Which is the best way to evangelize the United States?
Or the Gospel?
Most people of faith would - or should - automatically choose the Gospel, right? Yet, an increasing number of people who call themselves born-again Christians seem to get more excited over a bunch of dead white guys than the living, reigning Son of God.
As if we didn't already have enough partisan acrimony in the United States, this new crop of right-wing activists is politicizing religion through a movement I'm going to dub "patriotanity." It's the mixing of Founding Father hero worship and pick-n-choose Christian morality with a twist of hard-line capitalism. Unfortunately, although it sounds like it could work, the combination creates an elixir which dilutes everything good in each of its ingredients.
Not that proponents of patriotanity have bad intentions. They want what many people want for the United States: freedom, affluence, and control. The problem is that none of these things are guaranteed to followers of Christ.
The freedom Christ promises His followers isn't political, but spiritual. God doesn't say money is a sin, but loving it sure is. And Christ plainly teaches that anyone who wants to control his life will lose it.
It's right and good to abhor evil in our society, and work against it. But which is the more effective way of doing that: establishing a new theocracy in the United States, or creating disciples of Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit?
And don't scoff when I say proponents of patriotanity want to create a new theocracy. It's the only explanation for their worldview.
Abusing God's Word
Take, for example, my recent discovery of The American Patriot's Bible, which was published a couple of years ago.
Ostensibly, it's a celebration of how God has blessed the United States through the leadership of Bible-believing Colonists. Woven between legitimate Bible texts can be found factoids and short articles regarding great events and personalities from American history. But practically and literally, it's simply a contrivance to wrap the cross of Christ in the Stars and Stripes.
There's already been enough controversy over the recent trend by booksellers to re-package the holy Word of God into themed gimmicks for sports fans, businesspeople, empty-nesters, students, new parents... basically, everybody for whom the Bible is already wholly adequate. So questioning whether adding sound bites from the likes of retired General Colin Powell and the founder of Colgate-Palmolive to the Bible - which is what has happened in The American Patriot's "Bible" - is unnecessary.
It should be noted, however, that not only are the historical stories sprinkled amongst the holy Scriptures unnecessary, their very content can be borderline heretical. One of the sample selections about patriots details the "Four Chaplains" who were killed in World War II. One was Jewish and another Roman Catholic, yet this "Bible" lumps them all together as "men of God."
Can that be done theologically, since it is likely the Jewish and Catholic chaplains didn't believe in Jesus Christ as their savior? This account took up a whole page in the Patriot's "Bible," which makes me suspicious about what other fallacies are included.
Oops! Here's another one! On page 1217, a tribute to the Bill of Rights is prefaced with John 8:36, which says "if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed." But is the freedom of Christ a political freedom? Of course not! Plus, not even the original Bill of Rights granted political freedom to women and blacks. A key document of our government it may be, but a divine mandate it is not.
The Bible Isn't Just for Americans
What particularly appalls me about this Patriot's "Bible" is its unabashed attempt to promote a version of American history - that is not inerrant - using the infallible integrity of God's Word as an endorsement. The Bible is sacred. American history is not.
Even if there was no dispute in America's evangelical community as to the orthodox, Holy-Spirit-led development of the United States as a Christ-honoring republic, there is absolutely no justification for promoting such a viewpoint with the Bible. Doing so trivializes the very authority God's Word is being banked on to lend credibility to this book.
Remember, the holy Scriptures were not written especially for Americans. God did not divinely inspire the writers of the Canon to document His Gospel for our benefit alone. The histories of many European countries, for instance, are littered with heroes of faith, yet none of them dared to claim God liked their nation best.
I don't doubt that many of the good things with which America has been blessed have come as people in this country have sought to serve God rather than man. And I don't deny that capitalism provides one of the most lucrative mechanisms to achieve high standards of living. But the only people for whom America is the promised land are those with no hope of eternity with Christ.
In Whom Do You Believe?
Please don't get caught up in the thin theology and weak doctrine which purports to undergird patriotanity. It's admirable that so many of our Founding Fathers incorporated statements of affirmation concerning God and the Bible, but that's not the same thing as proclaiming Christ as your Lord and Savior.
Believing the Bible is the word of God isn't enough to save anybody. Nowhere in the Bible is anyone guaranteed faith by only believing God wrote it. Even Satan himself knows more about the Bible than we do. But he doesn't trust in Christ as the Son of God and Savior of His elect. Take the Apostle John's word for it: "These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, you might have life in His name." - John 20:31. We have life in Christ's name by believing that He is the Son of God. Not by the "things that are written."
Yes, America has had an incredible history. Yes, I'm grateful to be an American, and I want to see my country and its people thrive and prosper. Yes, I am concerned about the downward spiral of morality in our society, and yes, I'm convinced our government needs to be downsized, and our citizenry needs to be individually and collectively held accountable for its actions.
But can we fix the problems we have in our country by trying to convince Americans how Godly our Founding Fathers were? Has any country in history ever managed to right its ship of state by codifying theocratic principles? Just as Christ didn't come to establish a human government, so the faith of our Founding Fathers - whatever it was - won't change our government today.
Do we evangelize because Billy Graham is a noteworthy evangelical? Of course not. Then why should we evangelize because we believe George Washington was born-again? Nobody's faith can save anybody else. Nobody's faith can encourage a country to be more moral. And nobody's faith can convince politicians to eradicate entitlement programs.
Discipleship can change people, and in the process, people can engender changes within a society as they walk by faith in Christ. But why rely on what the Founding Fathers may have believed? Look to Christ in faith. Seek to honor Him. Then watch Him work.
America's hope isn't in a bunch of dead white men. Our Savior is alive!
Glory, glory, hallelujah! It's HIS truth that marches on!