No Country but the Kingdom

I belong to a church that began as a church of and for German immigrants. It’s a congregation that’s proud of its German heritage. The nativity story is still told in German on Christmas Eve. Hymns occasionally include a verse in German. Events have German roots.

It’s also a congregation that’s proud to be in America. On one side of the chancel, right next to the pulpit, is an American flag. On the other side, next to the lectern that holds the Bible, is a POW/MIA flag. In the little chapel that’s hardly used for anything are plaques listing congregation members who have fought in wars.

It’s an interesting tension. No one in the congregation – that I’m aware of – is originally from Germany. But they hold onto that heritage and that pride. There are no plaques for recent wars like Iraq or Afghanistan. But there is a great deal of patriotism. It is a congregation that is proudly German and proudly American.

(And, though they may not realize it, proudly several other nationalities as well).

It’s not the only congregation that’s like this. A current of patriotism runs under while American Christianity.

And that has always made me uncomfortable.

Don’t get me wrong. I am often proud of my country. I am grateful that I have the freedoms that I have. I am grateful to the people who worked hard and took great risks so that I could enjoy the life I lead here in America.

I am also often ashamed of my country. I know that much of what we have here was built on the backs of others. I know that much of what we have here is not evenly or fairly distributed to the people. I know that we have – collectively, as a nation – done terrible things to far too many people.

But the bigger and more important point is this: the church is not American. The church is not German or Russian or Indian or Malawian. The church has no country but the kingdom. And, as a Christian, my first loyalty is to that kingdom.

As long as my country is prioritizes good news for the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, and freedom for the oppressed, I will be proud and supportive. As long as my country feeds the hungry, gives drink to the thirsty, welcomes the stranger, clothes the naked, cares for the sick, and walks with the imprisoned, I will be proud and supportive. As long as my country cares for the least of these, I will be proud and supportive.

And as long as my country does not do those things, I will work in love to convince it to do those things.

The church, of course, should always do those things, and worship should prepare us for that work. I understand the impulse to patriotism. I understand the desire to have flags in the sanctuary. I understand remembering the people who were called to war. But the church needs call us to the work that transcends country: delivering – and being – the gospel of Jesus Christ.