Christianity makes loyalty to civil government a kind of religious obligation. It bases dutiful subjection to the powers—within certain limits—upon God’s revealed will for man in a fallen society (Rom. 13) and thus considers civil obedience a Christian responsibility.

Because the Christian’s supreme loyalty is to God alone, he must resist the temptation to make the nation and its institutions an object of religious loyalty. When exaggerated patriotism and uncritical loyalty to the state readily excuse its moral compromises and questionable power tactics, then a near-religious loyalty to one’s government can, in fact, threaten loyalty to Jesus Christ.

Christians become vulnerable to misguided loyalty when they center spiritual commitment exclusively in personal piety, and interpret separation of church and state to mean that government leaders have the prerogative of formulating political commitments independently of the criticism and influence of Christian citizens. Whenever patriotism co-exists with non-participation in public affairs, it is easily correlated—as a matter of faith in the nation—with whatever policies national leaders may pursue.

When the state becomes one’s object of ultimate loyalty, then authentic Christian patriotism yields to the religious cult of nationalism. And when faith results ultimately in the nation, the faith of citizens becomes essentially idolatrous. The nation’s military and economic might soon become the distinctive criteria of national greatness, and special interests are able to erect patriotism as a sheltering umbrella for their ambitions. In time each national participant tends to absolutize private interest into a loyalty for which ...

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