Posted by: sean | April 18, 2009

Who Are “We”: Americans or Christians?

Lee Camp, Mere Discipleship (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press 2003), pp. 43-46.

We might put the problem this way: the Constantinian cataract results from a very basic case of false identity. The cataract not only clouds our vision, but psychologically and culturally shapes our understanding of our most basic identity. While biblically informed discipleship requires us to give ourselves in absolute allegiance to the kingdom of God, the Constantinian cataract threatens the purity of that allegiance by mixing it with an allegiance to the empire or nation-state. Or, perhaps more accurately, we begin to believe that a pursuit of the agenda of the empire or nation-state may be placed comfortably alongside our pursuit of the kingdom of God, even though the ends and goals of the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world are clearly different, and clearly at odds with one another.

Consider a thought experiment in order to get at the difficulty. Using contemporary garb, a key question might be put this way: do we American Christians see ourselves as American Christians, or as American Christians? Do we fundamentally envision ourselves as U.S. citizens who espouse the “Christian religion,” or as disciples of Jesus who happen to live in the United States? What is our fundamental identity? Citizens of our nation-state, or citizens of the kingdom of God?

Most Christians, one might conjecture, would immediately respond that our first allegiance is undoubtedly to the kingdom of God. But our debates often appear to assume that the fundamental identity, the primary lens through which we must make decisions about how to act in our world, it that of the nation-state. One might find ample evidence that we do envision our primary identity in terms of the nation-state by simply examining the question we often ask: “What should we do about terrorism?” The we in that question is most often, one may safely assume, the United States. “What should we do about Saddam Hussein?” “What should we do about inner-city poverty?” “What should we do about homelessness?” “What should we do about the threat of nuclear war?” “What should we do about peace in the Middle East?” “What should we do about welfare?” “What should we do about abortion?” And so the questions go, always assuming that the all-important we is the nation-state.

Consequently, discipleship—defined as taking seriously the way of Christ in all our affairs and concerns—gets shelved as irrelevant to the real concerns of the world. But what might happen if we took such questions seriously from a biblical viewpoint? For instance, what should we, as disciples of Jesus, do about homelessness? What should we, as the body of Christ, do about the threat of nuclear war? What should the church do about Saddam Hussein? What should we believers do about peace in the Middle East? What should we who bear the name of Jesus do about inner-city poverty and the plight of single mothers? What should we followers of the Way do about abortion?

Does the word of God incarnate in Jesus Christ not have something to say to the injustices and oppression of our world?—or are the people of God simply to accept the claim that the only appropriate response to injustice is the ethic of nations, the ethic of power checking power? Christians appear often to assume that to make significant cultural change we must approach change from the “top down”—that until we can get those who hold the mantle of power to use that power to bring about change, there can be no real change. But Jesus taught and practiced something quite different: “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all” (Mark 10:42-44). That is, Jesus called his disciples not to get hold of empire power—this is precisely what some of his disciples wanted, to get hold of the rein of command, and use it on behalf of the good guys, on behalf of righteousness, justice, and God’s purposes. Instead, he called them to an altogether different route of bringing about the radical change of the kingdom of God—that of servant

But since the time of the Reformation, it has been assumed that “religion” is “private,” and that matters of the “state” are “public.” Or, to put it differently, it begins to be assumed that the church worries about souls, and the state worries about bodies. This “privatization of religion,” this move to make religion a “private” matter, results in a profound change of thought: when we ask the “What are we going to do about…” question, we of course assume that the we is the nation or government, because we have long been trained to think of the church as having no social or political significance. To ask, “What are we Christians going to do about terrorism?” sounds ludicrous!—Nothing! That’s the government’s job.

So “What are we going to do?” Respond with the way of Christ. The world may think that way irrelevant, even foolish. But what the world takes as foolish is actually the wisdom of God and the only hope for the world. We do not need more “effective” kingdoms of men; we do not need more “responsible” kingdoms of this world; we do not need more “realism” among the kingdoms of a fallen order. We need the kingdom of God.

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Responses

  1. i am an indian , come to america one and a half year back. coming here was a great disillusion spiritually. the disillusion was due to many things but the thing that struck me most was how even the church people were more “american” rather than lovers of Christ!!

    comparatively, in india, we are more “christian” than indian.

    finally i searched google for “do americans love Jesus?”. i found many good articles on this and one of them was yours. It is awesome. It is good to know that there are peope out there who do love the Lord and have their full allegiance to the Lord.

    God bless you. Keep up the good work for the extension of the Lord’s kingdom. I am waiting on the Lord myself to do something about this ,like write a book ….so that it could touch at least a few lives to come to realize what this life is all about .

    Yours in Christ,
    tiba.

    tiba.

  2. Dear Tiba Growing up in a patriotic ¨God and Country¨ family I used to be a real American ¨Christian¨ but after I started taking Christ´s teachings literally and putting them into practice I soon realized that I was becoming something else and what I was before wasn´t truly christian. I was becoming a citizen of another kingdom and I began to realize that the american christianity that I once had was false christianity. I began to realize that the American Jesus I once followed was a fake Jesus or at worse an ANtichrist.. I wrote an article to help others out of the religious deception that I once was part of at…

    http://endtimesapostasy.blogspot.com/2009_01_01_archive.html

    or try
    http://www.earlychurchtruth.com/getsaved.html

    Lord bless ,, ‘Brian GRay

  3. Thanks for your blog. I’ll be visiting often!

  4. This is an excellent admonition!


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