During the 1991 war in the Persian Gulf, and the period leading up to it, a
controversy of no small proportions arose among Christians -- a controversy that
actually split the brethren over the issue of patriotism. The accusations of
treason and being un-American lodged against those who opposed the war in the
Persian Gulf, exposed as nothing short of idolatry the blind patriotism dearly
clung to by many professing Christians.
Treason means to involve oneself in subversive activities to the detriment of one's country with the purpose of benefitting another country or political entity. By this definition, a mere difference of opinion about government policy, or refusal to support the government in its agenda for war, does not make one a traitor or un-American. This is a mentality suited to totalitarian governments wherein one is considered a traitor for his opposition to the state regardless of how contrary to the interests of the citizenry the policies of the state may be.
Christians should probably not break fellowship over the policies of national governments. Nevertheless, while going to war over the Persian Gulf may certainly have been viewed by many as a matter of national duty, we are convinced it cannot be Biblically viewed as a matter of our Christian duty. To equate loyalty to any political or military agenda as required service to God makes an idol of that agenda and the nation that holds it.
Whatever one chooses to do or think regarding a Christian's duty "to fight for his country," he must be led by the Spirit of God. Of all areas in life that we should seek God's leading, it must be whether we should join an organization led by unregenerate men that would require us to kill others. To enter into killing others on the basis of trust of men in government is to play very loosely with our freedom in Christ.
When we become impassioned over the world's conflicts to the point where we are willing to kill others or to die merely upon the orders of government, we have lost sight of our Lord's calling upon our lives. And, more importantly, we've lost sight of His ability to control the destinies of nations without our involvement or interference.
In the face of the world's conflicts, we rightly discern that the destruction wreaked by a tyrant is evil; but we fail to perceive that the destruction may be God's will in order to work out His sovereign purposes. We do not fully understand God's plan in worldly conflicts. In some cases, He may want a tyrant to succeed. And we may find ourselves fighting against God's purpose.
If this sounds incredible to our carnal minds, let us remember how God destroyed nations for the benefit of Israel, then destroyed Israel for its failure to live in obedience to Him. Let us consider especially His stern warning to Israel to submit to Nebuchadnezzar, the pagan king of Babylon (Jer. 27).
Many of today's Christians would have rallied to Israel's defense and said that God's prophets who instructed Israel to submit to Nebuchadnezzar were false prophets. After all, "Would God send His people into captivity under paganism, especially knowing that they would be serving pagan gods?"
Failing to understand this vital principle of God's sovereignty in the affairs of the nations, many Christians assume without question that the nation which confronts the tyrant with military force is acting with just cause -- yea, even with God's blessing! After all, its side in the conflict is "good." They assume that patriotism requires that they take up arms to kill in order to defend a country's "way of life" or to preserve its so-called "God-given liberties."
But true patriotism is love of the people, not love of the governmental system. Whether democratic, dictatorship, communist, monarchy, or any other form, governments exist for their own benefit. This world system is under the direction of Satan. Within the world system there is little room for honor or for truth for truth's sake. Governments do not look out for the welfare of the people; they look out for their own welfare.
Love for the people compels us to minister God's grace through the preaching of the Gospel. Until we have demonstrated that love to the people, we hardly have cause to kill or die for the government. How many Christians are willing to die for their country, while refusing to die to self for their God?
Blind patriotism is idolatry. While our responsibility is greater to the nation in which we live, that responsibility, for the Christian, must be viewed in light of our greater responsibility to the Kingdom of God. Is not the Christian's duty at least as important to the brethren in other nations as it is to our brethren in the nation in which we live? And shouldn't that duty help us define our duty to the nation?
Yet the idolatrous message of blind patriotism has been the message from many pulpits in time of war. Christians go to war against Christians because their governments tell them to do so. The 1991 Gulf War was an exception only to the extent that we went to war against one Moslem dictatorship in order to defend two other Moslem slave-holding states. Our chaplains could not even wear crosses, and Bibles could not be mailed to our servicemen. American pilots bombed churches out of existence, but not the mosques. Yet we were told that it was our Christian duty to stand in support of this war.
"But," it is argued, "we cannot sit idly by. We must do what we can to stop tyrants." While it is natural to think this way, Christians must be spiritually-minded. Natural-mindedness essentially questions God's ability to act sovereignly without our help. But can any tyrant go any further than God allows him to go? The obvious answer is no. Can anyone stop the tyrant from going as far as God allows him to go? Again, the answer is no. No tyrant (and this includes Saddam Hussein) can deviate one iota from God's sovereign plan.
The Christian's greatest weapon is prayer. Scripture commands us to pray for our leaders. We are also to abide by the laws of the nation, to pay our taxes, and not to speak evil of dignitaries. This does not mean we cannot expose ungodliness, or refuse to obey laws that conflict with God's laws. Nor does it mean we must kill others or die for the government. God will use the ungodly to stop the ungodly. He doesn't need our interference. The Christian's involvement won't mean one iota of difference to the outcome of any conflict. So why should God's people presume to take up arms and suggest that they must be God's instrument of judgment -- especially in view of government's selective indignation for geo-political purposes?
Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world; if it were of this world, then would my servants fight." Yet Christians think that, in order to serve God, we must be willing to die or to kill for earthly governments. Is this not a cult mentality? The Christian must ask himself, "Would the Holy Spirit lead me to kill another person? And, if so, under what circumstances?"
Scripture tells us the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance (Gal. 5:22-23) -- attributes the natural mind classifies as relevant to wimps. The works of the flesh include hatred, wrath, and strife (Gal. 5:20) -- attributes stirred by a spirit of warfare. If we are led by the Spirit of God, we will exhibit His fruit in our lives.
To follow after the dictates of government because of perceived righteousness, and not the leading of the Holy Spirit, demonstrates lack of trust in God's Word. Is it not peculiar that when a child wants to do what his friends are doing, and which adults perceive as wrong, the adults counter with the argument, "If your friends jumped off a bridge would you jump too?" Yet those same adults follow like lemmings the commands of unregenerate men whom they wouldn't even call friends.
The point is this: we must objectively weigh every command of authority against God's Word and against our conscience. But patriotism, peer pressure, indignation against tyrants, perception of "just" causes -- none of these take precedence over the leading of the Holy Spirit and God's Word for the Christian's decisions. The only truly valid consideration is God's will as clearly set forth in His Word and through one's conscience as he matures in the Faith.
Yes, there will be a price to pay for those who, in good conscience, refuse to be sent as lambs to the slaughter. Some will say that those who refuse to fight will hurt their testimony, and will be looked upon as cowards. But cowardice does not always seek escape from death or dismemberment. Sometimes cowardice can be found in those who, in spite of their convictions, allow themselves to be herded like cattle to the slaughter rather than face the taunts of others who live in ignorance. To stand on patriotism alone blinds one to the will of God.
The United States seems prepared to continue to provide the economic and military impetus to the globalist' agenda -- the New World Order. During and after the 1991 Gulf War, President Bush spoke incessantly of a New World Order. It appears as if we will continue to expend ourselves in waging war or threatening war until all nations comply with this agenda. We no longer fight for sovereign kings and for the defense of our nation's soil, but instead strive for this New World Order, which the Bible tells us will eventually culminate in the unification of mankind in opposition to Jesus Christ when He returns.
The purpose in pointing out these things is to warn the brethren not to get involved in the globalists' agenda through the world's disputes lest they suffer undue consequences. What is the role of the follower of Christ in the midst of this heady geo-political agenda? Is it not clear -- as we look at the teachings of Jesus and the apostles -- that we are not to take sides in the world's disputes? We are but strangers and pilgrims here. Our citizenship is in heaven. Let heaven be the focus of our "patriotic fervor."
* This material has been excerpted and/or adapted from two articles that appeared in Media Spotlight ("Patriotism: What is the Christian's Duty?," Vol. 12 - No. 1, pp. 6-7; and "The Gulf Crisis," 2/91 Special Report, p. 6), both by Albert James Dager.