Thursday, June 14, 2007

"Christian Nation" = Oil & Water

I have noticed several blogging conversations lately taking place discussing whether or not the United States is a Christian nation. I, myself, have been thinking alot on this subject and would like to take some time to talk about it here.

Sometimes I believe we ask the wrong questions. For instance, who would ask what color the number 4 is, or what is the nationality of the letter H? To me, this question belongs in the same category.

Is the United States a "Christian nation"? Can any country be a "Christian nation"? I don't think so. Someone might ask, "What about Israel? Were they not God's chosen nation?" Yes, at one time. But, I don't believe that the continuity of this line of reasoning is valid. Let's retrace a bit of history...

After the fall, and years of adverse effects thereafter, God made a covenant with a man named Abraham. God promised him that "all peoples on earth will be blessed through you". God's intention for Abraham was to bless him and, through him, to bless everyone else. This was the beginning of a distinction known as "God's chosen people".

God chose to bless and redeem the world through a vehicle known as the nation of Israel. God Himself would guide her and she would show His love and blessing to the world. Israel was never to be an end in herself. She was a means to an end; that is the redemption of the whole world. However, the problem manifested itself when Israel began to take pride in her election. Rather than using her blessing to bless others, she began to aspire to be like, and even superior to, every other nation on earth. Rather than allowing God to manifest His Lordship through Israel, the nation chose to be led by human kingship. Israel's pride and political aspirations continued for years.

Enter Jesus.

Jesus didn't fit into the Israelite mold that had been developed by His ancestors. He did not concern Himself with the interests of the Herodians, the Zealots, the Pharisees or the Saduccees. Instead, Jesus came to embody Israel's hitherto unfulfilled mission; the redemption of the world. Jesus spoke parables, such as that of the vineyard, indicating God's intention to replace the political entity Israel had become with one new humanity, consisting of people from every nation, summed up in Himself. He told the religious leaders

"Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit."
Matthew 21:43-44 NIV

The importance of this quote cannot be overstated. I believe that Jesus was here prophesying the cessation of national Israel as God's chosen people.

God, Himself, fulfilled Israel's comission in the person of Jesus. Then, he gave that same comission to His now elected people; the Church. The things that Jesus "began to do and to teach" were now entrusted to believers "from every tribe and language and people and nation".

Paul went on to say that, in the person of Jesus, God tore down the wall that once divided Jew from Gentile. God's election was not to be based on ethnic, cultural, or nationalistic boundaries. God's chosen people no longer consisted of those who were born into the right family, but instead of those who have been born-again from above.

So what does all of this have to do with the question of whether or not the United States is (or even should strive to be) a Christian nation? Everything. If God's people are no longer defined by national borders but instead by those who are "in Christ", how can we go on believing that God favors the United States any more than Iraq, or even Israel over Palestine?

I believe that America as a "Christian nation" really just ends up being a distraction. Rather than seeking to bless, serve, and redeem the people for whom Jesus died and rose again, we try to legislate unbelievers into the Kingdom of God. Thinking that God has comissioned the United States as His vehicle of blessing and redemption we wrongly expect the government to uphold Christian ethics, enforce morality, and oh yeah, take care of the orphans, the widows, and the poor. We fight to keep God on our money, the Ten Commandments in our courthouses (which still baffles me), and prayer in our schools, all the while failing to realize that these are things that only give us a form of godliness without delivering the power we long to experience. Maybe we should stop trying to coerce Christian character out of unbelievers and instead start exhibiting some ourselves (me included!). Would this actually result in our acting like the children of God that we were really recreated to be? Would that in turn result in the fulfillment of the Great Comission, therein fulfilling God's promise to bless the entire world? What do you think?

16 comments:

Heather said...

This is a good post this morning ... Maybe we should stop trying to coerce Christian character out of unbelievers and instead start exhibiting some ourselves (me included!). Would this actually result in our acting like the children of God that we were really recreated to be? Would that in turn result in the fulfillment of the Great Commission, therein fulfilling God's promise to bless the entire world?

I include myself as well! And yes, it would. Thanks for the good word today ...

~Heather

Tony said...

I wish I had written this!

There is no doubt in my mind that God can have His sovereign hand on any nation and use that nation for His purposes. Has He used the US for His purposes? Absolutely. Do I think God is constrained in doing so? Not in the least.

If He chooses to use the US it is purely because of His good pleasure to do so, not because of some "cosmic favor" that we erroneously thinks rests upon us, which is the way many American Christians view His sovereignty.

Blessings, bro! Good to see you blogging again. How long will it last???

Raborn Johnson said...

Thanks for stopping by Heather!

Tony,
What up? Thanks for the good conversation on this topic at your blog. I have really enjoyed the dialog that happens there.

Question...do you personally believe in Israel as God's chosen people either at present or in a future eschatological scenario? I'm just curious what your take is on this.

Thanks for stopping by. How long will it last??? Can't say. You know what Jesus said about those born of the Spirit..."you can't tell where they come from or where they are going".;)

elder's wife said...

Hi Raborn-
I read your comments on Tony's blog and thought I'd add my 2 cents worth (BTW-what is 2 cents worth these days?)
Your comment here, "Maybe we should stop trying to coerce Christian character out of unbelievers and instead start exhibiting some ourselves", really rang my bells (hate the word "resonate").
We Christians expend so much energy trying to make silk purses out of sows' ears! We put roadblocks in the Holy Spirit's work when we try to legislate holiness. Can't be done.
Do keep blogging. I'd like to read more.
Kat

Raborn Johnson said...

We put roadblocks in the Holy Spirit's work when we try to legislate holiness.


True that! I firmly believe that Christian's attempts at legislating morality have, at times, actually caused the world to reject the Gospel.

"And He(the Holy Spirit), when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment;"
John 16:8 NASU


According to the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit's job is to convict the world. I have found out that I am no good at His job.I believe that, in regard to the world, my job is simply to love and be a "living epistle".

Thanks for stopping by!:)

Tony said...

Raborn,

Great question...I hope I am following your train of thought.

I do think Israel is still the chosen people of God. You cannot escape that God holds a special place in His great heart for Israel; numerous OT references plus Romans 8-10 point us there.

The New Covenant also was not made with the church; it was made with Israel and Judah. Israel is still the chosen channel by which He brings salvation to the human race. The "Israel of God" (Gal 6:16) is however the church, "for in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation (Gal 6:15).

Eschatologically, I think Israel still holds a dominant place in redemptive history. Israel must still recognize Jesus as their Messiah.

I have been very simplistic (I think) because I am not sure I have answered your question. So, personally, I do think Israel is still God's chosen people, at present and in a future eschatological scenario.

Raborn Johnson said...

The New Covenant also was not made with the church...The "Israel of God" (Gal 6:16) is however the church, "for in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation (Gal 6:15).

In the first part of this statement are you speaking of national Israel/those born as Hebrews?

So, personally, I do think Israel is still God's chosen people, at present and in a future eschatological scenario.

At present, how do you believe this plays out?

If Paul spoke of the dividing wall/distinction between Jew and Gentile as being torn down in Christ, and said "for in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation", in what way can national Israel be God's chosen people?

Thanks for the discussion:)

Tony said...

Raborn,

I am going to be honest; I am not really sure I understand what you are getting at here.

If you believe that there is no such thing as Israel as God's chosen people, I do not understand.

I am speaking of national Israel, those of Hebrew birth.

I believe it plays out as Paul teaches in Romans 11, that due to their present rejection of Jesus, Gentiles are shown mercy because of their disobedience. It does have eschatological implications, but I won't press on until I really understand where you re coming from.

Yes, the wall of separation has been broken down, but only in matters of salvation, not in God's sovereign election of Israel as the conduit of that salvation.

I think we are on two different pages here and I feel like I am not answering your questions adequately, though, and I'll reiterate, I really do not understand.

Raborn Johnson said...

Tony,
Sorry if I have come off as being vague. I was just a little surprised that you seemed to completely agree with this post, especially since I stated that "If God's people are no longer defined by national borders but instead by those who are 'in Christ', how can we go on believing that God favors the United States any more than Iraq, or even Israel over Palestine?". I assumed that you would consider yourself a dispensationalist and therefore would view the Jewish nation as God's chosen people. I was wondering if I had assumed incorrectly.

When you said "The New Covenant also was not made with the church...The 'Israel of God' (Gal 6:16) is however the church", I was a bit confused. It seemed like the second part of your statement could not logically coexist with the first part. I did not understand how you could refer to the Church as the "Israel of God"(though I understood that as a Scriptural quotation) while maintaining that national Israel was still the chosen people of God.

Personally, I have held to a dispensational view of eschatology for most of my Christian life. I have only begun to even consider an alternative to that view in recent months. Over the past several years/months I have begun to realize how many beliefs/views I have simply embraced/inherited without careful examination. Many of the positions I held vehemently to only a few years/months ago I have since let go of for lack of biblical evidence or because of biblical evidence to the contrary. This has also led me to begin to question my belief system in regards to Israel, the Church and eschatology.

My thoughts on this subject are very much still "in process". However, I am coming to the conclusion that the term "Israel" is better qualified as "God's chosen people"; spoken of in reference to national Israel during the Old Covenant, and meaning the Body of Christ in the New Covenant.

Upon your recommendation, I just reread Romans 8-11 tonight in a single sitting to try to catch a feel for the entire passage. I do understand where you are coming from in regards to Romans 11. However, I am not sure that I agree with your interpretation. A part of this passage that really stuck out to me was Romans 9:6-8:
"It is not as though God's word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham's children. On the contrary, "It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned." In other words, it is not the natural children who are God's children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham's offspring.
NIV
Well then, has God failed to fulfill his promise to the Jews? No, for not everyone born into a Jewish family is truly a Jew! Just the fact that they are descendants of Abraham doesn't make them truly Abraham's children. For the Scriptures say, "Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted," though Abraham had other children, too. This means that Abraham's physical descendants are not necessarily children of God. It is the children of the promise who are considered to be Abraham's children.
NLT

This is one of many passages that seem to me to indicate that "Israel" is not referring to the Jewish people or the Jewish state, but rather to God's chosen people,known now also as the Church. As a matter of fact, the passage that you referred to wherein the Church is called the "Israel of God", seems to me to clearly state this point.

Once again, I do understand where you are coming from, especially in regard to Romans 11. Yet, I believe that the weight of Scripture bears on the fact that the chosen people of God are not (and never again will be) constituted by those who can claim a priveleged blood-line.

Help me think through this brother!:)

Tony said...

Raborn,

Sorry it has taken me a bit to respond; been thinking.

I had formulated several theological responses but have ditched them all and I'll just tell you what I'm thinking.

God's sovereign election of Israel as the conduit of salvation has not changed.

I think you are imposing a disparity where there is not one. How were people saved in the OT? The same way they are saved in the new. In the old, they looked forward to the promise whereas, of course, in the new we look back.

How was Abraham saved? By simple faith in a Promised One; "Abraham believed God and it was reckoned unto him as righteousness," (Genesis 15:6, cf. Romans 4:9-12).

And what is the nature of a covenant? A covenant by its nature is eternal. Are not the covenants God made with Noah, Abraham, and David, not still in force? It follows then that the New Covenant, which I emphasized in an earlier return comment, was made with Israel and Judah (Hebrews 8:10), is also still in force.

If I follow the logic of your comment then, God then made the New Covenant with a non-entity? That is why I am confused and do not understand. The blessings of salvation that Gentiles receive are still based on God's faithfulness to the New Covenant, which was made in Christ's blood, to Israel.

The dividing wall has been broken down between Jew and Gentile; not all Israel is Israel (though some are); the Israel of God is not delineated by circumcision or uncircumcision. Yet these premises do not demand that Israel has ceased to exist.

I do refer to Israel as God's chosen people, as a political, national entity; yet the church is as well (as the Body of Christ). Did not Gentiles receive salvation in the OT (Ruth, Rahab)? A privileged bloodline does not afford one anything in God's sight; only simple faith in Christ.

But this does not necessitate Israel ceasing to be God's chosen people as a nation. The OT is clear that as a nation, God did not favor Israel any more than any other nation (hence their deportations), nor does He now; so there I agree.

However, as the chosen instrument of His revelation of salvation to the world, Israel still very much continues to be that, now through the New Covenant, which was uniquely fulfilled by Jesus.

Hope I haven't muddied the waters too much.

Blessings, bro!

Steve Sensenig said...

Tony, I think I see where you're coming from, and also I have a good idea where Raborn's coming from (since he and I have talked about this over breakfast several times in the past year or so).

Perhaps what Raborn is touching on is what some dispensationalists teach: that is, that someday in the future, there will be a restored temple and sacrificial worship for national Israel in the same way that they worshiped in the OT (animal sacrifices, etc.).

In that sense, I do not believe that national Israel is any different from "the Israel of God", i.e., all those saved by faith in Christ, and there is no longer a distinction.

Are we in agreement there, or did I misunderstand what you were saying in your last comment?

By the way, I may be quite wrong about this, but I do not believe that all of the covenants God made with man in the OT are eternal. Many, if not all, of those covenants were conditional upon Israel's continuation in their worship of God.

I believe that the promise of the land was in that category, which is why I struggle with the concept that we should support today's national Israel at any cost on the basis of OT promises.

As a nation, Israel today seems to have no relationship whatsoever with God. There are Christians within national Israel, as there are within Palestine, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, the USA, etc.

I dunno. Just some rambling thoughts... :)

Raborn Johnson said...

Tony,

You said:

God's sovereign election of Israel as the conduit of salvation has not changed.

I would agree with this statement to a point. However, I believe that Jesus took upon Himself the role that Israel was intended to perform all along. In Acts 13:47 Paul quotes from Isaiah 49 saying
"I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth." What is interesting to note is that in the Greek both mentions of "you" are singular, thus seemingly referring to only one person. However, Isaiah 49:3 declares that God is speaking to "My servant Israel". So was God speaking to Christ or to Israel? Yes. I would like to continue this thought...

Are not the covenants God made with Noah, Abraham, and David, not still in force?

I will, for the moment, set aside the Noahic and Davidic covenants. In continuation of my last thought, let's talk about the Abrahamic covenant. Who was the beneficiary of the Abrahamic covenant? People will usually say Abraham, followed by Israel. But, Paul, speaking to the Galatians, says
"The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say 'and to seeds,' meaning many people, but 'and to your seed,' meaning one person, who is Christ."
Galatians 3:16 NIV


Paul seems to be saying that this covenant was not actually made with national Israel, but rather with Abraham, and then Christ, and...

"You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."
Galatians 3:26-29 NIV

since we are "in Christ", this covenant was made with believers too. I think that this seems to add weight to Paul's statement that "not all who are descended from Israel are Israel" in Romans 9.

If I follow the logic of your comment then, God then made the New Covenant with a non-entity?

No. I believe that the New Covenant was made with those who are "in Christ". Was it made with Israel? Absolutely. But, in my mind this is the same as saying those who are "in Christ", for Christ is the fulfillment of Israel. He is the true Israelite. All who are "in Him" are true Jews(Romans 2:28-29), and the "Israel of God". I believe this and the many passages speaking of the annihilation of the Jew/Gentile divide in Christ, coupled with the above passages underscore this point.

But this does not necessitate Israel ceasing to be God's chosen people as a nation.

How could it not? If the Old Covenant has been fulfilled in Jesus, and the Jew/Gentile wall has been torn down, how can we believe that there are still two parallel groups of "God's chosen people"? I do not remember a New Testament passage that teaches this idea. Why would Paul continually write about there being no distinctions "in Christ"?

I believe that Galatians is one book that we have continued to miss the point of. During my time as an assistant pastor I taught time after time that Galatians was all about "faith vs. works". Yet, while this is a great concept that we can pull out of the book, I believe that the whole context of it is the question of "What criteria characterizes God's people?". Over and over again throughout the book, Paul tries to make the Galatians understand that they are God's people apart from becoming circumcised Hebrews. One reason I believe that Paul mentions his confrontation with Peter in this book is because it underscores the point that he is trying to make. One of the signs of covenantal relationship was table fellowship. Peter withdrew from table fellowship with Gentile believers when Jewish believers came down from Jerusalem. These Hebrew believers wanted to maintain their "favored" status over Gentile believers. They believed that they were "in Christ", but it seems they also wanted to be in the "in crowd" with an inside edge on God's blessing/favor. Paul was livid. If the wall had been torn down in Christ, how dare Peter, James or anyone else rebuild it?!?

However, as the chosen instrument of His revelation of salvation to the world, Israel still very much continues to be that, now through the New Covenant, which was uniquely fulfilled by Jesus.

I disagree. The Book of John says that Jesus revealed the Father to us. Jesus said that "if you have seen Me you have seen the Father." I don't believe that national Israel was at all God's "instrument of His revelation of salvation to the world". I even more so disagree that Israel continues to be such. How can Israel continue to accomplish something that Jesus has already accomplished and given to His Body?

Wow! This is a lenghty comment. I hope it doesn't bog you down! Thanks so much for playing ball with me. I really am enjoying thinking this through. I have read more Scripture in the last several days than I have in a long time. I have been so used to reading a chapter here and there. This conversation has helped cause me to read through entire passages to try to get a feel for context. I believe that I'll be doing more of that! Thanks Tony!

Raborn Johnson said...

Steve,

Thanks for commenting! You are partially right about what I am getting at but, as you can probably tell from my last comment, it goes alot deeper for me. Not only do I disagree with many's eschatology concerning Israel, but I also disagree with the current status that many people afford national Israel as well.

Please hear me out everyone!

I don't have a bone to pick with the nation of Israel, Jewish people or even those Christians who like to listen to "Messianic praise music". I am called to love Jewish people just as I am called to love Muslims, Hindus, conservatives, liberals, homosexuals, heterosexuals, etc. I am simply trying to say that I don't believe God blesses anyone based on ethnicity, cultural heritage, religious customs, or political affiliation. Rather, I believe that "God's chosen people" consists only of those who are "in Christ"; "red or yellow, black or white".

Tony said...

Raborn,

I don't care to argue these points, so respectfully and humbly I am bowing out of this conversation.

God bless.

Raborn Johnson said...

I totally respect that Tony! You are a blessing brother!:)

Terry Henry said...

All creation groans and travails waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God.

I certainly believe at this point that some very significant shifts are taking place in the spiritual realm that will bring a people (the body of Christ) to a place of purity and power that has been lacking in the American Christian experience.

Little old Boone is an area that will begin (is beginning) to see some of this fruit.