Study Guide: Taking America Back for God?

Sunday April 18, 2004 | Greg Boyd

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

Greg questioned the slogan “Taking America Back for God” by discussing the differences between the kingdom of this world and the Kingdom of God. As Christians, we are to belong first and foremost to God's Kingdom, yet live under the governments of this world. How does that work?

Extended Summary:

Greg started a short series today on the “The Cross and the Sword.” The basic distinction we need to learn as Christians who live “in the world but not of the world” is this: we live in the Kingdom of Darkness but serve the Kingdom of God. The message was about the different ways these two kingdoms understand the use of power. Because the use of power was the topic, the issue of politics is inevitably involved. Greg did not propose support for one political agenda or another, but helped us assess how we, as citizens of heaven, are to understand political involvement.

The Bible is emphatic that nothing is to compete with God. God is Absolute—first and foremost in all things. God is the beginning and the end. We are to love God above all and our neighbors as ourselves. One result of living in this way of thinking is that we understand the Kingdom of God, is not of this world. Our loyalties are not ultimately with anything of this world, but with God. Things get confusing when something of this world begins to take on too much importance. The Bible uses the strong language of “idolatry” when this happens, and the consequences are severe!

Greg pointed us to several passages that help us make distinctions between the kingdom of this world and the Kingdom of God (Matt. 20:25-28; 26:51-53; John 18:35-36). Two preliminary points were made: 1. The Kingdom of God works the opposite way that the kingdom of this world works. Power is not used to coerce obedience and control behavior; love is the power that draws all unto God through Christ’s sacrifice and willingness to suffer on our behalf. Kingdom of God power is always self-sacrificial and is always willing to suffer for the sake of Christ (Eph. 5:1-2; Lk. 14:27, etc.). 2. Christ had the power of the sword available to him, but he chose to love instead. He refused to play by the rules of the kingdom of this world. We too must take care not to be co-opted into the world’s ways (what Greg referred to as “methodology”). God’s ways are higher than that of the world.

To make things a bit more real for us today, Greg pointed out that the kingdom of this world is not all bad. The orderly structures of this world are designed to uphold justice and right behavior, and this is a good and necessary thing in a world where God is not universally accepted as Lord and obeyed. Rom. 13 teaches that we are to obey our leaders so long as it does not conflict with God’s will for us. After all, Paul (who wrote Romans) was no stranger to Roman jails! So there is a good and necessary reason for the world to have sound political structures that serve the good of the whole of the human race and all of creation. Greg’s advice is to be good citizens, but keep the Kingdom of God first (we should always be seeking first the Kingdom of God!). A Christian person should never rejoice over the destruction of other human lives regardless of what they did to “deserve” our wrath, as though we too do not deserve God’s wrath every bit as much.

Vote your conscience, but be sure to maintain the values of the Kingdom of God. Don’t be co-opted by the world’s agendas and the methods the world uses to accomplish them. Sin is dealt with on the cross for us all, not in the voting booths where we legislate punishment for a sin someone else is guilty of, but ignore our own – where we vote to our own benefit at the expense of helping others who have much greater need. Vote your conscience, but do not forget which kingdom you are fighting for!

Greg challenged directly the misleading nature of the political claim that we ought to “Take America back for God!” This simply cannot be done. Why? Because America never belonged to God. We were never a Godly nation. Even if measured in terms of the standard unit of individuals who claim to be Christian, it is a historical fact that the percentage of people in Christian churches has steadily increased ever since the beginning of this nation! The further back we go, the less Christian our nation really was. The idea of taking a nation back for God requires that there must have been a “golden era” when things were really good. Greg insightfully challenged this by sketching a portrait of our history at various times to see if any of them might qualify as the “good old days.”

Was it while we were destroying (20 million were killed) the indigenous people of this land? Or later when we enslaved Africans (3-4 million enslaved and untold masses died on their way here) for our prophet? Their forced labor is a huge source of our economic strength. Much can be accomplished on the backs of slave labor. It worked for the Romans, the Egyptians and our forefathers as well. There are no good old days where we were truly operating by kingdom principles. And when the Church aligns itself with the kingdom of this world, it is the church that is compromised and the kingdom of darkness that is being built. We are Christians before we are Americans. If not, then we are not Christians. God does not accept second place to any human being or organization.

The early church exploded with growth because people were living kingdom values. They were willing to suffer and die for their faith. There was enormous power in this. They refused to take up the sword; rather, they chose the cross. When this is done, the power of the sword is undermined and the evil is exposed. Once the Church gained political power through Constantine, everything began to change.

The sword was now wielded by the church. Being a Christian began to have perks and benefits for those who would enlist. While the church was under persecution, being a Christian was a difficult thing and one really had to have conviction and strength to endure, even to the point of death. Christians who once turned the other cheek now cut of heads. Christians who once loved their enemies and willingly died at their hands now burned their enemies alive. Christians who learned to bless those who persecuted them now persecuted others. Can we not see that this is not victory for the kingdom but defeat? How we accomplish the building of the Kingdom of God is every bit as important as whether it gets built. Every time the church has picked up the sword, it has damaged its witness in the world. We who are to be known by our love demonstrate against ourselves. And don’t think the atheists don’t notice this! Be cautious of those who would tempt you to blend your passion for serving God with their political agenda. Few things are more dangerous than those who wield the sword with the passion of misplaced faith.

We need to be suspicious of any attempts of others or ourselves to try to gain power over others. This is not the way the Kingdom works. It is how the kingdom of darkness operates as is demonstrated frequently in Scripture (1 John 5:19; Jn. 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:2; Luke 4:5-7; Rev. 11:15). What is clear is that Satan is indeed the god of this world, of this present darkness, and we need to be weary of the ways this regime operates. Power over others is not the true path of love. In fact, Scripture is so clear on this distinction between God’s Kingdom and Satan’s domain over the world that it teaches us to think of ourselves as not truly citizens of this world (1 Pet. 2:11; Eph. 2:19; 6:12; Phil. 3:20)!

We have only one command, love God first and love our neighbors as ourselves. These are our marching orders and our enemy is clear: it is the kingdom of Darkness and its ruler, not any other human being or human organization (Democrats, Republicans, gay rights activists, CEO’s, abortion doctors, protesters, etc.). When we do this, we will be dying for our enemies, not rejoicing over their destruction at our hands. Our unique authority and power as Christians is not our right to vote, but our right, no our obedience to God’s command that we suffer for righteousness sake, that we love sacrificially and serve our enemies for the sake of winning them to Christ. The test is clear when we COULD pick up the sword, will we choose the cross?

Reflection Questions: