I am a citizen of the United States of America. I am also a citizen in the Kingdom of God. This is Martin Luther’s understanding of the two kingdom doctrine. To Luther, this means we are called to be good citizens in both realms. We are called to serve God and serve our neighbor (country) in the best way we can.
According to the New Testament, we are each gifted with certain talents, opportunities and relationships that can be used in service to God. The same can be said for being citizens in this country. We can serve in many and various ways, all are important to the wellbeing of our nation.
The church is the Family of Faith, the Body of Christ, God’s Holy People, followers of Jesus, the serving arm of the Kingdom of God on Earth. Churches and denominations are the human organizations that help its members and the world see what the Kingdom of God means to all of us.
The United States is made up of 50 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. We have three branches of government, as well as state and local governing bodies. We also have law enforcement, armed services, health and human services, etc.
The ELCA, like many denominations partners in the church, is made up of 65 Synods, numerous regional and local governing bodies. We have Lutheran Family Services, Lutheran Disaster Relief, worldwide organizations and international relationship, in many ways like the United States, but we don’t have law enforcement or armed services. However, like the United States we do have elections.
Churches and denominations help to reveal what the Kingdom of God can be or could be. Clearly the church is quite imperfect and, yes, its members as well (myself included). Whether it is service to God or service to country, participation is the key element that makes us feel a part of something greater than ourselves. Being part of the Kingdom of God is a Global citizenship. It transcends governments, national borders, cultures, gender and race. The Kingdom of God is inclusive and diverse. Not always does the church do a very good job at both of those attributes.
We can only ask of the church and our nation what we are personally willing to commit. John F. Kennedy’s speech says: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” This applies to citizenship in both kingdoms.
Labels like “Good Christian” or “True Patriot” are in many ways subjective. God knows what is in the hearts of men and women. I will let God be the judge for the Kingdom of God. When it comes to who is truly patriotic: I look at the sacrifice of those men and women gave, for the sake of this nation and their fellow soldiers. We should never forget the mothers and fathers, husbands, wives and children who lost their loved ones.
Citizenship, whether in the Kingdom of God or Kingdom or the United States of America, has a price. During these Fourth of July celebrations, try to remember why we celebrate. It is to give thanks for our freedom, remembering those who made that possible. For Christians, the Sunday closest to the Fourth of July is the lowest attended Sunday in the Church year. But whether you were there or not, remember your baptism. It is that gift which makes us citizens in the Kingdom of God free of charge because Jesus already paid the price for us. May we not forget!!