As Christians, we hold a dual citizenship. We have citizenship in an earthly country. I am a citizen of the United States. Proudly so. Notice that I did not say I am an American Citizen. There are two continents with the word “America” in their name. If I am an American citizen it is assumed that we mean we are citizens of the United States. But a Mexican, a Canadian, a Brazilian can all say equally with me that they are American Citizens.
I am also a citizen of Heaven. In Phillippians 3:20, Paul states “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (NASB) We are citizens of heaven. Our perspective is different. Our goal is the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (verse 14). Looking at verses 18-19 Paul states “They [non-Christians] are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their mind on earthly things.” Their goal, their “so-called” glory is diametrically opposed to our perspective. As Christians we view life through a different lens.
We have a balancing act to perform in dealing with our two citizenships. Never let us forget which one has the priority. Our ultimate allegiance is to Jesus, to the Kingdom of Heaven. A verse in Fernando Ortega’s song “Jesus King of Angels” sums it up well:
With all my heart I love You, Sovereign Lord
Tomorrow let me love You even more
And rise to speak the goodness of Your name
Until I close my eyes and sleep again.
But how does this play out in life on earth? We in the United States must remember that Jesus is not a citizen of the United States or of any other country in this world. Jesus is not an American of any stripe. Yet, all too often, individuals and churches equate our dual citizenships. Churches hold patriotic services, they display a flag of the United States in their sanctuary, they may even recite the pledge of allegiance. Don’t get me wrong, these things are fine in their place. But a church is not that place. I come to church to worship the God of the Universe, not the United States of America.
Once I saw an elaborate outdoor Christmas display put on by a church. I was absolutely appalled when I saw a very large flag of the United States as a backdrop to the nativity display. I tried to discuss this with one of the church pastors and the only response I got from him was that “I am a proud American, and I don’t see anything wrong with that.” My thought was “So you are a proud American, what place does Christ have in your life?”
When we place Christianity and the United States together we are non-verbally saying that Jesus is American. In doing so, we risk our Christian witness. We are telling the 7.5 billion people who are not citizens of the United States that they cannot have Jesus because he is an American. I see this as similar to the situation faced by the early church. There was a division between Jews and Gentiles, or non-Jews. Some felt that, in order to be a Christian, one had to become Jewish first. Today we seem to be saying that to be a Christian you must be a citizen of the United States first.
Let us remember that song many of us sang as children:
Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red, brown, yellow
Black and white
They are precious in His sight
Jesus loves the little children
Of the world
We all come to God as children.