Is England a Christian nation? It has an established, official, government-affiliated church, the Anglican Church of England. Yet the populace, like most of Europe, could arguably be described as post-Christian or secular. A conversation has sprung up regarding dis-establishment of the Anglican church, which has brought on a running conversation on what it means to be a Christian nation and why or why not the state should maintain a strong role for the church.
Writing in Comment magazine, Jonathan Chaplin explores the whole idea of the relationship between a given nation-state and God. What particularly fascinating to me about this discussion is how it de-fangs the conversation for a North American context. Usually when these discussions emerge, it's about the American views of God, Country, Mom, and Apple Pie. Our blood runs hot quickly, and we wave our red-white-and-blue Bibles in righteous bluster. Yet somehow, talking about God's relationship to England allows for much clearer American thinking, and provides us an opportunity to look in the mirror.Chaplin's article wanders a bit through the particulars of the dis-establishment debate, but lands firmly in a Biblical review of what it means to be the People of God in the first place. Old Testment Israel may have been a nation-state chosen by God, but in the New Testament era, no particular state can make that claim.
Not only are there no chosen nations today, but the New Testament people of God has been founded from the very beginning as a trans-national community. In Jesus Christ, the Gentiles are brought into a covenant relationship with God. We see this enacted visibly in the trans-ethnic, trans-national, multi-lingual character of the early church in Acts, which confessed, dramatically and subversively, that "There is neither Jew nor Greek . . . for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Hence the Great Commission to "make disciples of all nations." The New Testament church can never literally assume the title of "New Israel," in the sense of a territorial political community in which divine positive law prevails.
His point, which I echo, is that God does indeed have a Nation, and it's the world-wide, multi-ethnic, Spirit-called Church. Our first citizenship is in the cross. We also receive our citizenship in States as God's gift, and we honor our States and call them to be both just and merciful, but let's avoid any notion that suggests God has chosen one state more than another.