the system of government we think would be best. When we look at the Revolutionary War as a holy war, we do the same thing the Pharisees did—we turn the Messiah into a political operative.

Jonas Clark was a pastor in Lexington and led the group that confronted the British troops where the first shots of the revolution were fired. He preached a sermon at the one year anniversary of that momentous event titled “The Fate of Blood-thirsty Oppressors and God’s Tender Care of His Distressed People.” He missed the real enemy.

There were many such men who preached sermons in support of overthrowing a king who made their life hard by taxing them in a way that caused financial discomfort. I wonder what they did with passages like Romans 13:1–7 where Paul exhorts believers to submit to the authorities. Peter called the exiled Christians who had been scattered across the land to honor the king (1 Peter 2:17) in spite of the horrid treatment they received from him.

The famous phrase “no taxation without representation” was coined in a sermon by a New England pastor. I wonder if he compared that sentiment to Christ’s command to render to Caesar what is due to him (Matthew 22:21). It seems this pastor, had he been questioned by the Pharisees, would have told them to take up arms so that they could have a vote in the Roman Senate. It seems his advice runs contrary to the Savior’s command. [Note: After a bit of research, it seems that this is a false claim that was added to Wikipedia with no citation. A series of articles by a historian, linked on the Wikipedia entry "no taxation without representation" demonstrates the fallacy of this claim. I also read the original sermon and the phrase is used nowhere. I notified the speaker who made the DVD and he is working to correct it.]

Were the hearts of the oppressors won to Christ, or was the might and determination of the colonists shown greater than the redcoats? The revolution was not a gospel-informed response. It was not informed by the admonitions to respect the authorities set over us regardless of their political persuasion. The gospel could be preached freely under the king’s rule and there was no command of God that the colonists could not fulfill (unlike the situation faced by the Apostles in Jerusalem who were commanded not to preach in Jesus’ name).

It would seem this was a rebellion of convenience rather than gospel-centered motives. Western culture seems to elevate and glorify rebellion against authority, but Scripture teaches against it. The “patriot pastors” used the language of watchmen on the wall defending Zion. If we accept that line of thinking, then we must be allowed to replace the nation Israel in the Bible with “America.” To do so misidentifies the enemy of Messiah and adds words to Scripture. These “patriot preachers” made the same mistake the Pharisees did.

Jesus did not come to this earth the first time to overthrow any earthly political systems—He came to overthrow sin and its dominion over those who call Him Lord. When we equate the freedom from sin with freedom to be in the government we prefer, we miss the gospel and we miss the reason Christ came.


  1. So, I actually read a large portion of the sermon that was supposed to contain the "no taxation without representation phrase" and it isn't there. See the note above.

    More interesting is the fact that he argues away Romans 13:1-7 by saying he didn't have to obey the king because the king was not doing God's work! I wonder if Paul had that in mind when he wrote to those being oppressed by the Roman government? By setting aside authorial intent, and biblical authority, Pastor Mayhew was able to justify his rebellion against Scripture and others ran with the idea.

  2. This was an interesting read. I have to say as a former history major that I agree with your assessments, and I haven't found many that share the sentiments. It is an excellent point that the "patriot pastors" were real--but the question is, do their positions line up with Scripture?

  3. I don't think you are radical at all, Roger. My husband, Roger, and I have come to these same conclusions--although we didn't get the connection between Jesus's first coming and the Pharisees connection. That is a very true parallel to what is happening today. I think now that the original documents are so accessable online, we should all re-evaluate our views on the "Christian" heritage that our country was founded on.

    My concern we have about the Christian America movement hits us close to home. You could call it an issue of time, money, energy, or all three. But I believe that many Christians spend too much on talking and reading about politics, participating in political fund-raising, picketing, letter writing, volunteering on campaigns, etc., when they are neglecting the spiritual battle all around us. We've been praying for more laborers for the harvest at our church and in our community. I only wish those Christians who are passionate about keeping America Christian would be as passionate about the Great Commission! We're convinced that the Lord's desire for His children was to evangelize lost and disciple the saved, not elect the most pro-life candidate. Think how our society would change for the better, if we did that? Ah, but the enemy had been very successful at substituting a false battle for the real one.