“God and Country” is a term many of us grew up hearing. It was part of the ethos of my upbringing – a significant part. It was, if you will, “the American Way”. The ideal behind “God and Country” is an ideal that can inspire to the point of worship – and therein is the danger, for if our actions are our worship, if our words reveal our worship, then there is a dilemma for the Christian – for we are to have no other gods before (in the presence of) God, and no Lord that is coequal with Jesus Christ.
The teaching of Jesus Christ and His apostles is clear that we are to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”, but we are also to “render to God the things that are God’s”. Worship belongs solely to God, and that was the problem for the Roman state when it came to Christians – they would not worship Caesar, they would not worship the personification of the state. The Early Church had a sense of its heavenly citizenship and they lived in accordance with that sense, that identity, as a people distinct from the world around them.
Roman citizenship was something to be valued and prized, one could be a subject of Rome, in the service of Rome, but not be a citizen. Roman citizenship had special protections and benefits. And yet Paul, a Roman citizen, writes to the Roman citizens of Philippi (a Roman colony) that they are citizens of heaven – he writes this in Philippians Chapter Three, a chapter in which he emphasizes that he counts all things as rubbish for the sake of knowing Jesus – including his own impeccable Jewish and religious pedigree.
The Early Church knew the difference between Roman citizenship, as valuable as it was, and heavenly citizenship.
There is a warning and a lesson here for the church in America.