This is one of the longest words in our languages (and also very hard to say many times fast!).
It, along with its antonym, disestablishmentarianism, is what this post is about.
We live in a time of heightened individualism. Even institutions like the state are now commonly and even brazenly flouted. This tension has been heightened during the pandemic, with some heeding government orders and others protesting or even rebelling against them.
How ought Christians to respond to governments during a pandemic? During church closures?
There is certainly a wide spectrum of opinions on the matter of closures, with some radically wanting to keep things shut and others radically wanting things to open (I’m probably in the middle leaning towards cautious reopening). Wherever your opinion rests, such a reflection raises the question of how Christians should respond to government orders.
Jesus famously, and very helpfully said, in Mt 22:21: give to Caesar [the gov’t] the things that are Caesars and to God the things that are God’s. In other words, there is the kingdom of this world which is ending and the Kingdom of God which has come/ is coming. There are two worlds, two cities; yet Christians live in both and so have a responsibility to God, firstly, but also to authorities whom God has set over us for our good. The general principle is that if the authorities ask anything of us that is contrary to God’s law then we are justified in thoughtfully disobeying; but if they ask us to do something that doesn’t go against God’s law we are called to submit, even when we may not like it. This is the spirit of Ro 13 and 1 Peter 2:13–5.
When it comes to the pandemic and church closures, if only churches were asked to close and not Mosques and Synagogues, then there would be an anti-Christian streak in the order that ought not to be obeyed. However, it is a level playing field with all public gatherings and though my thoughts or your thoughts may be this or that on the subject, whether we find it hard or believe otherwise, the government believes it for our good, it doesn’t contravene God’s law (for we have found creative, though imperfect, ways to fellowship by means of technology) and so we must submit.
But submission, the very word a foul stench in society’s dictionary, ought not to be for the Christian. We are called to gladly submit to God appointed authorities so long as they do not ask of us anything that goes against God’s laws (It is an act of faith/trust): I, as a pastor, submit to Christ; Christians are called to submit to their church elders; wives to husbands; children to fathers and mothers; employees to employers and all to the state; and even to fellow believers. When we are disestablishmentarians our hearts are filled with pride, rebellion, self-centredness, anger… Yet when we joyfully submit in faith to who God has called us to submit to, beginning with Himself, the Spirit produces in us love, peace, contentment and joy.
So whatever and whomever the Lord may be calling us to submit to today, may we do so as Christians cheerfully. And whether it be to governments, employers or churches, may our respect to them and God’s word enhance our reputation to the glory of Christ.
 I’m thinking here of churches that have rebelled against government closure orders. They have lost the respect of civil leaders. When persecution comes for other moral matters, they will not be remembered favourably. However, I pray that as the vast majority of Christians have submitted to these orders, the Lord would use this favourably in our civil leaders eyes when they think about persecuting the respectful and obedient for matters which we cannot agree to their laws, laws that God against God’s laws, that they would think twice and remember how we submitted, for a long time, by forgoing our Lord’s Day and other gatherings, so dear to us, out of obedience to them and our Lord.
One of the most patriotic things you can do for your country as a Christian is to pray. We as believers have special access to the throne of grace to plead on behalf of our nations and their leaders.
[Pray] for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.
That is what Paul instructs Timothy to do in 1 Tim 2:2. Bearing in mind Paul’s earthly king was Caesar, a man who stood for everything contrary to what Paul stood for, it is an incredible thing that he commanded Timothy to pray for the Emperor and all those leaders in the Empire (and is in itself a reminder we ought to be sincere and not cynical towards our leaders, regardless of whether we agree with them). Central to why Paul prayed this was so the Christians could live in peace, but also for the peace that allowed Rome to exist, which enabled the Christians to share the Gospel throughout it. Certainly one prayer we ought to pray is that righteousness would prevail in our land and that the government might seek to foster that which would bring ultimate benefits as well as blessings from the Almighty. Canada, and our leaders, certainly need many prayers from His people to this end.
Proverbs 14:24 reminds us, “Righteousness exalts a people, but sin is a reproach to any people.” History bears this out. When nations have perused righteousness they have been blessed by the Lord. When they’ve hardened themselves to doing good and seeking Him the Lord has brought them low. Doing what is good and pleasing to God (righteousness), it lifts up a people, yet when we do what displeases God (sin) that is a reproach, that is a great statement of disapproval and disappointment. In other words if we glory in His ways then we will be glorious!
At present, our national anthem (originally part of a Protestant hymn), says, “God [the Christian God] keep our land, glorious and free.” Now one way to look at “glorious” and even “free” is to link them to the glory of the land, that is its beauty, natural resources, etc, and free meaning free from tyranny. Yet I would suggest the author probably had in mind Prov 14:24. That he prayed that as our land pursued righteousness we’d be glorious as we reflected God’s glory and were blessed because of it. That we’d be free as we walked in the Way of liberty as revealed in Scripture, and not be bound to sin and its awful effects.
It is a prayer every Christian should unite in praying today, that our nation would be true to its foundation as expressed in the—neglected—preface of our Constitution (1982): “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.” We can do our Patriotic duty and pray for our leaders, and pray the Lord would have mercy upon our land and turn us all back to Him, before we cease to be glorious or free because of the reproach of many sins.
The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,
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,
This week Andrew Scheer announced he was a dual citizen, Canadian and American. The Christian, however, is NOT a dual citizen of Canada and the Kingdom of God. This post is an attempt to help us remember this.
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Phil 3:20).
Paul wrote these words to the Christians in Philippi (the first church in Europe, where Lydia and the jailer had been converted, etc). This city became a Roman colony in 42 BC and became inhabited largely by army veterans. To be a colony of Rome meant that you were a little Rome outside of Rome. Citizens had special privileges like significant tax exemptions and rights to rich agricultural lands. The city also had everything you would expect in Rome (a theatre, forum, etc). Citizenship brought great blessings, as well as responsibilities. It could be something a Philippian Christian could see as so important that they placed greater emphasis on their identity as a citizen of a Roman colony than on their membership in the Kingdom of Heaven.
In Phil 1:27 Paul reminded the Philippian Christians “only let your manner of life as citizens be worthy of the Gospel of Christ.” As Canadian Christians our greatest allegiance is not to be to Canada but to Christ. Our model of behaviour is also likewise not to be found in Canadian culture but in Christ. This is how we should view our identity and this greater reality should inform our allegiance, values and decisions. Augustine noted the tension between being in the world but not of the world (c.f. Jn 17:16) in his book City of God, where the Christian has the reality of participating in two realms. In fact I would suggest we should not even view ourselves as Canadian citizens, though by virtue of being in the world we are Canadian “citizens.” Rather we should view ourselves for what we are—citizens of heaven. We belong to a different kingdom with a different King (though we still engage in society here and respect the authorities). The Bible emphasises we are ambassadors (2 Cor 5:20); we represent one kingdom in another kingdom. We are like a little heaven outside of heaven. More radically it even says we are aliens, foreigners or sojourners (1 Pe 2:11; just passing through this kingdom en route to our home country in the New Heavens and New Earth.
As such, rather than seeing ourselves as dual citizens (Canadian-Kingdom of Heaven), we ought to see ourselves as residents of Canada who are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. When I lived in the UK as a permanent resident I had some rights and responsibilities, but I was Canadian. The same is true for us as Christians. We are residents, but our citizenship is in heaven. Let us not forget this vital truth about our identity.
The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,
In an army mess there are two subjects that you are to avoid: politics and religion. When I served as a military chaplain I certainly couldn’t avoid the latter! As contemporary Christians, while we ought to be respectful of the personal political decisions of fellow believers, politics is not a realm to which the Bible is silent, nor is it one we shouldn’t come openly to Scripture as a Church. In this mini-series for the Canadian election of 2019 I hope, not to instruct you how to vote, but to reflect on Biblical principles that might inform your civic awareness. In case you’re still not at ease as to my being neutral and therefore able to objectively write on the topic I’ll declare that I’m a-political, my kingdom is not of this world, it is spiritual and its benevolent King is Lord Jesus.
Many seek the face of a ruler, but justice comes from the LORD. (Prov 29:29)
Many Christians in the West still look to politics to solve or sort out society. They think politics can “save us.” They place a lot of hope in the political process or their party (is it any wonder they are never satisfied! C.f. Ps 121). Promises are broken, politicking trumps principles and at the end of the day little has changed. Indeed, the failure of mainstream politics in the West to deliver is why many groups on the extreme left and right are flourishing.
In ancient days a monarch, usually a king, was both the law maker and the judge. Many people, from the nobles to the commoner, would seek his face, or audience, in the hopes that their financial gift or earnest plea might bring them into favour with the ruler so that what they hoped for would be secured. Just like today, in ancient days many sought a ruler to find salvation.
The beauty of this verse is that is reminds us that salvation (“justice”), the thing we look for from politicians, can only be found in the Lord. Whether it be a moral, economic, social or justice matter, if we put out ultimate hope in politics we will be a hopeless person. Whilst we should seek to influence the government as Christians for good, to put our ultimate hope there is misguided. As Canada has entered into the era of “post-Christianity” many Christians have come to wake up and smell the coffee and notice that we are not in Kansas anymore. No political party represents a Christian worldview any longer. People no longer believe the very preface of our Charter- “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.” It is any wonder then that conservatism, liberalism, socialism, etc, do not wholly stand for truth, but only aspects of the values of Biblical Christianity. Conservatives seek to be sound fiscal stewards but no longer stand for moral issues nor care for the poor. Liberals may give invest in often misguided social projects but have godless ideological moral principles and are not prudent financially. The NDP are very much like the liberals, just more radical on some points. The Greens want to care for Creation (though they don’t use those words), which is good (Gen 2:15), but are like the Liberals and NDP on many other matters.
A recognition that all of the “isms” of politics won’t save us, prepares us to do at least two things that can make real change: prayer and evangelism. Seeking justice for our country from the Lord through prayer can be used by Him to make real change in society (1 Chr 7:14). Sharing the Gospel and transforming hearts, rather than a top down political approach, will be a bottom up grassroots transformation that will attune people with the Lord’s will, one heart at a time.
William Wilberforce came to this conclusion. He was frustrated as to why the British wouldn’t end slavery when everyone was “Christian.” It was because most were only nominally Christian. As an evangelical Anglican he became more and more involved in Christian affairs, even publishing the best-selling book Real Christianity (1797), which was such a challenge to nominal Christianity that the Lord saw fit to use it in the 18th Century revival, which saw the hearts of the masses changed for Christ. Then, and only then, was Wilberforce able to lead the British to end slavery in 1833. It took time and it took place from the bottom up. If we want to see real transformation in Canadian society it needs Jesus.
Want to really make a difference this election: prayer and share the Gospel.
The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,
 You may enthusiastically support a mainstream political party, believing it holds the best solution to bettering the nation, but I hope this article may temper your enthusiasm; you may choose to vote for the lesser of the “evils”; you may vote on a single issue or for a local candidate and not a national party; or you may choose to register a vote of discontent (my default in post-Christian Canada). Because we live in a democracy, and because of passages such as Ro 13, 1 Ti 2:2, 1 Pe 2:13–14, I believe it is a Christians' civic duty to the Lord to vote and so I don’t see not voting as an option.
 That said, if I had to state my political leanings I would describe myself as a “red Tory”; someone who is morally and judicially conservative, fiscally sound and socially responsible. Such was William Wilberforce, but he had the luxury to sit as an independent and so vote with his conscience.