Christians and the Undoing of America (Part 1)

America totters on the edge of collapse. Or so it seems, anyway. The nation which was self proclaimed a “light on a hill” now seems to give no more light than a glow-in-the-dark sticker. The manifest destiny which once was defined by greatness, now leans toward destruction. In this dark hour in American history, Christians are faced with an uncomfortable reality: we have lost an important part of our faith. The faith, in the American experience, has been narrowed our faith down to an individualistic, personal religion. And in the focus on the individual, we have lost what it means to be God’s own nation.

I’m not here to prophesy doom for America. It may well be that there will be several hundred more years for America. Instead, I intend to explore what it will take for us Christian’s to reclaim our identity as the Nation of God. To do this, I will cover in three posts a short history of how we got where we are (part 1), some Bible passages that indicate our Nationality (part 2), and some pointed applications for Evangelical politics (part 3).

How We Lost Our Identity

I’m not exactly sure how the church moved from a national focus to an individual focus. But I have several thoughts as to how this happened. To me, much of it starts with Neo-Platonism. This philosophy wrapped its cold fingers around the early church. The foremost way in which it gripped the church was the development of the Medieval idea of Heaven and Hell. Heaven became identified as the eternal state. Believers will “live” there, according to this philosophy, as disembodied spirits, floating around and contemplating God forever. What this idea meant for daily life was that believers were to escape this present world. This shifted the focus of Christianity from a literal earthly nation of Christ to a spiritual kingdom that had little connection to material objects.

The Protestant Reformation also had something to do with the shift to an individual focus. The emphasis on justification as a forensic declaration of righteousness shifted salvation from a National ideal to an individual reality. I am not saying that this focus on individual justification is wrong. But it quickly overshadowed the idea that God called a nation and that he has chosen a people. It took salvation from an “us” to an “I” and thereby we lost another piece in our national identity. In this case, it is not as if the nationhood of the church was jettisoned like moldy fruit. So much attention was placed on the individual, that the Nationhood simply was neglected and all but forgotten.

This is not to say I believe in group conversions apart from individual confessions. Paul clearly states that “if you (singular) confess with your (singular) mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you (singular)will be saved” (Rm 10:9). This clearly points to the individual. But it must be kept in balance with Peter’s statement, “But you (plural) are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you (plural) may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you (plural) out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you (plural) once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you (plural) are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you (plural) had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you (plural) have RECEIVED MERCY” (1 Pt 2:9-10).

Another key to the shift away from the identity of the church as a nation came with the rise of Pietism. We would all like to think our practices of personal piety go back to the founding of the church. The truth is, many of our notions of personal piety came from the 17th century. What Pietism encouraged individuals to pursue God for themselves. This took the forms of spending extra time studying the Bible with committed believers, personal prayer, fasting, and personal Bible reading. It again was a shift from a communal focus to an individual focus. This Piestic emphasis started with the Lutherans, but found its way to the Puritans and then through the Methodists to the holiness churches and Evangelical churches in America. 

Yet again, there was another shift away from the idea of the church as a nation: the founding of America. The founding fathers embraced the enlightenment and incorporated two key ideals into the founding of the USA: individual liberties and separation of church and state. The first of individual rights became the backbone of Evangelical politics. For many Evangelicals, individual rights transcend the needs of the group or society as a whole. The second, about separation of church and state, meant that churches were no longer considered a legitimate influence over the state. This has led to the erection of a wall that blocks churches from considering themselves a national entity.

Finally, there is the rise of classic Dispensational theology and classic Covenant theology. Covenant theology, in my understanding, emphasizes that the church is a spiritual kingdom which replaced Israel. In this view, there was no physical fulfillment of the promises to Israel. Instead, they are all spiritually fulfilled in Christ. While the idea of kingdom or nationhood is here, it does not have much bearing on physical reality. This is what I understand, anyway. Correct me in the comments if I’m wrong. 

Dispensational theology, with which I am much more familiar, separated between Israel and the church. This separation was so much that the church becomes a parenthetical in an otherwise unbroken history of God’s dealing with Israel. The church only inherits the spiritual blessings of Israel, but in no way partakes of the physical blessings or nationality of Israel. Whatever the church is, it is merely accidental to God’s greater plan. This again takes away the national identity of the church. There isn’t a Christian identity in Dispensationalism other than a simple, personal, pietistic religion that we spread through the earth.

Results of Individualism

While none of these things are necessarily wrong in and of themselves, they have shifted the attention of the church away from the national aspect of our identity to the individual. In fact, you are hard pressed to find any preachers who will talk about the church in national terms. The result of this focus is that we have lost our national identity as Christians. 

But as human beings, we cannot help but live as a part of a nation. So, while we have forgotten our Christian national identity, we have substituted secular nationalism in its stead. In America, we Evangelicals have substituted enlightenment thinking on politics for Christian nationalism, that is, small government, individualism, and capitalism. In many aspects, these items fit within the Biblical scheme. But in many other aspects, they are against principles in Scripture. Take racism, for example. A generation ago, segregation and racism were part and parcel of the conservative agenda. Now, we realize that those things are utterly sinful. But racism is not the only issue we have in conservatism. 

It is time for us to realize that we have drunk too much at the Locke’s tavern. And now we sit, inebriated from the Lager of Freedom, as those who have paid for our drinks tear down the tavern around us. We must replace our enlightenment nationality with a Christian nationality. We must stop arguing for conservative politics, and start arguing for Biblical ethics. We must stop thinking in terms of the individual and start thinking in terms of the national. We need to understand how God wants us to function as a Christian nation, and then we can interact with secular nations such as America.

How do we start this project? How do we start thinking as a nation again? It’s a complicated and hard to answer question. The previous paragraph was easy enough to write, but harder to apply. I plan to work through a couple of the key issues in the next post. There are a few others who talk about this idea too. The best discussion of this concept is found in the New Perspective on Paul (which is no longer new). This theology needs to be hammered out some more, but it is definitely going in the right direction.

11 thoughts on “Christians and the Undoing of America (Part 1)

    1. I agree with what you’re saying, I think. I believe The church is directly planned by God.

      In classical Dispensationalism, however, the church is not the main goal. Many of dispensationalist explanations of the church make it appear as an an accident of unplanned result from God’s main plan for the Jews. I don’t believe this aspect of dispensationalism.

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  1. I believe, unfortunately, that you demonstrate a shocking misunderstanding of the concept of “separation of church and state” unless, perhaps, you meant to quote someone else’s opinion and forgot to note that.

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      1. The best, most detailed explanation I can give you—which will require some time for you to work through-is for you to read an article written for Hillsdale College’s Imprimis magazine. The article was written by Daniel Dreisbach in 2006. He is brilliant and gives one of the best explanations as to why people are so incorrect in their assumptions that a “wall of separation “ was implied or intended by founding fathers.
        Your father has always been a student of history and surely understands the error of the judiciary and others who have perpetuated this misconception. I assume he could offer you further insight. Really, any serious student of the Constitution and our other founding documents as well as letters written by our founding fathers should be able to enlighten you on this matter.
        I don’t want to call you out on this, but I also think it is important to replace error with truth so countless others don’t accept/embrace erroneous information.

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      2. Ok. So I didn’t misunderstand, I simply cited the common understanding of separation between and church and state. In fact, you could say I agree with the best scholars in the land in that I sided with the Supreme Court. So I haven’t misspoken, only I have stated a position that doesn’t agree with your politics.
        Further, I am always hesitant to use sources like imprimus because they are heavily sided toward the political right. Do you have any articles that I could read published in an unbiased journal?

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      3. Besides this, the separation between church and state idea is a small point of the article I wrote. Whether I nailed it on my legal interpretation does not really matter. The interpretation I stated is the law of the land and it has pushed us to think of Christianity as solely a private religion. We don’t think of Christianity as a national identity apart from our US identity. Rather, we are US first, and our religion (like picked from a buffet) is Christianity. The result is that we’ve replace Christian values with conservative ones. We’re now fighting not for Christ, but for US constitution. But the constitution isn’t Christian nor does it support the cause of Christ.
        What we need is a complete change of mind. We need to stop voting as conservatives or liberals, and start voting as Christians.
        The reason that this is important is that Trump and most Republicans in office play Christians like a puppet. All you have to do is say, “I’m for the constitution!” And you have the evangelical vote. Just hold a Bible and boom, Facebook moms worship you. This has got to stop.

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  2. Oh, now I understand your rules. I can only use Nate-approved resources. Even unsaved, secular scholars revere Hillsdale. I waded through your lengthy article and I find it disrespectful you aren’t even willing to inform yourself based on my well-meant recommendation.
    At my age, I am fairly adept at discerning when someone is really just wanting to hear himself talk and I suspect you would argue with a windmill at this point. As someone who loves you and your sweet family, I am going to not waste more time trying to get you to see error, arrogance, and the need for balance… for the sake of the relationship.

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      1. To follow up on this. 1. It is not arrogance to ask for alternative opinions. I’ve been blindsided by well meaning rightwing people who have erred in their understanding of history. I’ve also been blindsided by leftwing people as well. To ask for a critique or alternative view isn’t arrogance, it’s science and critical thinking. Arrogance would be to assume that my core beliefs are correct and reject other evidence. I try to avoid this by getting multiple opinions 2. I read your article even before I replied to your other comments. I didn’t brush it off. I didn’t reject it because it is rightwing. I may reserve my opinion about it till I have other data by which to evaluate his research. I harbor some doubts simply because he isn’t the majority. Being outside of the field of constitutional scholarship, I don’t have any context to evaluate his position. In these cases, I go with the majority of opinion in that field. Arrogance would be to assume that I with no proper training can make a better judgment than those (like the Supreme Court) who’ve studied this all thoroughly. Sorry if this smacks of arrogance. It’s not. It’s typical in the academic processes. 3. None of this has anything to do with the point of my article. If my view is correct and a wall of separation is intended, then my point stands as is. But let’s say Jefferson intended something quite different than we understand today. Ok, that may be the case as presented by your article. But the point of this post is not was intended, but what actually happened. What has actually happened is that we have built in America a wall of separation between church and state. The result is that we have turned Christianity into a private, personal concept. My goal is to get Christians to think more broadly than this. Christianity should be thought of in terms of a political, national entity that is not totally enforced yet but to which we belong. We aren’t Americans first. We aren’t conservatives first. We are Christians who serve a God who does not fit American ideology. With all that said, I repeat, it’s not part of the point of my article. Arrogance decides to harp on minor points to the exclusion of the whole. I’ve responded because I value you and your family. I’ve given this much thought and have attempted to avoid a snarky or condescending attitude. I understand that we’ll probably agree to disagree on this like we have on so many other issues. God bless on your search for truth.

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