In the design of God, America was never intended to be a white enclave nor a socialist utopia.
Rather, it is to be a major base for the New Testament Church to have the freedom, security, and material means to carry out its mission of taking the “gospel of the Kingdom (of Christ)” into the whole world. (Matthew 24:14; 28:18-20; Acts 1:8)
All history, said Oscar Cullman, is Christocentric. All historical events and phenomena—including nations, their societies and cultures—must be understood in the context of the purposes of God as revealed through Jesus Christ.
The purpose of history and the nations within it is the advance of the “gospel of the Kingdom” of God throughout the whole world. (Matthew 24:14) Therefore, in the context of the Kingdom, nations are not so much geo-political entities as they are crucibles of humanity into and through which the good news of Christ’s Kingdom can be poured.
Ernest Renan, a French historian, believed, in the description of Professor Wilfred McClay, that a nation is not best understood as merely blood, soil, race, or biology, but “as a soul, a spiritual principle.”
Yet geo-political nations are not theocratic because the Kingdom Commission is not an earthly nation’s commission. The Kingdom Commission is given to the New Testament Church within the nation. The blessing upon the nation is tied directly to the mission of such churches. The missional health of the churches within the nation determines the health of the nation.
However, history reveals that, in God’s eyes, America itself, as other nations, has distinctive roles to play in the world:
- A sending nation
God has given America remarkable liberties so churches can be free to proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom unhindered. He has blessed America with security in an increasingly chaotic world so the churches can be secure as they go about their Kingdom mission. The Lord of history has lavished America with prosperity so churches will have the material means of going into the whole world on the Kingdom mission.
- A servant nation
“Unto whom much is given, much is required,” said Jesus. The United States has been entrusted with much spiritually, philosophically, and materially. She is at her best when she is serving human need across the world without exploitation or expectancy of return.
- A sanctuary nation
America is to be a sanctuary for people in danger in their homelands, as well as those whose dreams and destinies are squelched by tyrants and oppressive regimes.
There is continuing debate about whether the United States constitutes an “exceptional” nation. There is much evidence that it is rare historically in the measure of the freedoms, security, and prosperity it has enjoyed—though there is dramatic erosion in all these areas.
Eric Metaxas, in his book, If You Can Keep It, takes an exceptionalist position when he writes: “In 1776 a nation was formed in a way that a nation had never been formed.” The “entirely new” concept was that of a nation that was “not merely a group of ethnically or tribally similar people,” nor a country “composed of disparate groups held together by a strong leader.” Rather, says Metaxas, It was “the nation as idea...”
“American society is built not on our shared descent, but on our shared consent... that every individual is created equal and is equally provided with the opportunity to give his or her assent to the values for which the nation stands, “ says Historian Wilfred McClay, in his book, Land of Hope. “ It doesn’t matter where you came from as long as you can say yes to these propositions, those ideas, that creed.”
McClay writes that what makes an American is not so much birth, but “a process of agreeing to and consciously appropriating the ideas that make America what it is.”
Therefore, to reduce the meaning and identification of America to any ethnic or tribal group is to deface the God-given nature of the nation. Racism is the very antithesis of God’s Kingdom, the realm in which there is neither Gentile nor Jew, slave nor free person, male nor female, but in which all are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)
Someone may read my words here and conclude that I have joined the left and picked up their jargon, or become a jingoistic hyper-nationalist. Those would be wrong conclusions. I have one partisanship, that of Christ’s Kingdom of righteousness-justice, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17) for all people everywhere.
This I know from my youthful 1960s newspaper days in Birmingham covering the civil rights revolution, then as an aide in the White house working on the most sweeping school desegregation in American history, later as a southern pastor trying to help churches grapple with cultural racism, and now as an older man trying to put it all together by reflecting on history, society, and government: The United States of America, of all nations, must not be enticed into racism on one extreme or secular progressivism on the other.
Right-wing racialism and left-wing attempts at the fragmentation of the American people along lines of class are contradictions of America’s God-given character and destiny, the obliterating “anti-matter” to the “matter” that is the substance of this great nation.
Wallace Henley is senior associate pastor at Houston’s Second Baptist Church. He is a former White House and congressional aide. Henley’s newest book is Call Down Lightning (Thomas Nelson), a study of the Welsh Revival of 1904-5 and its implications for our times.