"Is patriotism biblical?" — Nicodemus

"No one can serve two masters." Jesus said this about money, but it applies to all forms of power. Someone or something will always take top place, and everything else in our lives will start conforming to its rule.

God has knit most of us into communities that call on Christ as Lord -- even Lord of lords. Only when we serve him as our one master are we of any use to him. So we subject every demand of every authority to Jesus’ supreme authority. We "do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God" (1 John 4:1).

Many spirits are contending for our loyalties. Let's call some of these "spirits of patriotism." Do they pass the test of Christ (1 John 4:2-3)?

Soon after the beginning, Genesis shows us an earth inhabited by a quilt of peoples (Gen. 10). These peoples are distinguished by family, language, land, and ethnicity (Gen. 10:31).

At the very end, Revelation shows us a new earth, still inhabited by a quilt of peoples (Rev. 21:4). Revelation promises a future that somehow honors our current identities as families that speak common languages, inhabit certain areas, and share particular ways of life. If God is redeeming us -- not just as "souls," but as peoples -- then there must be something redeemable in the shared identities that distinguish us as peoples.

Biblical peoplehood is also political: The kings of the earth minister to God’s chosen people (Isa. 60:10), bringing their glory into the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:24). Perhaps even our governments are redeemable! That means that despite their failings, they can be loved, corrected, and even served in faithful submission (1 Pet. 2:12-17).

That loving service to the leaders and symbols of one's country is something like what we call "patriotism."

However, we need to remember that this new world order arrives after the old world has endured fifteen chapters of hell. This hell is the work of authorities that have demanded for themselves loyalties that belong only to God (Rev. 13). These powers grow suspicious and even violent when we don't put them first. They demand devotion and sacrifice, and punish those who obey laws prior to their own. To submit to them is to forsake Jesus as Lord.

That loving service to the leaders and symbols of one's country is also something like what we call "patriotism."

We don't test spirits of patriotism with gut reactions. Nor do we rely on civil authorities, academic guilds, parents, polls, or pundits. All these may be helpful to the testing process, but they cannot make the final call. We have no promises from Jesus that they are any more trustworthy than Ouija boards. In fact, all of them played some role in sending Jesus to the cross -- and in the name of patriotism!

However, we do have Jesus' promise to come alongside us and guide our judgment when we gather in the context of a community, ruled by the Word, that holds itself accountable (Matt. 18:18-20). Americans, Afghans, and the rest of the world's peoples will only truly honor our respective authorities when we put Jesus first. Only then can we resist rather than practice idolatry, enter the heavenly city, and minister to Israel.

You might have preferred a laundry list of particular practices (serving in the armed forces, registering as conscientious objectors, paying taxes, offering humanitarian aid, supporting retaliation, protesting retaliation) with my personal thumbs-up or thumbs-down. But exchanging discernment for punditry doesn't really test the spirits, does it?

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