It’s the home stretch for our election season. This is a “make or break” election in many ways. It will both define and set the course for the kind of country we are and kind of people we are. And it’s been competitive.
As I discussed in the last post but one, it’s also been a dilemma for Evangelicals, with a Mormon and a Roman Catholic on the ticket. But the Evangelicals, true to form, have risen to the occasion at last and started rallying the troops with talk about the role of this election in “bringing revival to America” and “re-establishing our covenant”. (The Scots and their progeny are obsessed with the business of “covenant” because in real life they tend to be fickle and erratic).
The fact that we have to go through this every election cycle (or seems that way) betrays, I think, our poor understanding of who we really are as Christians vis á vis the country we live in. It’s ironic that the Mormons have wrapped their religion around the country and Constitution the way they have; a big reason Brigham Young led them to Utah to begin with was to get away from the long arm of Uncle Sam and enable them to practice their faith (which included polygamy and blood redemption). The Mexican War fixed that, and they’ve had to make the best of it since. But Christians have better options.
It’s very common for Evangelicals to make analogies between ancient Israel and the United States, with the implication that the United States is, in a sense, a new Israel, with all the special provisions that go with that. But there’s no Biblical support for such a position, especially if we really believe that the New Testament is the fulfilment of salvation history and that Jesus Christ’s work depicted there is finished and final. There are two basic Biblical facts that we need to internalise if we are both to be faithful to our calling and get through whatever might come to us in this life.
The first is that we only have one true country, which is heaven. To see how this plays out, let’s consider the meaning of the term “apostle”. The term is a loaded one in Christianity because it’s wrapped up in the idea of authority. On the Roman Catholic side–Paul Ryan’s church–we have the idea that the church is authoritative because its leadership are the successors of the apostles, thus they can teach with apostolic authority and act with the special apostolic chrism. On the other side, until recently Protestant and Evangelical churches have avoided the term for people walking on the earth, but now we have “apostles” with more authority and anointing than they know what to do with (and the results usually speak for themselves).
But to invoke another authority–Strong’s–the Greek term ἀπόστολος (apostle) means the following:
From ἀποστέλλω a delegate; specifically an ambassador of the Gospel; officially a commissioner of Christ (“apostle”), (with miraculous powers): – apostle, messenger, he that is sent.
And about the term ἀποστέλλω:
From ἀπό and στέλλω set apart, that is, (by implication) to send out (properly on a mission) literally or figuratively: – put in, send (away, forth, out), set [at liberty].
The whole idea of authority is certainly there, but at the root of the word is the idea that someone is sent out as a representative–an ambassador, if you please. Sometimes that role can be tragic, as our experience in Libya reminds us. In the ancient world, and until recently, slow communications actually enhanced an ambassador’s authority, because he (usually) could not get a quick answer from back home in a timely fashion but had to make decisions on the spot that reflected on the people he represented. Now ambassadors are pretty much portes-paroles for the country that sent them; the real authority and decision-making is done at the centre. (If it’s done at all: that’s an issue in our current election cycle).
Irrespective of how far you think the “apostolic chrism” goes into the Body of Christ, at best we are representatives of our God, and given that he is omniscient and omnipresent, our latitude in that role is limited at best. All of this, however, underscores the fact that our highest and best calling is to be an ambassador of one country–heaven–and not of the earthly country in which we find ourselves. When our time here is done, we return to that country where our proper home is. The sooner American Christians get that simple reality into their beings, the better for everyone.
And that leads to the second point: there’s strength in that reality. A heavenly destination has been generally regarded as escapist. But being put beyond the final authority of the state is empowering, which is a big reason secularists hate it so much.
Let’s think this through. Are there enough secularists willing to shed their élite lives to defend themselves against the serious attacks of Islamicists? Now that homosexuals can serve openly in our military, can they fill the ranks that we might leave empty? Everyone knows that defence is largely a “Red State” business, what happens when people from these places walk? On another level, what happens when we decide we’ve had enough of feeding this beast that hates us and just go on the dole? (That decision is already being made more often than people care to think).
The truth of the matter is that this country needs its socially conservative Christian population more than the Christians need it, if nothing else to keep the birthrate up enough to afford the retirement system. Neither our current elites nor the Christians themselves really understand this. The former keep thinking that secularism will lead to paradise (when did we hear that before, Marxists) and the latter keep hog-tying their Christian life to “bringing America back to God” which will only bring disappointment when the country doesn’t respond the way we think it should.
We as Christians have only one true country, and we are ambassadors from same. We need to stop investing so much of our greatest hopes in this one and use that as a bargaining chip, if you please, to secure our freedom to worship, to follow God’s way and to share our faith as he commands us to do.
Unfortunately our identity politics and our obsession with “taking a stand” when we should be on the move don’t make that easy in our current political climate.
I’m good with voting for this Republican ticket, not because I think they’ll renew our national covenant with God or bring “Christian” leadership to this country, but because they’re more likely to keep our freedom. It’s that simple. That’s the key. The sooner we realise what the end game is down here, the sooner we can use that to make our way to the true country better for ourselves and those who might like to join us on the way.