What does an American Christian look like?  That’s a question I’ve been struggling with lately, as I attempt to parse out the ideals of American culture from the ideals of scripture.  How much of the modern American Christian is actually compatible with scripture, and how much of it have we twisted to keep our lives convenient?  That’s a very good question, and one that’s often applied, rightly so, to materialism and a resistance to living sacrificially for God.  But another problem that’s almost as common in our culture: the American rebel.

It’d be hard for this not to be a part of American culture, to be quite frank.  The nation was founded through revolutionary war, and that image has stuck with our culture through the years, regardless of the rebel’s intent.  You have to look no further than the biggest pop culture hits of recent decades to see how the rebel is praised.  The Hunger Games, Star Wars, and Divergent are all examples of films and books that rely heavily on the appeal of the one rising up against the establishment.  We can understand and appreciate the sentiment behind fighting oppressive regimes, and why that resonates.

But here’s the problem: it’s not a very Christian thing to do.

I’m not at all saying that we can’t watch Star Wars or similar films.  I am saying, however, that we need to reevaluate our cultural values when it comes to these kinds of narratives, and even more importantly, when it comes to our reaction to oppression.  It was during the reign of Nero when Paul wrote in Romans 13 to be “subject to the ruling authorities.”  Jesus himself told the people to pay taxes in Luke 20, and I highly doubt Rome had a particularly fiscally responsible government.

And yet, the disease of the American rebel has infiltrated the church, especially, it seems, among conservative, Bible-believing congregations.  I remember clearly a conversation I had with a peer of mine, who told me with complete sincerity that the president had no authority over him because of the structure of the Constitution, and as a result, Americans were not bound to be subject to the president or laws he institutes.

What this shows is a glaring case of American exceptionalism.  We have convinced ourselves that we are more special than the rest of the world, and that this special structure somehow exempts us from scriptural principles that God himself instituted.  But here’s a newsflash: we aren’t in charge.  We don’t run the country.  You can argue all day about democracy  and how great constitutional republics are, but the bottom line is that you and I are subject to the governing authorities, and that’s not us.  And if there could ever be any doubt about this, 1 Thessalonians 4:11 sums it up nicely: “aspire to live quietly.”

But, you know, that’s just not the American way.  So instead of living quietly and being in submission to the governing authorities except where doing so explicitly goes against the will of God, we’ll yell about our rights being violated and cheer for the guy who refuses to submit, as if it were some inherently Christian virtue.

But speaking of what’s Christian, when did Christ get upset?  When his human rights were ignored and he was beaten and crucified for a crime he didn’t commit?  When he was denied the right to fair trial?  When he was arrested without a warrant?  When people tried to kill him even before he arrived in Jerusalem?

No.  When people were abusing his father’s temple in John 2, that’s when he was upset.  So if we’re looking to parse out American ideals from Christian ideals, look at the way Jesus acted.  Did he point out what they were doing when his rights were violated?  Sure.  But Jesus accepted that he was to be persecuted, and responded with grace and humility.  In fact, he even told us to do the same: “”Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5:11-12.

If we actually believe the Bible, then it’s time to start acting like it.  Even if it means putting up with bad politics and enduring persecution.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Two questions

    1- How does living quietly and in peace with all manifest itself if the governments/authorities are raping your women and beating and subjugating you daily? If we are to live as Jesus specifically called, then are we to do what he did, and what the christians of the first century did, and that is die?

    2- Regarding the 2nd to last sentence, “If we actually believe the Bible, then it’s time to start acting like it” is concerning to me. Are you talking about the WHOLE Bible there? Joshua and Judges, and many passages in the Old Testament speak of war and violence, and similarly Revelation has very bleak and violent imagery. On the other hand, are you speaking of believing Jesus, and that we should start acting like it?

  2. Yes, I agree with a portion of your premise, of which I believe is the bulk of your theme, but I cannot follow all your logic to its conclusion. I think, mostly, your point was the glorification of the rebellious heart is not what a nation should be built upon, from a Christian perspective, and finds itself in much of the troubles we find ourselves, today. This is a truth that I will not attempt to refute, but there is a bigger truth that shares no place in your article.
    Say someone bursts into your home and demands you quit your job and, now, work for them. Oh, and , by the way, make me a sandwich. As a Christian,do you humbly comply? We are removing all fear of violence from this equation and asking such questions only on a philosophical level. Then, you would remind me that this is a thug and not my government, of which you pointed out Scriptures demand I obey. Scripture is clear in Matt. 5: 39-44 that these individuals, that exercise authority not given them upon you, must be equally complied with. This is a clear expression of what Christ has left us on earth to do-be His servants. Now, from my statement, you would assume that I am in favor of complete capitulation to whatever king, president or despot that floats our way. No, because that servanthood, that we are called to, does not define it’s realm of service by the boundaries set by man. We are on kingdom work and that kingdom is not of this world, for now. Our commands come from above and our allegiance to our only, true king-Jesus. We will comply with the dictates of thugs or presidents in the small areas of freedom, not governed by God, for the sake of showing the selfless soul, now granted us in salvation by Jesus Christ.There are hundreds of thousands of people being hurt by human laws and in a representative/Constitutional republic, like ours, the tools to end the hurting is in our hands. Is it “Christian” to ignore the issue and allow the wheels of government to keep on spinning unchallenged or is the reflection of Christ seen more in the assistance to the poor, the forgotten, the disenfranchised? Maybe, there will be no change from any efforts made, but, as with evangelism efforts, it is in a life dedicated to the good cause of Christ that is the glory given and the results are, as always, in the hands of God. To cut yourself off from the process in your own land and to leave them in the feeble hands of governments is to open yourself up
    to accountability to God.

  3. “I remember clearly a conversation I had with a peer of mine, who told me with complete sincerity that the president had no authority over him because of the structure of the Constitution, and as a result, Americans were not bound to be subject to the president or laws he institutes.”

    You need to re-think this, my friend. Presidents don’t enact laws (that’s the job of Congress). Romans 13 is a general statement which presupposes that gov’t is behaving reasonably. Refusing to obey when they do otherwise is clearly established as morally permissible in Acts 5.

    As for self-defense: “36 And He said to them, “But now, [e]whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and [f]whoever has no sword is to sell his [g]coat and buy one.”

    • Reasonability has absolutely nothing to do with it. Acts 5 provides for acting otherwise when the commandment is to act against God. And show me where in Romans 13 it ever says “as long as they’re being perfectly reasonable.” You won’t find it. The qualifications placed on this passage are placed by men, not by God.

      • I am really wondering what Bible you are residing. Was there a fire that burned portions of your Romans 13? First, we must realize these passages, wherever found in the New Testament, are uttered by government defying, culture defying, religion defying individuals. This is “reasonable” , since they are followers of One killed as an enemy of the state. Then, Romans 13 does say “submit”, but then goes on for verse after verse to describe the kind of government you would submit to. Yes, a government like we haven’t seen in a long time. It is important to ask two big questions: “How accountable are you before God for the evils of a government, that you are subjecting yourself to?” and “What of those countless people hurt by that evil government, when you can render aid by your resistance?”. Jesus said that when we ignore those hurting we are ignoring His hurting and, even worse, if we stand shoulder to shoulder with that government afflicting them. Don’t you think.

  4. OK. So, having said all that, I’d be curious to hear your take on the American Revolution itself. How does it stand up to the principles you’ve laid out in your article? Was it God-ordained, or not?

    • I would never say it was “God-ordained” for two reasons: 1. Because we have no revelation or other reason to think that it was the specific will of God to both cause and affirm all aspects of the American revolution and 2. Because America is not God’s chosen people, even though we sometimes act like we are.

      Now, as to whether or not it was justifiable/sinful for the founding fathers to engage in the Revolutionary War, I hesitate to draw a firm line in the sand. An argument *could* be made that Britain never had sovereignty in the new world and were extending their actual God-given authority and so Romans 13 doesn’t apply. I’m not yet sure what I think of that argument.

      However, if I were a settler in that time period, I would have a hard time justifying rebellion against Britain. That’s not to say that I as a modern-day American think Britain was in the right. I identify politically as a libertarian, so of course I don’t think Britain was in the right. But theologically I probably would not have seen rebellion as a justifiable course of action for a Christian. This is definitely an unpopular stance, but I think it’s the most consistent one, given these passages.

    • Clearly, from the taking of Canaan by the Israelites, God justifies nations taking over other nations, but the crux of our original thesis was the “rebel heart” involved in Christians or even the church taking over nations. The founding fathers went about declaring sovereignty from England by the book. The Declaration of Independence, besides being a beautiful articulation of how America was to be unique, was an official statement to the crown that we were no longer their subjects. All this could never be applicable to the singular Christian or even the universal church. Our authority is not in the secular realm( that is until the Millinial kingdom), but our position is to be “salt” and “light” on those with such authority. This is where civil disobedience by believers is possible. Much different from the overthrow of a government, but the Christ-like influence on our governmental leaders. There are plenty of causes out there that are activists because of the rebel heart, but Christian causes should be devoid of that. It is not that we are rebelling against their authority, but that we are choosing to acknowledge God’s authority first.

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