Count It Not Strange-Trading Nationalism for a Missionary Identity

America

America is a democratic republic. A republic by definition is a state in which the supreme power rests in the body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by representatives chosen directly or indirectly by them. A democracy by definition is a government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system (Definitions from dictionary.com).

Lincoln described this idea of government well when He said, “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish…” Whether or not it perishes remains to be seen, but for our purposes today I want to elaborate a little bit on the main thrust of a democratic republic. It is by the people. This means that the country (in a corporate sense) will always be a representation of the people. With that said, we should not be surprised as Christians that the USA is not as Christian as it once was; though one could argue that it was never that Christian to begin with (I just recently learned that when the U. S. was founded only 10% of Americans attended church—not to mention issues such as slavery and the like that were thriving in the early days of the USA).

America is a nation made up of people from all walks of life from all around the world. That is part of the beauty of it being the land of the free, we have freedom of religion and certain rights that are given to our citizens, and even resident aliens for that matter; and so people have immigrated here for years in hopes of a better-freer life. I heard a missionary recently note that though we must have a heart for getting the gospel to the nations in order to be faithful to the Great Commission, one can’t help but notice that in a very real sense the nations are coming to us, so we must also engage them on our own turf. And we know this to be true, that’s why immigration is such a hot button issue in America right now.

Now, if people from all walks of life from all around the world have been immigrating here over the years, including the founding fathers of this country, then it really should be no surprise that America has become such a hotbed for so many religions, atheism, secularism, and many other things and beliefs. Our founding documents promise freedom to practice such things (and this is a really good thing because it gives us the freedom to make disciples among other things). And because we are a democracy the government will always be a representation of the people. So if we are a people made up of numerous religions, atheism, secularism, and so much more, why should we be surprised that the USA is not as Christian as it once was?

Regardless of what you think the USA was, it certainly cannot be labeled a Christian nation now (I would note however that Jesus died to save people from every tribe, tongue, and nation, not for a nation. Part of the beauty of the church is that it is made up of all nations.). A Christian nation can really only be accomplished by force (I’m thinking of Christian nation here in the sense of Constantine or the later Crusades); though any Christian worth his salt knows that no one can be forced to become a Christian by man. One must be born again to truly become a Christian. So, having a Christian nation should not be our concern; however, what we should be after is having a nation full of Christians (as well as a world full of Christians).

These days in Christian circles I often here people bemoaning the secularization of the USA, but if we’re honest I think we’d have to say that what we are experiencing is more of a pluralization than a secularization. And while I never want to celebrate sin, I do think we have much to celebrate. Though I strongly advocate world missions, one can’t help but see that our own neighborhoods have truly become mission fields, with peoples from all around the world, who believe all sorts of things living within walking distance from our homes. So instead of longing for a Christian nation why not walk in glad submission to Christ’s commands and be about the work of making disciples? For that is our only hope of having a nation full of Christians, and that is far better than a Christian nation.

Strangers and Exiles

No doubt, it is becoming increasingly unpopular to be Christian in the USA, but that has by and large been the state of affairs for Christians throughout church history. This is why Peter says that we-the church are elect exiles and sojourners in this world (1 Peter 1:1, 2:11). The author of Hebrews says we are strangers and exiles, for here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come (Hebrews 11:13, 13:14). Jesus Himself said that though we are in the world we are not of the world just as He is not of the world (John 17:16). So, there will always be a sense in which we are strange because we are strangers in this world, until Christ returns and fixes this broken world. And as strangers we shouldn’t be surprised that we aren’t always welcomed in this world.

And along with that, though we should always seek to make as many disciples out of the world around us as we can, we should expect to be the minority in this world. Jesus said, “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:14). In Matthew 13 Jesus tells a parable about four different soils that seed was sowed on. The soils represent people and the seed represents the gospel. Of all the seed that was sowed only one soil received the seed and produced grain. In other words only one out of the four people who heard the gospel received it rightly. This illustrates the truth of the narrow gate. In this in-between time, while we are waiting on the return of Christ, Christians will be the minority, and as such we shouldn’t be surprised when the majority doesn’t think like we do, act like we do, or the like.

Missionary Identity

Though there is certainly an aspect of the church that is established in this world—because we are in this world, by and large the identity of the church is that of a missionary. We are pilgrims on a journey, we are strangers away from our homeland, but we are not without a mission. We have to re-embrace our missionary identity as a church. Think about that for a moment; a missionary is someone who willingly lays down their comforts, their rights, their conveniences and goes out into the land of the lost, into exile with the gospel to see the lost saved and disciples made. A missionary willingly pours out their life for the fame of Christ among people who might never have heard of Christ if not for their willingness to suffer for the cause of the gospel. This is the identity we must embrace.

Please, don’t misunderstand me, politics and public policy are important, but we mustn’t expect too much out of a system of this broken world, and we mustn’t lose sight of what’s most important. If you truly desire this nation to become more Christian then there has to be more Christians in it. And that will only happen when we embrace our missionary identity and begin making disciples of all peoples. But even then, we should expect to be the minority. That being the case our focus should be on the Great Commission not establishing (or reclaiming) a great nation.

A Biblical People

With it being an election year, politics and all that comes with presidential debates have been all over the news and the internet. It’s easy to get discouraged. But we must remember that our primariy citzenship is in the kingdom of heaven. While we should certainly do our part to participate as faithful citizens in this democratic republic, we must not let that trump our primary citzenship. And as kingdom citizens we must remember that our hope is in the only perfect leader—King Jesus, not in any presidential canidate.

But not only must we remember all of this, we again must remember our identity as that of soujourners and exiles on a mission to make disciples of all peoples. As we embrace our missionary identity, seeking to walk in glad submission to all that Christ has commanded us, we will find that we truly are sojourners and exiles in this world. I see it happening everyday. Brothers and sisters whom I admire and look up to are accused by the so called conservative right of being liberals… Why? Because (from what I can tell) they are trying to be faithful to all that God’s Word calls them to. And likewise, for the same reason, the so called liberal left accuses them of being finatics. I would simply accuse them of being faithful Christians—of being the Biblical people God has called them to be.

None of this is suprising though. This is what God’s Word tells us will happen. We are strangers in this land. When we seek—by God’s grace—to be faithful Christians we will find that we no longer fit into the categories of this world. We aren’t conservative Republicans, nor are we liberal Democrats; we are Christians… We are not the American church; we are the church in America, and there is a big difference. We are not of this world and we are not of this country. We desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one (Hebrews 11:16). “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14).

Conclusion

After explaining to the church that they are strangers and exiles in this world Peter says, “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). So, let’s not be a people who grumble and reminisce about the good old days when stores were closed on Sunday and little league teams didn’t practice on Wednesday night. Let’s be a people who joyfully pour out our lives for the fame of Jesus among all peoples; for that is the only hope of this nation and the rest of the world. God’s people armed with God’s gospel are what will bring lasting change in this world. We can and should engage in the public square through politics and the like through a Christian-worldview, but if we hope to see true lasting change we must count the cost—embracing our identity as missionaries, and walk in glad submission to Christ’s commands, proclaiming His excellencies among all peoples.

But if you do this—if you count the cost and seek to truly live in glad submission to Christ’s commands, count it not strange when you are shunned from the right and the left. Christians are soujourners and exiles—we are strangers in this world because we are not of this world. We are not at home currently, therefore we shouldn’t expect to be treated as if we were. We are pilgrims on a journey to a far greater country, seeking to glorify our King by living lives of love and bringing as many people with us to our homeland as possible. May we choose to be mistreated with the people of God instead of settling for the fleeting pleasures of sin. May we consider the reproach of Christ greater wealth than all the treasures of this world.

By Pastor Nick Esch