Christianity’s Role in the Nations and States
To comprehend what the role of Christianity is in regard to the nations and the states, we have to first provide a definition of what they are in order to move forward with how Christianity should and is required to interact with both.
Here’s a working definition from Hugh Seton-Watson on page 1 of his ‘Nations and States‘:
“A state is a legal and political organization, with the power to require obedience and loyalty from its citizens. A nation is a community of people, whose members are bound together by a sense of solidarity, a common culture, a national consciousness. Yet in the common usage of English and other modern languages these two distinct relationships are frequently misused.”
To put it another way, the state is basically the government. The nation on the other hand, is a people. Someone may be a citizen of Italy, for example, but if he isn’t of Italian descent, he isn’t a part of the nation; citizenship doesn’t translate into nationality.
Seton-Watson goes on.
“In the United States the expression ‘throughout the nation’ simply means ‘throughout the country.’ In the main European languages the words ‘international relations and their equivalent are used to denote the relations between the states.”
What he’s saying there is geography isn’t what defines or determines a nation. All it means is within a specific land mass the state governs the people living within or visiting it.
As for the first sentence of the difference between a nation and a state as defined above, I do disagree with the idea put forth by Seton-Watson that a state has the power to require obedience and loyalty to it, in an of itself. What the state has is the power to demand obedience to the laws within its jurisdiction. As for loyalty, that could be true if thinking in terms of trying to overthrow the government, but it isn’t true concerning loyalty of the heart. No entity, including the state, can demand loyalty from the people under its governance.
A state is there to punish evildoers or those breaking the law, not for the purpose of requiring loyalty from the heart of those living within the parameters of its physical boundaries it governs over.
We are to by loyal to our nation, not to the state, as defined above.
That isn’t to suggest we’re to be disloyal to those running the government. It means almost all of us are indifferent to it. The idea of loyalty to the state doesn’t make sense when understanding what a nation is and the nation, or our people, being where our loyalties are to lie. After all, we can’t have loyalty to two different entities; that’s schizophrenia.
A healthy state or government works best when it’s working in the background of life, and not imposing itself as the major institution of the nation. God made the state for a limited and narrow focus – that of enforcing contracts and punishing criminals.
The Bible teaches it’s best in the majority of situations to work out things with our family and neighbors between the two parties, rather than go to the courts to work it out. As for Christians, we are told not to even go to the judicial system to demand justice, but rather, to bring it to mature men in the church.
The role of Christianity in the nations and state
One of the most neglected part of what Christians have called the Great Commission through the centuries, has been when Jesus said we were to teach the nations all things that He had commanded His disciples. Most believers focus on the first part referring to going into all the world and preaching the gospel. In order to make the Great Commission great again (link to my short book), we need to include the entirety of Jesus’ command.
Now as to teaching the nations and the state concerning the parameters of their role in our lives, this is the role of Christianity. And Christianity gets its marching orders and wisdom directly from the Bible, with the help of the Holy Spirit and others gifted and trained in those areas.
The eternal purpose of God for mankind has always been that we are to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, as Paul tells us in Ephesians. The image of God revealed in Jesus Christ is His character, obedience to His laws and commands, and having dominion over the world, as God commanded Adam, being the representative of all the human race, or federal head.
The church is required to teach the nations and states all that Jesus Christ commanded the disciples, including the moral laws revealed in the Old and New Testaments. They didn’t get abolished as some mistakingly assert. After all, does anyone seriously believe now that Jesus Christ died for our sins that it’s okay to murder someone or enter into an adulterous relationship? Of course not.
A number of laws are not longer in effect, especially those we usually call the ceremonial laws, including those associated with the tabernacle, house of God, feasts, and the Aaronic priesthood. Some of the laws related to the geographic nation of Israel in the past, specifically the land laws, are no longer in effect; although I think the principles associated with many of them remain in place.
The point in all of this is we are to learn, walk in, and teach others what the image of God is. In relationship to the state, we are to teach the laws recorded in the Bible and what the penalties for disobeying them should be. Admittedly, concerning penalties revealed and listed in the days of Moses, we need a lot more scholarly work before we can put them into the legal code; especially those that require the death penalty.
Some of them are clear, such as executing those that murder another human being. Those that aren’t related to murder or violent crimes such as kidnapping, should be encouraged to be worked out between individuals rather than the state. Even so, we do need to show the state what the penalties are to be if people demand to go forward in a lawsuit against someone else, using the judicial system.
Christianity and its role in the nations or people groups is to be salt and light, or a leavening influence on all cultures and nations. Again, I’m separating the idea of nation and state because historically they’ve never been considered the same, because they aren’t.
The purpose of God is to have a people bearing His image in all geographic regions of the earth, in various people groups. This is why the Bible, to the very end, always talks in terms of the nations remaining. Governments and empires will fall, but they are representative of the state, not the nations.
Think in terms of the USSR. It governed as a state over numerous nations, but once it collapsed, the various obvious national identities quickly emerged out of the rubble of the ashes.
Christianty is to support and reinforce the various nations, modeling and teaching the ways and image of God within those nations, while teaching the state, within its limited role, what the laws of God are, and the penalties that should be implemented in association with those that break the laws.