What should the attitude of citizens be toward the nation in which they live? Because any nation can have rulers who are evil, or basically good rulers who still do wrong things from time to time, a Christian view of government would never endorse a kind of ‘blind patriotism’ according to which a citizen would never criticize a country or its leaders. In fact, a genuine patriotism, which always seeks to promote the good of the nation, would honestly criticize the government and its leaders when they do things contrary to Biblical moral standards. Is patriotism a virtue at all? The Bible gives support to a genuine kind of patriotism in which citizens love, support, and defend their own country.
Biblical support for the idea of patriotism begins with a recognition that God has established nations on the earth. Speaking in Athens, Paul says that God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place.” [Acts 17:26]. One example of this is found in God’s promise to make the descendants of Abram…later Abraham…into a distinct nation: “And I will make of you a great nation, so that you will be a blessing.” [Gen. 12:2]. Later God says to Abraham, “In your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” [Gen. 22:18]. The ancient origin of many nations on earth is recorded in the Table of Nations descended from Noah in Genesis 10, which concludes,”These are the clans of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, in their nations, and from these nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood.” [v. 32]. In the ongoing progress of history, Job says that God “makes nations great, and He destroys them; He enlarges nations, and leads them away.” [Job 12:23].
The sense of what a “nation” meant in the Bible is not different in any substantial way from we mean by nation today…a group of people living under the same government that is sovereign and independent in its relationships to other nations. In the modern age, a nation is ordinarily a relatively large group of people living under an independent government, although in a few cases today there are nations that are not very large, such as Monaco and Luxembourg, and in some cases there are nations that are only partially independent from a larger, more dominant nation.
The existence of many independent nations on the earth should be considered a blessing from God. A one government world was never intended. One benefit of the existence of nations is that they divide and disperse government power throughout the earth. In this way they prevent the rule of any one worldwide dictator, which would be more horrible than any single evil government, because it would affect everyone on earth and because there would be no other nation that could challenge it. History has shown repeatedly that rulers with unchecked and unlimited power become more and more corrupt. The signers of the of the US Declaration of Independence realized that they were establishing a separate nation as the first sentence so indicates:
When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
The Bible teaches Christians to obey and honor the leaders of the nation in which they live. Peter tells Christians to “honor the emperor“. [1 Peter 2:17], and to:
“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors...”[vv.13-14]
Paul likewise encourages not only obedience but also honor and appreciation for civil rulers when he write to the Romans, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities” [Rom.13:1] and says that the ruler is “God’s servant for your good” [v.4]. These commands follow a pattern found in the Old Testament as well, as the following indicates:
My son, fear the Lord and the king, and do not join with those who do otherwise. [Prov. 24:21]
Even in your thoughts, do not curse the king, nor in your bedroom curse the rich. [Eccl. 10:20]
Thus says the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon…Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. [Jer. 29:4-7]
God’s establishment of individual nations, the benefits that come to the world from the existence of nations, and the Biblical commands that imply that one should give appreciation and support to the government leaders where one lives, all tend to support the idea of patriotism in a nation.
I suppose that it is at this point that I have my greatest confusion with Romans 13. Maybe it is because of my military background, or my study of military/war history, or life experiences that I have come to believe that it is the responsibility of each citizen to be cognizant of their government’s actions and hold that government accountable. God had a plan for civil government and it was a good plan. Enter mankind, with all its greed, envy, hate, and desire for power. Throughout history governments have been founded on such ‘values’, if you want to call them that. When that happens the citizens of that nation must take charge or nations founded on Godly principles must step in and terminate the evil. Unfortunately some churches have played an active role in supporting or encouraging the evil either by participation in or ignoring/avoiding that evil. How many Jews found their way to the ‘ovens’ with the help of the church? Just recently the Catholic Church in France apologized for setting back and letting Jews be transported to Germany. For this, the Nazis promised them ‘hands off’. Other ‘christian’ churches in Germany found relief by replacing the cross with a ‘swastika’. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book “Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy” has inspired much of my writing. It is Biblical for the church and its congregations to support the government, but it is also Biblical for God’s churches to take a stand against evil. This is especially true when the government passes laws that make ‘evil’ legal and make good ‘illegal’. As Christians we must always be on the watch and our church leaders should be on the forefront in this battle. Ungodly men/women sent to government will do what is ‘right in their own eyes’ and what will please an evil world. Evil as well as good votes. Who will teach the congregations?
Next week we will take a look at the benefits of patriotism in a nation.
– Bob Munsey