While we have seen a more recent call to “Christian Nationalism” (CN will be used to denote “Christian Nationalism” here after), this doctrine and variants of it are nothing new on the scene of the Christian Church. The fact is, recent calls to “CN,” in the hopes of restoring the declining culture of the West, is not seated in thorough biblical doctrine but is a result of a mix of reactionism and philosophical systems applied to Scripture.
It may seem as though the statements made in the previous paragraph are harsh, but when we consider the historical development of “CN” and what the Church actually is under the New Covenant of the Lord Jesus Christ as revealed to us through Scripture, it very well may be that my choice of words above are not harsh enough. The fact is, if at any point we develop doctrine that is not step-in-step with what God has revealed to us through His Son, we are in sin and repentance is needed.
When I was a child, “CN” was a doctrine that plagued the church in the west. It was often said by many preachers in the U.S. that our nation was a “Christian” nation and we needed to see more decisions for Christ if our nation were to maintain its status as a nation of God. This ideology stemmed largely from hardline dispensationalism which regarded certain nations in our current dispensation as “Christian.” In fact, the claim that the U.S. is “Christian” was deeply connected to our support of the Israeli state. The question posed by the Particular Baptists of my youth was, “Where in Scripture do we find this taught?”
It may surprise you to know that “CN” is not new on the scene of Christianity. In fact, it is an ideology that traces its roots all the way back to the Roman Empire. More specifically, Emperor Constantine’s “conversion” to Christianity as a political attempt to unite a fractured empire and the subsequent nationalization of “Christianity” over the next 100 years is when/where “CN” finds its origin among the gentiles. The Roman Catholic “church” gained its overarching religious and political authority throughout the world as a result of “CN” because baptism became a requirement for citizenship in the “new” Rome. And so, “CN” became the standard for the next 1000 years not because of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, but because of forced conversions to a religious system ruled by power hungry pastors, bishops, and the office of the pope (an office that became the replacement for the Roman Emperor).
In the very early church, recorded for us in New Testament Scripture, we find a form of “CN” battled against by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. Known as the Judaizers, this group of converted Jews sought to make Gentile converts obedient to certain aspects of Mosaic laws and customs. They were seeking to restore the Jewish state to greatness under Christ Jesus and obedience to the law of Moses. Their basic message was that faith and works were required for redemption from sin’s curse and to be included among the chosen people of God, the Hebrew state. However the apostolic writers of the New Testament understood that something altogether different was being done in and through Christ Jesus. This was a primary motivator for the apostle Paul to pen the epistle to the Galatians by the leading of the Holy Spirit. In no uncertain terms, Paul denounces what was being taught by the Judaizers throughout the letter to the Galatian church. Consider the following:
“We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid. For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” (Galatians 2:15-21)
The covenant that God made with Moses and the nation of Israel possessed within it the condition of obedience or suffer the just judgment of God against them for their disobedience. While the Mosaic Covenant pointed to the promised Seed and was used by God to ensure the line from Abraham to Christ, it was not itself the covenant of grace. The law of Moses was given to Israel by God specifically, as a national people. This is important when considering what the Judaizers were seeking to do and the arguments of the apostles against their error. The fundamental difference between Judaizer ideologies and the doctrine of Christ and His apostles is that the people of God were no longer bound by “CN” ideologies akin to a Mosaic national people, but by the risen living King who rules His redeemed on earth regardless of national boundaries. Going further, where national Israel was required to obey God at every point in order to maintain their possession of the land they had been promised, which they failed in multiple times, the people of God under Christ are maintained under the Covenant of Grace in and through the obedience of Christ Jesus:
“For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God. And inasmuch as not without an oath he was made priest: (For those priests were made without an oath; but this with an oath by him that said unto him, The Lord swear and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec:) By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament.” (Hebrews 7:19-22)
Fast-forward to the time of the Reformation. While very few reformed leaning people know or care to study church history before the Reformation, the fact remains that from the apostles to the time of Luther and Calvin, there were churches peppered throughout the known world who were neither Roman Catholic nor “Christian Nationalists.” While known by various names throughout history, the Waldensians are probably the most well known group today as they existed in Europe during the reformation of Luther and Calvin. In fact some of the men known as the “Reformers” wrote about them:
“THEODORE BEZA called the Waldenses the offspring of the purest part of the Ancient Christian Church, because they have been miraculously preserved from the errors and ignorance which Satan hath hatched in these latter times.”Perrin, Jean. History of the Ancient Christians: From AD 33 to the Reformation (p. 47). Brogden’s Books. Kindle Edition.
Initially, those churches in Europe that had remained outside of Rome sought to align themselves with what was happening during the time of the Reformation, until it was realized by them that the Reformers were seeking a religious movement connected to the civil magistrate. In other words, men like Calvin and Luther wanted a marriage between the Church and the civil government. While the reformers were doing great things in soteriological doctrine (the doctrine of salvation), ultimately the Waldenses and groups like them in Europe distanced themselves from the Reformers as a result of the reformers’ “Christian Nationalism.”
Most Reformed men I have spoken to do not understand that there were two fronts against which the reformers battled. The first front was against the church of Rome and the second front was against what they referred to as “radicals.” These radicals were made up of Waldenses and others outside of Rome who understood that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world and pushed back against a state sponsored church:
“It has been said of late that Luther was faced with a dilemma, the dilemma of wanting both a confessional Church based on personal faith and a regional Church including all in a given locality. It was this dilemma that gave rise to the Second Front. This dilemma was a cruel one. He who thinks of the Church as a community of experiential believers is bound to oppose him who thinks of it as a fellowship embracing all in a given territory; he who operates with the concept of the Church as a Society embracing all in a given geographic area must of necessity look askance at him who restricts the Church to the believing ones. The two views cannot be combined; one cancels out the other. In the one view the Church is Corpus Christi, the body of Christ, which consists of believing folk and of them solely; in the other view the Church is Corpus Christianum, the body of a “christened” society.””Verduin, Leornard. Reformers and Their Stepchildren (pp. 8-9). Brogden’s Books. Kindle Edition.
What does this all mean for us? The doctrine of “Christian Nationalism” is nothing new on the scene of Christendom. The plain fact is that from the first lie believed by our first parents in the garden to this very day, we want to be in control of our own destinies. This desire for control extends to our desires for government. However good or bad a civil government may be, our Christian hope must not be tied to our own temporal experience in a cursed world. The civil magistrate has no place in the garden of God! The church of the Lord Jesus Christ is made up of the citizens of His kingdom which He has purchased to Himself by His blood. This truth must affect our view of the world around us, as it is by this truth that we live as pilgrims in a foreign land.
Was Christ wrong? Do we know better? Does He need our help to establish His kingdom on earth? At every point these questions are answered by Scripture in the negative.
“Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.” (John 18:36)
“If then God so clothe the grass, which is today in the field, and tomorrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith? And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things. But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you. Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Luke 12:28-34)
“And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (2 Timothy 4:18)
If “Christian Nationalism” is a biblical New Testament doctrine, why did the Lord and His apostles constantly and consistently speak of the kingdom of Heaven? It seems to me that the only way one might be able to defend “CN,” is if one conflates the Mosaic Covenant and the Covenant of Grace. In practicum, “CN” doctrine must possess various aspects of its historic development beginning with the Judaizers who were condemned by the apostolic writers, the Constantinian shift of Rome that gave the world Roman Catholicism, and the civil doctrine of the Reformers who bore the marks of their previous Roman doctrinal heritage within their systematic theologies.
Here is a link to an excellent review of Stephen Wolfe’s new book from Cannon Press “The Case for Christian Nationalism” by Kevin DeYoung.