While considering the question posed above the other day, I found myself quoting out of the book of Hebrews, verse 13:14:
Here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.
As an American, I’m a citizen of a temporal nation in the midst of great cultural shifts away from its deistic moorings. I can acknowledge that well enough. But I am slow to agree with some quasi-historical narrative about America’s forsaken destiny as a Christian nation (was the writer of Hebrews hinting that such a thing can’t even exist?). If we have here no lasting Christian city (nation), we must be here as ambassadors of a different sort of kingdom. We should stop pledging ourselves most passionately to building a Christian nation when God is far more passionate about building from all nations his church–Christ’s visible body.
So on the other side of a couple thousand years, junior senator Ted Cruz launches his bid for president within the embrace of the largest Christian university in the world. I have to tread very slowly here. I can stumble into making some sharp comments about how events and narratives like these convey the faith to the watching world. Give me grace, God.
Cruz is calling on an army of courageous conservatives to fight for America. Though I agree that we can live in God’s kingdom and still be civic servants for the common good, I pause when called upon to identify as a fighter for America or its ideals. That is not asking for my service; that asks for my faith in a set of beliefs and initiatives. I pause longer before this summons than even the call, let’s say, to serve in the armed forces. The first is a call to adopt a certain identity and vision of reality. The second is a call to be an instrument in the hand of the nation against a direct threat. The mission has parameters. A soldier, I feel, has a better sense of nations being fallible and temporary. Though I still advise a cautious response to this latter call, I am more troubled by the way the first one summons the whole self to defend a certain ideal. What’s more, this ideal blends the eternal word of God with the essentially limited and context-imprisoned founding document of a nation more influenced by post-enlightenment deism than union with Christ in His everlasting kingdom. I am troubled that Cruz conflates these two, even implicitly, by making his summons from the most visible seat of Christian Evangelical culture. The message is clear. To be Christian is to think about our role in this nation–and this world–in Cruz’s, not Christ’s, expressed terms.
As a Christian, I’m–this may sound downright odd–cosmically alleged and bound to an everlasting man who claims to be King over all things through space and time. He meets this claim and takes his seat upon the throne by making himself utterly vulnerable and, at the age someone in the United States can become a senator, starts publicly announcing the arrival of His kingdom through works of mercy and healing that manifest a message of consummation and deliverance, as foretold by the prophets (Luke 4:16-30). He ascends to power by considering his divine nature not as something to be held onto and wielded. Rather, he emptied himself of the rights and privileges of his divine nature through a sacrificial death in the stead of those who opposed, cursed, and ignored him. The Scriptures conclude:
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision [think, “dividing and shrouding barrier”] of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
Colossians 2:13-15 ESV
Perhaps it’s best that I pray for more wisdom before working out my particular concerns with Cruz’s articulated platform, rhetoric, and strategy–they just seem so far from the way of Christ. These waters are getting too deep.
I am reminded that this past Sunday, we were studying how the LORD makes covenant with his people and intends to make them a “nation of priests” (Exodus 19:6). Priests mediate between God and a world distanced from Him. We then heard these words from 1 Peter 2:9-12 as our pastor exhorted us to mediate to the world the Gospel of grace and forgiveness:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles [peoples outside the faith] honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
The words unfurled over us like a banner of our truer colors, our truer allegiance. I stand with a church called from all tribes and tongues and times under the name of Jesus Christ. I may end up agreeing with some of Cruz’s specific policies here and there, but I will not align myself with any broader cause as long as it veils itself in terms of the faith. In doing so, that cause uses the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a mere accessory, when in fact He is the “designer and builder” (Hebrews 11:10) of the one enduring nation. As we approach 2016, may we not confuse summons like Cruz’s with the the call to be a people for God’s own possession.