This is how I would define the following two words, one of which I believe is healthy for a Christian to espouse and the other not:
Nationalism: To strongly identify with one’s own nation and interests, viewing it and its interests as superior to all others (extreme).
Patriotism: Being proud of being a part of one’s country (moderate).
Why am I writing about these? It harbours back to my last election post, that Christians are ultimately citizens of heaven and not our place of earthly residence (Phil 3:20).
This means that nationalism is a form of idolatry, where what we worship and serve is the shiny idol of our state or nation. That is not something a Christian ought to be caught up in. Patriotism, on the other hand is something Scripture affirms, so long as we recognise our ultimate citizenship is in heaven. Here are three Biblical examples:
a) During the exile the Old Covenant people of God were called to establish themselves in the cities where God had put them (Jer 29:5, 28). He further commanded them, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you…” (Jer 29:7a).
b) At Pentecost (Acts 2), the Spirit brought into the Kingdom Jews who had become members of many different nations as a result of the Exile. They then went back to their countries to live as members of those communities but ultimately to point people to Christ and the greater citizenship they could have in Him. This missionary result of Pentecost reminds us of the Great Commission and that Heaven will be filled with believers from every tribe, nation and language.
c) In Ro 10:1–2 Paul prays for the salvation of his fellow ethnic Jews, lamenting that concerning their Messiah they are misguided, yet still loving his kinsmen and desiring what is best for them.
Passages such as these teach us it is right to love one’s people, yet wrong to see them as greater than our ultimate citizenship and the worship that is due the Lord. There are many reasons why I’m proud to be a Christian-Canadian (like pumpkin pie and the great outdoors). There are also many reasons, which I began to be conscious of in 2005, for which I am not (for righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a reproach to any people, Prov 14:34).
Christians are called to love the good in our culture and abhor the bad (Ro12:9).
Christians are called to live within our societies as outstanding civic members (1 Pet 2:13–17).
Christians are to be the most patriotic members of their country, remembering that the most patriotic thing to do for one’s country is to promote that which is spiritually best for it, that is the Kingdom of God.
The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,