Patriots or pilgrims?

By David M. McNabb

We Christians in America have enjoyed relative peace. We are truly blessed to have lived in a land "Under God," whose motto is "In God We Trust." We join in singing "God Bless America," with "our fellow Americans," and there is not a dry eye in the place. Nevertheless, the winds of change are blowing over this land.

In recent issues of The Bible Guys, while following current events, we have pointed out that a generally anti-Christian atmosphere is rapidly developing in the United States of America. This country, which was founded with a genuine reverence to the Creator, has been desperately trying to forget the God of the Bible, and portray a belief in a politically-correct, universally accepted god. Much talk about religion has been heard during the last few months - even in political speeches - but that rhetoric, though often mentioning God, has all but totally omitted any reference to Jesus Christ. This comes as no surprise, however, because when you say "God," people can relate that term to whichever god they serve, whether the only true God of the Bible, or some other. The point of true contention, though, is the Lord Jesus. To accept Him is to acknowledge His Father, the Almighty, the Elohim of the Holy Scriptures. That narrows the playing field to only one way, an unacceptable position to take in today's society.

Today, we are conditioned to promote "unity through diversity." The modern inter-faith movement encourages people of all faiths to gather together and pray to their respective gods in harmony, side by side, thereby promoting peace and mutual understanding. They reject any attempts by one group to proselytize another, as that would indicate that they believe that they are more right.

Even some Evangelical Christians are falling into that trap. But it is exactly opposite of our great commission to go forth and "teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever [Jesus has] commanded [us]." (Matt. 28:19-20)

The Kingdom of Israel did similarly, as is recorded in II Kings 17. They rejected the Lord's statutes and His commandments, and "walked in the statutes of the heathen." As a result, they lost their land and were led away into captivity. Today, Christians are exhorted to not follow after the ways of the wicked as Israel did, but to seek righteousness and meekness according to God's word.

Such rhetoric has caused many to feel uneasy. Shortly after our December issue was out, which highlighted an article showing the prophecies being fulfilled by President George W. Bush's approach to religion, we received an e-mail calling us unpatriotic, even anti-American. As I read the correspondence, the question came to mind, "Is patriotism Biblical?"

Paul, giving honor to those great men and women of faith, said, "These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for He hath prepared for them a city." (Heb. 11:13-16)

These faithful believers left all to follow God. They knew that no country on earth was their home. Of such believers, God is not ashamed.

Throughout history, God's people have lived in various lands and countries, often enjoying periods of relative peace and prosperity. Abram gave Lot his choice of land. Given the choice, Lot chose the plain of Jordan, where Sodom and Gomorrah were. Genesis 13:10 describes that land as like "the garden of the Lord." When Sodom was conquered in a great battle in Genesis 14, and her citizens (including the household of Lot) were taken captive, Abram took his servants and fought against their captors. Abram not only liberated Lot and his household, but the whole of Sodom. Nevertheless, Abram declared to the king of Sodom, "I have lift up mine hand unto the Lord." Abram was not on the side of Sodom and her allies, neither was he on the side of Shinar and her allies, but he was on the Lord's side.

Later, when two angels approached Lot with the urgency of the impending wrath upon Sodom, Lot went to his sons-in-law and his daughters. These were comfortable in their country, and saw no need to leave it. They perished the next day with the rest of Sodom. Even Lot's wife, who had already made it out alive, desired to return to the life she left, and perished also. We are not even told the names of Lot's sons-in-law, but Lot will always be remembered for his faith and obedience in the time of trouble.

While in captivity in Babylon, Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael were chosen for civil service. With the wisdom they had from God, they worked for the kings of the captivity. So long as the laws of the land did not restrict them from practicing their faith, they dwelt in peace. When the government was poised against the Almighty, banning prayer to Him or requiring worship of another, their belief in Jehovah pitted them against the government. Their allegiance had not changed, for they had always been on the Lord's side. So Daniel faced the Lions, and his fellow believers faced the fiery furnace - not because they had become anti-Babylon, but because Babylon had turned itself against the Living God.

David, while Saul was still king of Israel, dwelt in exile in Gath, the home town of the giant Goliath whom he had slain years earlier. There he lived among the Philistines, received land from them, and even had the favor of their king. Not only so, but David went so far as to agree to fight along side of the Philistines against Israel, and he would have, had the princes of the Philistines not refused his help. This did not mean he was anti- or pro-Philistia, or anti- or pro-Israel: he was on the Lord's side.

Jesus said, "He that is not against us is for us." (Luke 9:50) Therefore, true believers in the Lord are not called to be patriotic Sodomites, or patriotic Babylonians, or patriotic Persians, or patriotic Philistines, or patriotic Romans, or even patriotic Americans. We may be as Moses, who was "content to dwell" with Jethro in Midian, but wherever we may happen to be, it is merely the place of our sojourning - our pilgrimage. We seek a better country: a heavenly country. We do not arbitrarily choose sides - today, we stand with America; tomorrow, against her - our choice has been made: we stand firmly with our Lord. It is they whose choice it is. If the country in which we dwell chooses to stand on the side of the Lord, we'll stand with them. If it should choose to oppose him, then they will find themselves against us as well.

David was not a patriotic Philistine, but he was willing to fight for the country wherein he enjoyed peace. He was, however, an Israelite, and, as such, after he became king, would proceed to destroy the Philistines and drive them from the land of Canaan. Likewise, when America is not in opposition to God, we appear to be good citizens - even patriots. But our true allegiance is to the God of heaven. If sides must be chosen, the answer is obvious: I and my house, we will serve the Lord.

A predominantly Christian society, rich with the godly characteristics of meekness and mercy, will often forbear the unbelievers in hopes of finding an opportunity to witness to them of the Lord Jesus and possibly lead them to faith in Him. Conversely, history has proven that when born-again Christians find themselves in the minority, they are almost universally persecuted. This is true in nations around the world, whether they be primarily Atheist, Buddhist, Catholic, Islamic, Hindu or even Jewish. Christians, particularly Evangelicals, are being overtaken in American society today, and the pressure is on for us to homogenize with all of the other religions, forsaking the notion that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation.

Now is our hour of trial, saints. Having this great opportunity, it is up to us to stand for the righteousness of God and His holy word, regardless of what opposition the Enemy presents us.

"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen." (Matt. 28:19-20)