I doubt God has a favorite nation when it comes time to cheer at the Olympics. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that God favors one nation over another—except maybe Israel. Even then, New Testament Christians read Romans 11 and understand that the church is the new Israel. God’s favorite is actually not a nation but the church universal—not Israel, not Nigeria, not Australia, not the United States. You may think it odd, then, that I take up space here with what seems like “an ode to nationalism.”
But this is a special occasion. July 1 marks the 150th birthday of the Canadian confederation. As a proud Canadian, I do not need much of an excuse to state why I love my country of birth. I love our concern for the group first, before the individual. I am proud of our historical pursuit of peace around the world and our longstanding openness to immigrants. I appreciate our diversity of cultures and languages. But I also know that Canada is not perfect.
From the very beginning with our first prime minister, there is a list of sins we Canadians should be honest about. Our history with Aboriginal people and communities is riddled with injustice. Our track record on a variety of environmental issues is shame-inducing. And the nature of some governmental decisions seem to go against the thrust of biblical morality.
As Reformed Christians in a country of such mixed reviews, we have a very clear raison d’etre. Writing on civil law in his Institutes (ch. 20), our spiritual forefather, John Calvin, said that the purpose of the magistrate is to uphold God’s glory, to preserve divine truth, and to ensure the continuance of the kingdom of Christ. In so doing, Calvin reminds us of our civic duty: to expect of our government that which serves Christ and builds His kingdom.
In other words, we have every right and responsibility as Christian citizens in our nation to expect that our government and our nation will do that which honors God. It is up to us to hold them to account. We should praise them when they succeed and reprimand them when they fail. That’s the role of the church, and it’s the role of a Christian. And it’s one more reason why I am proud of our Christian Reformed Church.
We are not a denomination that leaves our faith to be worked out solely between individuals and God. Our faith is larger than our own little worlds. Instead, as a denomination—together—we have the capacity to speak collectively into governmental issues through entities like the Centre for Public Dialogue, the Office of Social Justice, or the ecumenical partnerships we maintain on a national scale.
At a personal level, being a good citizen means that we are concerned for what Norman Wirzba called “the restoration of all of life to something approaching God’s original and sovereign intention. To loosen the grip of injustice and oppression so that [people] can be freed to live out the peace, joy, and delight that marked the first Sabbath sunrise” (Living the Sabbath, p. 120).
That type of citizenship can be exercised individually toward neighbors, friends, and family members. It can be shown as a small group within your church or neighborhood. It can even be demonstrated as a local church in your town or city.
When we each take responsibility for this type of citizenship, the church is blessed and God becomes known as an agent of change in the place where we reside! That’s something to cheer about.