None Dare Call It Confused: USA is Not Israel

Apparently the Christian right has planned an event for May 1, 2010—May Day 2010 (HT: Allan Bledsoe). According to the May Day 2010 site this event is “a cry to God for a nation in distress.” They call “Christian leaders of all denominations who love God to humble ourselves, pray, seek the face of God, and turn from our wicked ways—individually and as a nation.” In this context, they quote Psalm 106:44-45,

But he took note of their distress when he heard their cry; for their sake he remembered his covenant and out of his great love he relented.

The event is cast in terms of a national covenant. I was a little surprised and disappointed not to see a quotation from 2 Chron 7:14 until I looked at the bulletin insert (for churches):

“If My people who are called by My name will humble them-
selves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked
ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin

The great difficulty here is that while God has people in the USA the USA, as such is not “my people.” From the moment Jesus was nailed to the cross there could never be another “my people.” Indeed, in important ways, long before the cross national Israel was “not my people.” When he came, Jesus was God’s “my people.” Jesus is the Israel of God. There has been no covenant between God and a national people since national Israel.

Now, I’m in favor of prayer. Christians should gather in congregations to pray and it is appropriate for Reformed Christians to gather in congregations to pray. We are commanded in Scripture to pray for those in authority over us (1 Tim 2:1-2) and it is the practice of Reformed congregations to do so. It is appropriate for Christians to be involved in civil society, to seek to bring to bear in that sphere the moral, creational, natural law. They ought to call on the magistrate to fulfill his duty to uphold righteousness (Rom 13) but we do so submissively (Titus 3:1).

We Christians have a dual citizenship. According to Paul, our “citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20). Of course, we are also citizens here, in this world. Our dual citizenship means that we must prioritize our loyalties. We must be good citizens of the earthly polities in which we live but clearly, the biblical priority is upon our heavenly citizenship. I can’t imagine the Apostle countenancing a mass demonstration by Philippian Christians against the Roman dictatorship. The quiet assertion of legal rights, yes. Paul did so when he asked for a trial—which was his right under Roman law.

The modifier “quiet” is significant here. To live quietly is not quietism. Before anyone calls me a pietist, be careful. God’s Word says:

“…and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs” (1 Thess 4:11)

“Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living” (2 Thess 3:12)

I can imagine someone objecting, “But Paul wants only a certain class of people to be quiet in 2 Thess.” True, Paul is addressing a specific problem among the Thessalonians, but it’s not as if he wants them only to live quietly. We’ve seen that already. So I go back to the rest of 1 Tim 2:12. We are to pray for those in authority over us

“…that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (1 Tim 2:2)

In other words, Paul’s hope is that we Christians will be left alone to live out our faith, in this world, with “real-world” (what, heaven isn’t “real”? Hebrews 11 says it is!) consequences yes, but with our eyes fixed on that city whose architect and builder is God (Heb 11:10). Our eyes are to be focused on the “city of the living God” (Heb 12:22) because “here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Heb 13:14).

Yes, pray for the nation but in mass demonstration? The May Day website says that this is not for the media or the politicians? Really? Since when did anyone gather in DC who did not want the attention of the media or the politicians? No wonder folks are cynical about the church! To the world this will look like nothing if not a grab for power and influence. If this was really and only about prayer there would not gathering in DC but rather there would be quiet gatherings in congregations. Yes, pray for the nation, but not as if Americans are God’s covenant people. We aren’t. He has covenant people here but national promises have been fulfilled. In Exodus 24, as God’s national people, Israel swore a covenant saying, “‘All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do.'” Then, according to Scripture, “Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.'”

Have you read the major prophets? Have you read the minor prophets? Do you know the history of Israel? Israel did not keep her covenant with Yahweh, but Jesus did. He kept all the words of the law for all the people his Father gave to him from all eternity. What this country needs is not another prayer rally in DC but heartfelt prayer in divine services, confessing the sins of the church and calling out to the Lord of the church for forgiveness. Chief among those sins is failing to reckon with God’s holy law for what it is and for failing to see ourselves in light of that law for what we are. Concomitant with those sins is the sin of our ministers of failing to preach the gospel of Christ’s glorious law keeping, death, and resurrection for his people.

The Savior we preach will come in glory, yes, but now is not that time. The Savior we preach came in humiliation and suffering. Now is not a time for a theology of triumph and glory. It’s too soon for that. We’ll know when that time is, when the King of the Nations comes in glory and power. Now all we have to offer to sinners is God’s righteous law and his stumbling-block foolishness, the gospel of a crucified Savior raised on the third day.

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18 comments

  1. This is all very sad. In the Philippines, there’s a presidential election in May, and there’s an “evangelical” candidate. Then, there’s a Oneness Pentecostal cult which has millions of adherents, so this evangelical is trying his utmost to kiss the “Son of God” (that’s what the leader of this cult calls himself).

    Many Pentecostal “prophets” see him as God’s anointed hope of the country, and urges all Christians to vote for him. But there’s a catch: God’s plan would fail if evangelicals don’t vote for him. If he doesn’t get elected, then it’s the fault of Christians who didn’t vote for him because they didn’t have enough faith.

    Sad but true, here’s what these “prophets” say:

    “Israel’s Jubilee Fulfilled in the Philippines!”
    http://www.twoagespilgrims.com/doctrine/?p=6438

  2. Thanks for the heads up. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear about this in church.

    There’s some interesting names in the “committee” sidebar on that website. Time to do some research.

  3. After looking at the May Day website, I can really connect this May Day movement with the Philippine elections. One of the committee members is Mike and Cindy Jacobs. Cindy Jacobs is the “prophetess” who “anointed” Eddie Villanueva, the evangelical candidate, to be the next president of the Philippines.

  4. Dr. Clark:

    I understand the principle you’re stating. America is not Israel, and regardless of what we think about whether there are any future promises to national Israel, there most certainly are **NOT** any specific promises to any individual gentile nation.

    Furthermore, unlike many prior nations in Western history, the United States is **NOT** in any formal covenant to be a Christian nation. We’re a secular constitutional republic, not a Christian republic, and there is a difference between the responsibilities of American evangelical elected officials and those of the city fathers of Geneva during the time of John Calvin or the Scottish lairds during the time of John Knox. Our elected officials take an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States and their individual state, not to obey biblical law, and that’s far different from the oath taken by a Dutch burgomaster in 1619, for example.

    But let’s be careful about how we apply those important distinctions.

    Exactly what is wrong with a day of prayer for the nation? What is wrong with a call for Christians to pray for their leaders to do God’s will?

    If we’re not careful, we’re going to end up saying our president should not be issuing Thanksgiving proclamations and Christians should pay little attention to their civil responsibilities. How does that benefit anyone except giving aid and comfort to the ACLU?

    Unlike the Roman Empire, where most Christians were not citizens and even those who were citizens usually had no responsibilities or opportunities to participate in Roman government, nearly all Christians in the United States are citizens — and in a constitutional republic, citizens have some pretty serious responsibilities. We will be held accountable by God if we fail to live up to our responsibilities.

    In a nation like the United States with a Christian heritage and large majorities of professing Christians, we have mostly ourselves to blame if our government is doing evil things.

      • I read it, and then read it a second, third and fourth time before writing.

        I do not question your principles. In fact, I think I probably agree, though integrity on both of our parts would require some further exploration on that point. My guess is if we don’t agree completely on the principles of why America is not a chosen nation, we’re pretty close.

        My question is whether, in the current culture war we face that runs a very serious risk of destroying what is left of the Christian foundation of the United States, it is helpful to target fundamentalists and evangelicals who generally agree with us on the basics of the gospel. I’d much rather cooperate with calls like this for national days of prayer and join the fight to stand up for Christ in the context of being responsible citizens of the American republic than to say we won’t cooperate with people unless they’re in a high degree of theological agreement.

        We need to join the fight, not flee from it. I see no reason to take the world-flight approach of 1930s and 1940s dispensational fundamentalism. That was devastating to America, and the withdrawal of large numbers of Christians from the political realm in the early to middle part of the last century is a major part of why America is in the mess it is in today. The fundamentalists learned from their mistakes and I don’t see why as Reformed people, who have nearly five centuries of experience in political theory, we need to repeat the mistakes of fundamentalists who made those mistakes because they didn’t know their church history and had a defective premillenial dispensational theology.

        • Darrell,

          You assume that the ONLY way to engage the culture is by presuming “the Christian foundations” of the USA.

          That’s a false premise.

          You also ignore my explicit encouragement to Christians to engage the culture.

          Culture war is not the only way.

          There is another way.

          You assume that the so-called “Christian right” has done more good than harm. Is that a true premise?

          • Dr. Clark, I do believe that the modern “Christian Right” movement has been a mixed blessing. Many of the leaders of that movement have seriously confused theological presuppositions about church-state relations that come from their lack of grounding in history or, for those who do know their history, some serious inherent weaknesses in their own Baptist theological tradition.

            Jefferson’s famous “separation of church and state” letter was written to Baptists, after all, and their concerns that the new American civil government might continue either an Anglican or a Puritan model of ecclesiastical establishment stemmed not from a valid sphere sovereignty view that neither the church nor the state should rule each other, but rather from a quietistic view that acts as if Christians have no role in civil affairs.

            So no, I’m not going to throw my lot in with everything the Baptists and Pentecostals and other broad evangelicals are doing with trying to take back America from the atheistic worldview that has come to dominate large sections of our civil leadership.

            But on the other hand, the best of what these people are doing often comes from people who have spent considerable time studying the Christian foundations of America, often through studying Abraham Kuyper or Francis Schaeffer, and perhaps after being introduced to them through men such as Dr. D. James Kennedy or Dr. Marvin Olasky.

            I fail to see why we can’t encourage broad evangelicals to spend more time studying the Christian foundations of America, of Western civilization, and especially of the Protestant foundations of the Anglo-American and northern European cultures. The result can only lead them to pay more attention to the doctrines of the Reformation, and that is not a bad thing at all.

        • I’d much rather cooperate with calls like this for national days of prayer and join the fight to stand up for Christ… We need to join the fight, not flee from it. I see no reason to take the world-flight approach…

          It’s sentiments like this that make it less mystifying to me as to why witness and evangelism can seem so difficult in America. From the start, instead of pilgrims wandering the wilderness Christians are understood to be antagonists to their neighbors, dukes up and looking for fight. I have no problem with antagonism. But it seems to me it should be the sort that comes not on annual days of politicized prayer but once a week in such ways as fencing the Table.

          I voted against the incumbent in 2004. How is that fleeing from a fight? But I suppose participatory institutionalism looks pretty weak and boring to activistic pugilism. Kind of like how confessionalism looks to revivalism.

          • OK, ZRim, I’ll take you up on your challenge.

            I do not have a problem with someone who doesn’t think President George Bush met Christian standards to vote for him in 2004. Some of his third-party opponents in that election made a reasonable claim that Bush was compromising very important principles of monotheism in his evaluation of Islam, and while I don’t happen to agree, I can understand why someone might not want to vote for any individual sinner, including George Bush or anyone else. We all have a thousand different reasons why nobody should vote for us that we know very well based on our own sinfulness. If you voted for a pro-abortion candidate, however, I can’t see how you could do that in good conscience — but again, voting is not based on a clear command of God and that’s not something on which I or anyone else can say, “Thus saith the Lord.”

            I find another item in your post to be very interesting. If you believe that your calling in life is to work on improving fencing the table in the Christian Reformed Church, may the Lord be with you as you seek to explain Christian standards of table fellowship to your brethren in that denomination. I happen to think that is a hopeless cause, but twenty years ago I thought the battle to save the Christian Reformed Church was still winnable, and if you think God has called you to that battle, I don’t want to discourage you in the way some older conservatives tried to discourage me in the late 1980s and early 1990s. God surely has his people in some very bad denominations, many of which are far worse than the CRC, who have not yet bowed the knee to Baal.

  5. Dr. Clark,

    This is a really good post; and a much needed one as this whole two kingdom/dual citizenship thing may be foggier in Christian’s minds today than the grasp of the heart of the gospel (justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone). I sometimes think that this confusion on kingdoms is as detrimental to the church as the fogginess on the gospel. Actually, I’m wondering right now if they are more interconnected than one would think. So, as goes one goes the other?

    Any way thanks again for your commentaries on these kind of news events. It’s important to think through these issues in light of Scripture and beyond the headlines and bumper sticker phrases .

    And by the way, I don’t think I commented on your Tiger Woods post from a while back. Excellent presentation concerning the yawning gap between our best intentions and God’s righteousness and the free offer of forgiveness and salvation in Christ through faith and repentance.

    Jack

  6. Thank you Dr. Clark! I have been concerned for some time of the assumed view of many Christians in USA that this nation is somehow uniquely blessed because of its “Christian origins”, as if the US is a nation chosen by God to be His people. This view has crept into sermons and is assumed by many that all good Christians hold to a specific political view or cause. I am concerned that much effort, time, and passion has been shifted from the to the teaching of scripture and true role of the church to political causes and reform. Thus, a the is confusion as to what the role of the church is, and the true calling of the church is laid aside. Let’s do pray for our nation, let’s be thankful that we are in a nation where we can worship without fear and let’s pray this will continue. And as always, pray that Christians will be true to our Saviour, whether in the US or not.

  7. I appreciate everything you bring to light in your article – especially – the plea for our ministers to preach “the gospel of Christ’s glorious law keeping, death, and resurrection for his people.” Believers – must – understand the historic significance of Israel not keeping covenant with Yahweh, and Jesus coming into the world and getting the job done!

    There is a “reality gap” in today’s Christianity and it makes the church “tastless”. Keeping our “saltiness” has as much to do with correct exegesis as it does with correct behavior – and I see a direct corollary between sermons that fail to “connect the dots” of who Jesus is and what he accomplished in the “real-time” history of the world, and Christians who tend to superimpose the biblical revelation upon world affairs in the pragmatic manner you describe in your article. I shudder whenever I hear ministers exhort congregations to “believe”, without first introducing them to the pathos found in “what God hath said” (and done!) – the redemptive/historic connection is what evokes a “reasonable” response from “rational” beings.

    It seems to me we’re more and more like the visible church in Jesus’ day – we’ve “heard it said” to us, but what’s being preached is not an exposition of Christ the “Israel of God.” Without real history (and real grammar) we just don’t “get it” from God’s point of view.

  8. Good post. Pray for the country humbly, quietly, preferably as a part of Sunday services and don’t make a show of it.

    • There certainly can be no disagreement that we must pray for the civil rulers in the Lord’s Day worship service — praying for kings and all that are in authority that we may lead a godly and peaceable life in Christ Jesus is commanded by the Bible — and my Puritan forebears in the days of Oliver Cromwell actually believed that prayer for the civil rulers must be **FIRST** in order of the various petitions in the pastoral prayer.

      Furthermore, praying merely to show off our godliness is forbidden by the Bible. If that’s our motive, we are to be ashamed.

      But can someone who is objecting to these public prayers being called for by broad evangelicals today please explain to me whether the public days of fasting and humiliation, the public days of prayer for specific needs of the community, and the public days of thanksgiving that were common in the early history of the Reformed churches were also wrong? If not, why not?

  9. “Yes, pray for the nation, but not as if Americans are God’s covenant people. We aren’t.”

    Amen.

    However, just interested in your response since you said “There has been no covenant between God and a national people since national Israel”….

    How do we categorize something like the Scottish covenant of 1638? I’m very curious how it should be viewed, especially since, if binding, it condemns that nation as a covenant breaker. Weird thought. But just curious.

    • Hi Mark,

      I understand why it happened historically and given the sort of theocratic assumptions, which existed in unresolved tension with their two-kingdom doctrine, it was hard to avoid. In the rhetoric advocating the right of resistance the Protestants (not just the Reformed) taught a two kingdoms doctrine but they frequently spoke as if the magistrate was in the same place as David and we in the same place as Israel. This was a mistake and rectified in the 18th century after the religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries.

  10. Mark,

    Every covenant in the Bible between God and man is initiated by God. Men or nations cannot simply make up their own terms of a covenantal arrangement with God.

    Also, it takes the OT typological principle of representation into the new covenant. In Israel, it was true that the king represented the people before God. But not today. A political leader(s) does not represent us before God in a covenant.

    There are other problems, like confusing the Biblical separation of the 2 kingdoms, but that is just a start. I’m sure Scott will add more.

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