Monday, April 19, 2010

Individualism vs Nationalism

Do American Christians place too much emphasis on spiritual individualism?

The Old Testament is a story of nations rising and falling: the nations of Israel and later Judah. The history is told from the perspective of individuals, but it seems to be bigger than that. God raises up a nation, and God destroys nations for their collective wickedness, Sodom and Gomorrah being the first examples to spring to mind. Egypt and the Canaanites took their separate beatings, too.

God is a big God. It makes sense that He would deal with (relatively) large entities like nations when meting out blessings and curses.

Do today's Christians ignore the idea of group servitude in favor of individual relationship? Some do.
It does appear that Christ, by His incarnation, ushers in a new understanding of relationship with God. God promised the Israelites they would one day worship Him in spirit and in truth. And with His death on the cross, the temple veil was torn, opening the way for each person to approach God without the need for a human high priest. Jesus is now our high priest and available to every Christian through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

But in the New Testament, Acts in particular, we see people-groups coming to salvation. Not nations anymore, but households, like the Roman centurion's and Lydia's. Is this just a poetic way of saying when the leader of a house comes to salvation it is likely the other members will follow? Perhaps.

The New Testament is full of examples of individual salvation, as well - individual choices to follow Christ. That's something I don't see so clearly in the Old Testament. Maybe I'm not understanding, but it seems in the beginning God chooses whom He will and those people suck it up and go along. It's a little more complicated than that, I'm sure, but that's the broad version.

So did God change? Did people change? Was it God's plan all along to start big and narrow His focus?

God doesn't change, and I've noticed people continue to make the same mistakes, both individually and collectively, so I must assume God's plan includes individuals as well as nations.

We do see God continually saving out a remnant. He picked Noah and his family out of all the people of the earth to live and repopulate the planet. He picked Abram to demonstrate His faithfulness throughout time. He picked Joseph to save a nation from famine and destruction, and Moses to bring it out of slavery. That's a God of both individuals and nations.

Let's not forget the New Testament focus on the Church. Each Christian is part of the greater "body" of Christ, and is expected to gather together for group worship, fellowship and service. This is one of the ways we demonstrate and experience our faith. God is a Triune Being, knowing perfect harmony and fellowship within Himself. Our gathering together is an example and faithful striving for that same experience. Since we remain flawed humans until the Rapture, we will fail, but that doesn't excuse us from trying.

My conclusion is this is a "both/and" rather than an "either/or" debate. We are individuals in the faith, knowing Christ personally and following Him daily. But we also express our faith collectively and our influence on our nation can be felt on a much larger level as a group than as individuals.

So we the American Church must take care to follow Christ's example in both nationalism and individualism. He is our Leader, after all, the Author and Finisher of our faith. We should be Christians first, then Americans. (Which is not to say we should not seek to affect our nation as Americans, but that is not my point with this post).

I say all this to say, pray for your church and your fellow Christians. Support them as you are able. Do not withhold good when it is in your power to do it.

And pray for our nation. For lack of 10 righteous men, Sodom was destroyed. God does not change. Let us hope we will allow Him to change us, that His mercy may be demonstrated once more on a national level, for the sake of a few.

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