Christians without Borders
The relationship between church and state continues to be a subject of great interest and importance to me, particularly the dangers of statism and its inevitable by-product, nation-worship. For example, I think the flying of the American flag in our churches is a bad idea. In my opinion, it sends all the wrong messages. For one thing, it confuses the kingdom of God with the kingdom of man. We wonder, “Where does America stop and Christianity begin?” For another thing, Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. It transcends tribe and nationality. And it is God’s primary agent of activity in the world. Because of this, the nation-state is always seeking to usurp Christ’s kingdom authority. Allegiance to the nation replaces (or at least actively competes with) allegiance to Christ.
Of course, we might sooner expect a change in our solar system as to expect that Americans would remove the U.S. flag from their sanctuaries. Once again, the church has bowed to the culture. We seem to think that America has a national religion. This is the myth of a Christian nation – a myth so ably exposed by Gregory Boyd in his book by the same title. What is this myth? It is the unquestioned identification of America with the cause of God’s truth and righteousness. This attitude has long been sacralized in the United States and is an established feature of our national psyche. But is it correct?
Christians are to pledge allegiance to one God only. “You cannot serve two masters,” said Jesus, yet Americans continue to shift their allegiance to the nation as the fulfiller of ecclesiastical functions. Thankfully, there are some today who are questioning such assumptions. They seek to practice discipleship without borders, refusing to be entrapped by cultural Christianity. We might call them “Christians without borders,” to use a word-play based on the renowned medical group Doctors without Borders. These Jesus-followers are involved in mission and service worldwide. Wherever they go they represent, not their country of origin, but the new Christian community in which national walls have been broken down by the work of Christ. They are set on taking the Good News to the entire world regardless of the ethnicity of those to whom they bear witness. Missions, for them, presupposes a deep sense of universal grace.
In the face of growing nationalism on the one hand and ecclesiastical nearsightedness on the other, is it asking too much of American evangelicals to forego mixing politics and religion? If a church should feel it absolutely impossible to remove the U.S. flag from its place of meeting, an alternative might be to fly the flags of other nations alongside it, especially the flags of those nations in which the congregation has been involved in missionary outreach and service. What a testimony that would be to a watching world that Christ’s kingdom is not a national clique but a transnational community!
The story is told of a father who was eager to read his newspaper but was being pestered by his small son. In order to distract the boy he took from a magazine a page on which was printed a map of the world. Then he cut out each country of the world from the map and gave the pieces to the boy to put back together again. Expecting that this would take considerable time, the father settled back in his chair. A few moments later, however, he noticed that the little boy had completed the project. When asked how he had assembled the map so quickly, the boy replied, “It was simple. On the other side of the page was the picture of a man. I just put the man together, and then the world fit together.”
There is reason for thinking that if Christians could look, not at their own country, but at a man – the God-Man whose kingdom unites people from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation – there would be no need for displays of national patriotism in their churches. By its very nature, the church is different from any other society on earth. And the cross, not the flag, is the point of intersection between the church and the world. The cross of Jesus Christ is the secret of being in the world without being of it. It is the source of freedom for us to be given to the world as broken bread and poured-out wine. It is our banner, our emblem, our flag of allegiance. Let us fly it high!
January 10, 2009
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.