The Real Problem With Christian Nationalism

Bad arguments for correct positions often do more harm than good arguments for incorrect positions. This certainly seems to be the case with many of the popular criticisms against Christian nationalism. It’s not uncommon to read that Christian nationalism is wrong because “it suppresses minorities” or because “it is racist” or because it motivates political violence or “insurrection.

The problem with focusing only on the most unreasonable extremes is that it leaves the door open for Christians to adopt a more reasonable and balanced version of Christian nationalism. Many Christian nationalists simply believe that their government should look out for the best interest of its citizens, and the best way to do that is by encouraging their government to uphold godly values. They don’t try to suppress minorities, enforce Christianity by the force of law, and would never “storm the capital”. Since many of the popular attacks don’t accurately depict the most common forms of Christian nationalism, it’s no wonder why many find those attacks unconvincing.

Christian nationalism is wrong, but not for the reasons many popular arguments would have you believe. The real problem with Christian nationalism is that it misses the fundamental distinction between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world.

Before accepting Christian nationalism in any form whatsoever, I encourage you to carefully consider the following passages.

1 Samuel 8:1-22

Although God originally formed his people as the unique nation of Israel, they were different from other nations in that they had no king other than God himself. Eventually, the Israelites grew tired of being different and so they asked for a king “like the nations” (8:5). Why did Israel want a king? Because they wanted someone to fight their battles for them (8:20).

The problem with Israel’s nationalism was that of trust. Israel wanted a human ruler because they no longer trusted in God to continue to fight their battles. That’s why God viewed Israel’s request as a rejection of his own kingship (8:7). Ultimately, God gave them their request. Over the next several centuries, Israel’s nationalism led to continual political conflicts, failed alliances, and ultimately to exile.

This passage reveals something very important about how God views the nationalistic desire for governing authorities to fight our battles. While this passage makes it clear that God is the head of all rule and authority (cf. Col. 2:10), and he institutes them for his purposes (cf. Rom. 13:1), he does so only as a concession to humans who cannot trust in him to fight their battles for them. Since humans insist on having governments, God uses them as ministers to accomplish his purposes (Rom. 13:1-5). But this does not mean that God approves of them. Often times God used wicked nations (such as Assyria or Babylon) as his ministers to punish Israel, only to turn around and punish them for their evil (e.g. Is. 10:5-15). Governments are under the influence of Satan (Lk. 4:5-7), but nevertheless, when people turn to earthly rulers, God permits them to have their way and uses those governments to accomplish his purposes.

Jesus, on the other hand, rejected the devil’s offer to take control of the kingdoms of the world (Mt. 4:8-10), refused to use his power to secure political power, and ran away from those who tried to make him a king (Jn. 6:15). Jesus came to destroy Israel’s nationalism by breaking down the wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles (cf. Eph. 2:11-18).

Psalm 33:16-17

The king is not saved by his great army;
a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
The war horse is a false hope for salvation,
and by its great might it cannot rescue.

Even after God allowed Israel to have a king, he still opposed their nationalism. He stressed that the security and success of his people was not to be found in the king, but in God himself.

When David wrote “Blessed in the nation whose God is the Lord” (Ps. 33:12), he did so in the context of opposing Israel’s nationalism (which ironically is nearly the opposite of how many Christian nationalist will use the verse today.) David was saying that people are blessed when they trust in God to be their Lord as opposed to turning to earthly rulers (33:10-11).

Isaiah 40:15-17

Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
and are accounted as the dust on the scales;
behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust…
All the nations are as nothing before him,
they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.

Although this passage doesn’t necessarily forbid Christian nationalism, it should greatly reduce the temptation by reminding us of the greatness of the Lord’s sovereignty in comparison to the meaningless nations. When people believe that the nations hold supreme influence on the course of the world, it is understandable why they would place a good deal of importance on influencing those nations for good. But for those whose eyes are fixed on the Lord there is continual peace, for they know that regardless of what unfolds in politics, whether good or bad, the Lord will use the authorities as his ministers to accomplish his good purposes (Rom. 13:1-5).

Matthew 20:25-28

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The quest for ruling power characterizes the world, but it must not characterize Jesus’ disciples. Christian nationalism, even in its very best and most reasonable form, is ultimately about influencing earthly powers to govern and rule in a particular way. Christians should have no part in wielding this kind of power.

John 18:36-37

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not of this world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

When Jesus announced “My kingdom is not of this world,” Pilate then interpreted his words like many do today, as if Jesus was only speaking figuratively. He asked “So are you a king?” But Jesus, with no hint of confusion, weakness, or compromise responded, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born.”

Apparently, the idea of being a king and establishing a real kingdom was a big deal to Jesus. What’s more, this kingdom is primarily distinguished from the kingdom of the world in that its citizens do not fight in the same way citizens of earthly kingdoms fight.

Strangers and Foreigners

Most Christians believe in a two-kingdom concept in some form or another. Jesus made this clear in Matthew 22:15-22. The Pharisees in this passage tried to trap Jesus by asking him about the matter of paying taxes to Caesar. It is here that Jesus replied, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Most any Christian will acknowledge that there is a distinction between what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God, although they will sometimes disagree where that line of distinction is drawn. But the early Christians drew that line with a decisive stroke.

Peter spoke to Christians as if they did not belong to the earthly kingdoms in which they lived.

And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourself with fear through the time of your exile.

1 Peter 1:17

Peter would later refer to them as “sojourners and exiles” (2:11).

The book of Hebrews likewise encouraged Christians to follow the examples of those who by faith “acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” (Heb. 11:13). Paul held to the same ideas as can be seen in the following passage.

2 Timothy 2:3-4

Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian disputes, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.

Paul told Timothy that a Christian should view themselves as a loyal soldier in the Lord’s army, not distracted by concerns outside of his domain. He reminded Timothy that a soldier does not have the time, nor the right, to involve himself in the affairs of the country in which he finds himself. Why? Because his relationship to that county is that of a foreigner. Christian nationalism is no more appropriate for a Christian than German nationalism would be for an American soldier stationed in Germany.

Nationalism, in it’s most basic and defendable form, suggest that nationalism is reasonable because citizens are right to concern themselves with the affairs of their own country before concerning themselves with globalist affairs of foreign nations. Yet it is this very logic which renders Christian nationalism unreasonable since Christians are citizens of a different kingdom.

Christian Nationalism is Backsliding

Other scriptures could certainly be added to this list, but the point should be clear. Christianity isn’t merely non-nationalistic. It is anti-nationalistic. The early Christians didn’t merely fail to transform Rome into a Christian nation, they viewed themselves as strangers and exiles living in a foreign country. The Bible doesn’t merely fail to support Christian nationalism, it warns Christians against it.

Come out of her [Babylon] my people,
lest you take part in her sins,
lest you share in her plagues.

Revelation 19:4

Advancing God’s kingdom today requires that we remain distinct from the world (Jn. 15:19). Christian nationalism, in any form whatsoever, is backsliding because it blurs the line of distinction between the church and the world, between foreigners and citizens, and between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world. To seek to build up nations reverses what Jesus accomplished when he established a kingdom that would rule over all nations, and one day will ultimately triumph over all earthly rule and authority (1 Cor. 15.24).

Just as Old Testament Israel rebelled against God when they demanded a king, Christians express a lack of trust in God when they embrace Christian nationalism. Christians are citizens of a different kingdom (Phil. 3:20). It’s time we live like it.