By Clarence L. Haynes Jr., Crosswalk.com
Every so often, there comes a moment when you must look in the mirror and take an honest assessment of what is there. The mirror is simply a reflection and if you don’t like what you see, changing the mirror won’t help.
Today, I want to look in the mirror around the idea that America is a Christian nation. This has been a topic of debate not just today but over the years, and regardless of which side of the debate you fall on, what do we mean when we say America is a Christian nation? Too often we look at this from an ideological viewpoint. For these few moments, I challenge you to lay aside any ideology and consider this question from a biblical point of view.
What Is a Christian Nation, Anyway?
Pew research recently did a survey around the idea of America being a Christian nation. One question they considered is what do people mean when they say America should be a “Christian nation”? Among those who affirmed this to be true, here is how they defined it:
- A nation where the laws are based on Christian tenets and the nation’s leaders are Christian
- A nation where people are more broadly guided by Christian values or a belief in God, even if its laws are not explicitly Christian and its leaders can have a variety of faiths or no faith at all
- A country where most people are Christians
- A place where people treat each other well and have good morals
When you read these answers, I hope you can see the problem. These are ideological answers, but none of them strike at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. Also, what is strangely missing from the conversation about a Christian nation is the person of Jesus Christ, who is the central figure in all Christianity. This leads me to my next question.
Can There Even Be a Christian Nation?
My answer here might surprise you, but there is no such thing as a Christian nation. This does not just apply to nations; it can be more local than that. For example, there is no such thing as a Christian football team or a Christian business.
You might think these are harsh statements to make, but they are not. You can have a nation, a team, or a business that is guided by Christian values or influences, but that does not make the entity a Christian. Let me explain why before you pick up the stones.
God Doesn’t Save Nations, He Saves Individuals
Attempting to describe America as a Christian nation causes you to think of Christianity from a nationalistic point of view. Here is the problem. God doesn’t save nations, he saves individuals. When Jesus died on the cross, he wasn’t dying for America, the nation; he was dying for the individual people that make up America. This means you, me, and everyone you see around you.
He was also dying for the people in all the nations of the world. That’s why any person who calls on the name of the Lord for salvation will be saved, regardless of what nation they belong to.
This might be a surprise to you, but God is not interested in building Christian nations; he is interested in building his kingdom. His kingdom is filled with people from every nation in the world, all who belong to the body of Christ. They in turn go forth and influence the nations they reside in for his glory and his purpose. For this reason, there is no such thing as a Christian nation, only those who belong to the body of Christ and the kingdom of God and those who don’t.
The Responsibility of the Body of Christ
It is the responsibility of those who belong to the body of Christ to influence the ethics, values, and morals of the society, which is what it means to be salt and light. This type of influence is not exclusive only to America or American Christians. This happens in every nation around the globe because the body of Christ is a global entity, not a domestic one.
When you become too nationalistic in your perspective of Christianity, it is easy to put your love for the nation ahead of your love for Christ. Thinking in these terms can easily lead you to overlook the individual. This is how you can be a “Christian” nation and miss loving your neighbor as yourself. That’s why we must shift our focus from a nationalistic mindset and bring it back to the individual.
When God changes the heart of the individual, it influences households, which influences communities, which influences cities, and influences nations. The true heartbeat of Christianity is about going after the one life, which creates a ripple effect that changes others.
A Problem in the Term Christian Nation
There is an underlying challenge hidden in the term Christian nation that I have not heard anyone mention. It can bring with it a sense of superiority (don’t forget we are looking in the mirror). By this I mean some may think God has a special covenant with America. This thinking is based on the idea we are a Christian nation, founded on Christian principles.
This is where I need you to think biblically and not ideologically. What you learn from Scripture is God made a covenant with only one nation on the face of the earth. That nation is Israel. Part of the purpose of that covenant was to bring the Messiah through Abraham’s lineage. When he did this, he fulfilled the promise he made that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through Abraham (Gen. 12:3). There is no other covenant like this with any other nation in the world.
This does not mean God has stopped making covenants, it means the covenants he makes now are not with nations but with individuals. That’s why you must think kingdom and not nation. God did not reserve the covenant of grace found in the New Testament solely for America. Neither did he give the message of grace to America alone. He gave it to his church universally, with the goal of sharing it with the world so he could build his kingdom.
A Shining City on a Hill?
In the past, presidents have referred to America as a shining city on a hill. However, Jesus was the first one to use these words.
“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16, NKJV).
When Jesus said this, he was applying it to believers globally, not to America as an individual nation. Also, notice the result of shining on the hill – the glory of God. For so many who define America as a Christian nation, it feels like the talk is centered around the glory and greatness of America, and not the glory of God.
This forces me to wonder if we are seeking to build the kingdom of America or the kingdom of God? The two of these are not the same thing, and one of these things is not like the other. This leads me to my last point.
We Need to Focus More on Being Like Christ and Less Time on Trying to Be a Christian Nation
The reason there is debate over America being a Christian nation is simply because we who profess to be Christians have not lived up to the standard of being like Christ. If Christians in America truly reflected Christ, then maybe there would be no need to debate this question.
For anyone who is a follower of Jesus Christ, who is part of the body of Christ, it is time to look in the mirror I talked about earlier. Debating whether America is a Christian nation is not going to move the needle in our society. However, if you devote yourself to being like Jesus and being his arms and hands extended, that will make a difference.
When you go back to Jesus’ instruction in Matthew, he said let your light shine so much that when they see your good works, they will glorify the Father. This means the mission is not to make the name of America great, but to make the name of the Father great and lift the name of Jesus.
America is a wonderful country. I am thankful to live here and proud to be an American, but America is not the hope for the nations. Jesus is.
“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6).
As followers of Christ, who are thinking kingdom and not just nation, this must be our primary message.
As you look in the mirror today, does your reflection look like Jesus or something else? If it isn’t reflective of Christ, then whatever you are reflecting has no power to save, neither can it win people to Christ.
I want you to think bigger than seeing America as a Christian nation. As Christians who live in America, we are part of a bigger framework that reaches beyond our shores. We are one part of the global body of Christ. Yes, in this nation we can have influence on its moral fabric, but we must recognize the greatest way to change the morality of a nation is by transforming the lives of the individuals who live in that nation. This is the power we have in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We can seek to change laws, and there is a place for that, but it is the gospel which can change someone’s heart. When hearts change, households, communities, and nations change.
For this to happen, we who are followers of Christ must take up the mantle to look, think, and act like Jesus. You can start right in your home and in your community. Let other people debate whether America is a Christian nation because declaring this won’t change one person’s life. We need to get busy pointing people to Christ, preaching the gospel and living and loving like Jesus. This will most certainly lead to changed lives and that is where our focus should be.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile” (Romans 1:16).
“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20).
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Ehrlif
Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. He has also just released his new book The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. Do you want to go deeper in your walk with the Lord but can’t seem to overcome the stuff that keeps getting in the way? This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.