How Nationalism Helps Us Understand Holiness
Nationalism is a helpful tool for understanding how Christians should interact with the fallen culture around us, and serves for us as a metaphor for holiness. If believers seek to be sanctified in our Christian walk and be made holy as a response to the Gospel, Nationalism serves as an illustration for that spiritual advancement.
Nationalism is a belief in the importance of the nation-state, a system of government that exists for the purpose of protecting the individual interests of its Citizens and promoting human flourishing within its boundaries. Nationalism can be understood best when it is compared to Globalism, the communitarian belief that nation-states should either be demolished or diminished and that the world is best served when individual liberties are subordinate to the best interest of society at large.
The political battle in America can be viewed through the lens of Nationalism versus Globalism, with conservatives supporting the former and liberals supporting the latter. The same can be said for American evangelicalism, as conservative Christians believe in the importance of sovereign nations and liberals – like those with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention – actively lobbying against national sovereignty.
The essential characteristic of Nationalism is derived from Lockean philosophy and Reformed Protestant thought. The Christian-oriented political thought that undergirds Nationalism holds that nation-states should serve the purpose of defending the individual civil liberties of its Citizens through a Social Compact between the governed and the governors.
This underlying principle of Western Civilization supports concepts like the God-given rights to religious liberty, equal protection under the law, the freedom of the press, and the right to bear arms against a tyrannical government.
World history has demonstrated that the concept of the Nation-State is the single greatest bulwark to personal liberty and civil rights that the world has ever known. History has also demonstrated that any attempt to regionalize or globalize governments leads to a curtailing of individual liberties that we cherish. Holding this view is the heart of Nationalism, and has nothing to do with ethnicity, “race,” or divergent genetic heritages.
While some religious people actively pursue Globalism and deride Nationalism (most famously the Vatican and other One-World-Religionists, but most recently a “research fellow” at the ERLC), the bulk of believers understand Nationalism as essential to maintaining security, prosperity, and freedom.
Nationalism proper should not be confused with White Nationalism (like that held to by Richard Spencer) or Black Nationalism (like that held to by Thabiti Anyabwile/Ron Burns), which emphasizes a racial component, or ethnocentrism, to nationalist identity.
Typically, when leftist-progressives use the term “Nationalism” they are trying to associate it with White Nationalism, which is as unfortunate as it is dishonest. The vast majority of Nationalists have no concern whatsoever for the ethnic peculiarities of any given nation-state and ethnicity isn’t so much an afterthought of consideration.
Nationalism does not presume that one nation-state is inherently better than another or have more value before God. Rather, Nationalism holds that national body-politics are the best system possible to protect individual rights and promote human flourishing. It implies nothing about ethnicity.
The Bible bears witness that God has chosen for himself a special people, who for him are a chosen nation.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession – 1 Peter 2:9
Peter’s words are just an echo of Old Testament texts that reveal to us an Old Testament Nationalism. Peter is referencing Exodus 19:5, Exodus 19:6, Deuteronomy 4:20, Deuteronomy 7:6, Deuteronomy 10:15, and many more passages that refer to Zion as a special nation belonging to God.
Peter, however, is not citing Old Testament Nationalism to refer to ethnic or political Israel. Instead, Peter uses the language of Old Testament Nationalism to refer to the Christian Church. When Peter refers to Zion (1 Peter 2:6) and when he refers to the holy nation (1 Peter 2:9), he’s actually referencing believers from all over the world and from every tribe, tongue, and nation (Revelation 7:9) who are being brought into one people and one nation.
The comparison of New Testament believers to Old Testament Israel doesn’t stop here, however. Peter addresses his epistle to the “elect exiles” (1 Peter 1:1), making a reference back to the days of Israel’s own exiles in Persia and Babylon.
Peter again refers to the various captivities of Israel, comparing them to the conditions of then-modern-day Christians, in 1 Peter 2:11-12…
11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable…
Israel was still a nation in spite of having been in exile. Their nation developed in a milieu of persecution and oppression in Egypt, and so it had a cultural memory for what it’s like to maintain identity in captivity. Israel again had to maintain its unique national identity in spite of being carried away by their enemies in two different exiles, which was exceedingly difficult outside the borders God had designed for the Promised Land.
Thankfully, we can see how Israel maintained its Nationalist identity through the prophets who left us God’s oracles during that time period. The most famous example is that of Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego. The three sons of Israel maintained God’s ceremonial holiness code, keeping the traditions that set them apart as a people. Far from being “God’s diet plan” as Rick Warren suggests, their refusal to eat the King’s food was about maintaining their holy identity as belonging to God’s chosen nation.
Peter follows this natural motif and tracks the story-arc of Israel, exhorting (above) Christians to not walk like the Gentiles around them but to maintain their pure conduct. The same command given to the Old Testament Israelites – to behave differently than the Egyptians, Canaanites, Babylonians, or Persians around them – is the same command given to New Testament Christians today; we are to maintain our identity as God’s “chosen people and holy nation” by being godly.
BORDERS, LANGUAGE, CULTURE
Nationalists understand what it is that makes a nation. Chiefly, a nation-state is a body-politic that maintains common borders, a common language, and a common culture. When any of these three things are dismantled or demolished, the nation-state blurs into the regions around it and it ceases to exist.
Nationalists typically believe in border walls and/or immigration enforcement, while Globalists believe that borders should be dismantled or immigration laws unenforced.
Nationalists believe in a recognized official language so that its Citizens can communicate effectively and live in harmony, while Globalists believe every language should be accommodated in public schools and public signage, which naturally segregates people into their own ethnic ghettos where they can be understood.
Nationalists believe that immigrants should enter a “melting pot” by adopting the customs and traditions of their new country, while Globalists believe that their new country is obligated to adopt the immigrants’ customs and traditions, thus creating a “mosaic” in which the various demographics don’t integrate.
In light of these comparisons, there’s no doubt that God designed Old Testament Israel as a Nationalist body-politic. God gave Israel common borders (which he himself drew), a common Semitic language, and a common culture with shared traditions and values.
A SPIRITUALIZED NATIONALISM
God’s chosen nation and special people today consist of believers from many nations. And so, we view this discussion in the context of spirituality. If Christians are to maintain our unique identity in Christ we must vigorously contend for common borders, common language, and common culture.
We must have a clear sense of boundaries and borders as Christians. Knowing that God has set our boundary lines of behavior, particularly by his Word, helps us remain on the plumbline of righteousness (Zechariah 1:16). With Christ Jesus as our chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:19-22), God has measured out our abode with precision. We must keep clear separation from the world, and delineate between those who are aliens to God and those who are Citizens of God’s Kingdom.
We must have a common language as Christians. Although so-called “Christianese” has been derided by the hip, relevant kids of evangelicalism, we understand that believers talk differently than unbelievers. And yes, we have certain words that they don’t understand, like justification, propitiation, sanctification, and penal substitution. And while they make fun of colloquial Christian phrases like, “washed in the blood,’ we have to recognize that Christianity has its own diction and vocabulary. And that’s okay.
We must embrace a common culture as Christians. Christians live different lives than the spiritualized Canaanite tribes around us, we have different customs, and we engage in different activities. While some evangelicals strive to be like the world so as to be ‘relevant,’ we should strive to be like Jesus, so that we remain holy.
In a spiritualized sense, Nationalism can help inform us as to how we are supposed to behave as followers of Jesus. We are to be distinct, different, and set apart. It’s here – in a spiritualized Nationalism – that we are best protected and most highly valued as individual souls before God. It’s here – in spiritualized Nationalism – that we are most likely to flourish. It’s here – in a spiritualized Nationalism of holiness – that we are most likely to find prosperity, happiness, and peace.