The way we see our ministry in our country will impact how we live as citizens.
Today like never before, American Christians are beginning to question what it means to live as Christians in America. There is no doubt that the growing chasm between agreement with government and spiritual calling is cause for tension and concern. The secularization of the American culture is in stark conflict with the moral beliefs of the Christian community. One cannot ignore the change in the secularized notion of “American” while remaining the same faithful “Christian.”
In its changing, the culture is actually becoming more of a biblical setting even as it is straying away from God. The Bible talks about pagan rulers and governments who will oppose Christian values and persecute the Christians who embody them. The contrast between the church and secular political powers has been well documented in the Bible and wisely taught by Jesus and the apostles. Though many contemporary Christian minds voice their concern at the changes in our country opposing godly values, and while these changes are grievous indeed, their reality echoes the written biblical words and also the experience of the rest of the world.
Though we wish these changes had never happened, America is not the first nor the only country to battle the great divide between government and faith. The governments and political leaders around the world treat Bible-believing, professing Christians with tolerance, indifference, or even outright indignation. Christians around the world have learned to look to God for help, not to the government. The church has been their support, not their political party affiliations. Prayer has been their daily outcry, not protests and wall climbing. Secret gatherings, their daring fellowship. Quiet, courageous missions, their daily impact. Bible distributions, their illegal transactions. Their faithful lights do not fear the bushels that try to shut them off. God wouldn’t allow any such “bushels” without He Himself flaming the faithful “flickers” burning beneath. As American evangelicals, we have much to learn from the contemporary Christians around the world. Even in such great divides, the more the Christians are pushed away, the brighter their courageous love grows for the persecuting hand.
Today is perhaps the most appropriate time to ask this question: not how can Americans be Christians, but how is a Christian to be an American? As a Christian immigrant from Romania in America, I’ve been living in a uniquely crafted space between my cultures: I’m neither fully Romanian anymore, nor fully American yet. But my very own anchor, my constant through all the changes has been my identity in Christ. The Bible in English is the same as in Romanian. Jesus didn’t change identities as I switched continents. God didn’t change character as I changed languages and cultures. His love, mercy, grace and forbearance came through just the same, just through different sounds and traditions. I’ve been living as a cultural sojourner for almost two decades here and if not for the unchanging Word of God and the culture of the gospel, I’d feel culturally displaced, and almost country-less. Every Christian in America is a sojourner with a Heavenly citizenship in a temporary land that we love. When Jesus remains our constant anchor through this life, we will remember that we always belong to Heaven even when the culture displaces us.
To live with grounded Christian identity as hopeful and passionate sojourners to Heaven in our America today, we must embrace our cultural exile, not fight it. To be marginalized and rejected from the center of living in our country because of Christ speaks not to who we are becoming, as if the culture can dictate our identity (“we are defeated”, “we are not the center anymore”), but rather to how we are to be living. The culture cannot name us, only Jesus can. And Jesus has already named us “new creation” with ambassadorial responsibilities to our world. When God gave us a new identity, he also gave us a new ministry and a new story to tell. Paul expounds on this in 2 Corinthians 5:17-20 when he mentions that all Christians who are made new in Christ have been ministered to first by reconciliation to Him. Our identity comes from our reconciliation with God. And from this reconciled identity, we are given the privilege of ministering to people all around us through the “ministry of reconciliation.” While in our flesh we were divided people, doing divisions through divisive language, in Christ we are reconciled people who do “the ministry of reconciliation” by speaking “the message of reconciliation.”
Christians are pilgrims with a new identity of reconciliation at every home address at which they live. While the ministry and message may be done in various languages, knowing its priority and importance will certainly help us choose wisely when it comes to our responses in the American political, social, and cultural changes. Embracing our Christian identity as our first and most important one will direct our words, actions, and choices in the culture we live in. Who we are first will always come out in the way we live. May American Christians live more as Christians who are traveling to an eternal Home and more as Americans whose current address is nothing but temporary.