BY Nick Park
(From the January - March 2018 issue of VOX)
In 1993, as a 30-year-old church planter, I caused uproar at a denominational conference in Wales. Why? Because I had pointed out the inappropriateness of a movement called ‘The Assemblies of God in Britain and Ireland’ launching a campaign under the slogan “Let’s make Britain great again!”
Speaker after speaker rose to rebuke me, insisting that God did indeed want Britain to be great again. And if such a slogan wasn’t helpful to a church planter in Drogheda then I should sit down and keep quiet.
Today, 24 years later, I still don’t think God has plans for Britain to be great. Nor do I think God is interested in making Ireland, or America for that matter, great again. The apostle Paul wasn’t interested in making the Roman Empire great. He was much too busy pressing on towards the high calling of Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14).
Combining nationalism and patriotism with Christianity doesn’t tend to end well. God told us a long time ago that He won’t share His glory with another (Isaiah 42:8). Trying to co-opt God to support nationalist agendas has often resulted in the blasphemous absurdity of clergy on either side of a conflict praying God’s blessing upon the slaughter of the opposing side.
Every so often, I hear someone insisting that we live in a Christian country, and that if we only returned to our Christian roots (which usually seems to involve enforcing our views on those of our neighbours who disagree with us) then God would make our country great again.
Don’t get me wrong. I love living and ministering in Ireland. I can’t think of anywhere else on earth where I would rather live out the rest of my days. I long for more Irish men and women to experience the freedom that comes from salvation in Christ. But, irrespective of what my passport might say, my citizenship is in heaven and my loyalty belongs to the Lord of lords and the King of kings, not to any of the nations of the world.
In 380 AD the Emperor Theodosius declared that the Roman Empire was now a Christian Empire. One of the immediate results of this was increased persecution of believers who lived outside the Empire. There had been Christians in Persia since the First Century, where they had enjoyed a good measure of toleration. However, Persia was an enemy of Rome, and now things changed dramatically. Persian Christians were viewed as potential traitors.
A great persecution ensued with large numbers of Persian believers being martyred.
In a cruel irony, Christians in the territory that was once part of the Persian Empire (including modern-day Iran, Afghanistan, and parts of Pakistan, Kuwait, Iraq, Chechnya, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia) face persecution today for the exact same reasons. Since the US is perceived by many to be a Christian country - a claim often made by Christian leaders - then that marks out Christians in the Middle East as potential traitors and targets for every militant who wants to strike against America.
In contrast to the siren calls for patriotic Christians to make their countries great again, God’s Word reminds us that we live as foreigners and exiles (1 Peter 2:11) who don’t really belong in this world. I suspect that such a message can be as unpopular today as when I first tried to articulate it 24 years ago.
Nick Park is Executive Director of Evangelical Alliance Ireland.