Our current President’s campaign slogan was, “Make America Great Again.” Many Christians jumped on board because they understood it to mean, “Make America Christian Again.” This belief is based on the notion that when America was a Christian nation, it was a great nation.
We need to be careful in hoping for a Christian nation. It’s been tried before, and it doesn’t turn out well for the church.
The early church was born in a very unchristian environment. In fact, our founder was put to death by political leaders in an effort to stop the movement. If you’ve read the New Testament, you know it didn’t work out that way. Within a very short time, we are told how new converts were added every day until it became the talk of the town.
The church continued to thrive in that hostile political environment for decades. In fact, it turned very hostile when Roman Emperors tried to eliminate it entirely by killing as many professed Christians as possible. The church continued to thrive.
Finally, a Roman Emperor, Constantine became a Christian. He probably didn’t really. More likely it was a political move, but you can read that history for yourself. It’s reminiscent of how our current President has used Christians as a political tool.
Constantine worked hard to make the Roman Empire a Christian nation. He oversaw the baptism of thousands of willing citizens, the construction of dozens of Christian structures, and the creation of numerous laws that favored the Christian faith. The result was a favorable disposition toward Christianity, but the church was irreparably damaged.
The church placed emphasis on buildings rather than fellowship. The priesthood of believers was replaced by a hierarchy of priests and bishops. The simple act of sharing a meal together was transformed into a grace-dispensing liturgical ritual. It became such a Christian nation that many history books refer to the Holy Roman Empire.
The long-term result was a church that looked nothing like the one established by Jesus in the Book of Acts. That’s the danger of a Christian nation. No doubt, you’ve heard the phrase “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” When the church seized power, it was corrupted beyond recognition.
This recognition is behind the American founders’ insistence on building a wall of separation between church and state. Christianity is harmful to political systems in the same way that political systems are detrimental to the Christian faith.
Yet, here we are.
- Christians voting for candidates who promise to fight for Christian values despite living according to a different set of values.
- Christians who only care about the appointment of Supreme Court Justices who will uphold their preferences, without regard for what that really means.
- Christians who support and defend church leaders who openly advocate positions that are contrary to Jesus’ teaching.
There’s no disputing that the church is politically powerful today. Church leaders have some of the most influential voices on critical political issues. The President has a persuasive group of Christian advisors who have his attention. One of the primary political parties appears to have an unbreakable partnership with a good portion of the Christian church.
But here’s the thing. As Christianity becomes more powerful in our country, everything else is going to hell. Civil discourse is a thing of the past. Racism is becoming suspiciously like pre-Civil War days in many parts of the country. Gun violence is unabated, and any attempts to reduce it are thwarted. We are turning a blind eye to immigrants and refugees, a category of people who seem to especially merit God’s favor throughout Scripture.
If what is currently happening is an indication of what it means to make America Great (Christian) again then we are merely repeating history—a history we should have learned from. Striving for a Christian nation should never be our goal. Like they say, “We’ve got bigger fish to fry.” Our calling is not to make a Christian nation, but to make disciples. When we turn our attention to politics and the hope of heaven on earth, we are settling for second best.
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