In early 1987, I received a direct commission as a Second Lieutenant and Chaplain Candidate in the U.S. Army Reserve. Soon after, I drove to Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis. I felt awkward walking into the military clothing sales store in my civilian clothes to buy my first sets of battle dress uniforms, or BDUs, with the required patches and black boots (that I later learned how to spit shine). I put on the uniform and while I was technically an Army officer and may have looked the part, I didn’t yet feel like one.
The Shaping of Our Identity
Most of the factors that shape our identity are providential gifts from God. The words God spoke to Jeremiah are true of all persons, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you …” (Jeremiah 1:4). While the verse encompasses and speaks of God’s omniscience, it also has implications to the shaping of our identity and the many factors that are part of it. It includes gender, the socio-economic context of our biological family, the exposure to divine, biblical and spiritual influences, our education and many more areas.
Another one of the providential gifts that shape our identity is that of the country and land of our birth. The language, culture, and even government are gifts from God. During my military service and overseas tours and deployments, I met people from many different countries and types of governments. I worked with French, British, and German officers and had interesting conversations with Iraqi military officers. Regardless of government, they all loved their homeland, their history, language, and culture. They were patriotic. They may like and admire many things about America but most did not want to become Americans. They may have desired improvements in their own countries. But almost to an individual, they were loyal to the land of their natural birth.
However, many other factors that shape our identity are situations and roles that we will have, and typically, embrace throughout our lives. These would include our status in life such as student and eventually profession, marital status, role as parent, and maybe grandparent. How we respond to the Gospel and our spiritual growth is also a part of the shaping of our identity. I’d suggest that learning to be good citizens of an earthly nation has real implications on a sense of spiritual patriotism and allegiance to the purposes and Kingdom of God.
A Text Regarding Citizenship
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10 NIV)
Although written to Christ-believing Jews around 60 A.D., a logical application of the phrase “holy nation” implies that while I am an American citizen, I am also a citizen of another kingdom. If my natural citizenship and love of country is toward the land of my natural birth, in Christ, I am a dual-nation and have a spiritual citizenship and love of a heaven (“holy nation”) that comes from my being born again by faith through grace. My love is for an eternal kingdom (unlike any earthly kingdom or nation) is a real love and there are real obligations and implications of patriotism (of a sort) and allegiance for me as a citizen of the heavenly city.
I have learned and accepted many of roles that shape my identity as a person from the providential gifts of my biological parents (husband and father), teachers, spiritual mentors, local church bodies – and often by imitation, for better or worse. Perhaps we learn how to be good citizens of the Church, the Eternal Kingdom of our Savior by being good citizens, or dare I say, patriots, of our earthly home?
Examples of Joseph and Daniel
I believe in mentors and role models. As one who had to learn to negotiate living, but more importantly, serving as a minister of the Gospel in a governmental context, I looked to Scripture to find helpful examples. The most obvious examples of believers who interacted effectively in civic/governmental roles and in godly ways were Joseph and Daniel.
There stories are strikingly similar in how they ended up in “governmental” service. Joseph was betrayed by his brothers, sold as a slave to a passing caravan of merchants, re-sold as a slave into the Egyptian leader Potiphar’s home. Daniel along with some of the most promising young men, is taken as a prisoner to Babylon. Providentially, both men prospered and eventually rose to have historically significant roles in Egypt and Babylon/Medo-Persia.
Both Joseph and Daniel maintained their religious faith and identity. On occasion, both men suffered severe trials and tests to abandon their faith in God. However by God’s grace, both prospered greatly. Both serve as historical mentors and role models for us today.
While I’m opposed to speculating as to what patriotism might have looked like for Joseph and Daniel, they did learn to function effectively as believers within pagan society. It is hard to imagine that they were apathetic toward the leaders they served. It appears that when possible, they advised, led, and served to the betterment of their adopted pharaohs, kings, governments, and nations. When not a violation of religion, it seems that both held a sense of dual citizenship, even a sense of loyalty and patriotism to their second country, Joseph to Egypt and Daniel to Babylon and then later the Medo-Persia empire.
Abraham and the Eternal City
“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:8-10 NIV)
Abraham had a concept of city or community that shaped his identity. He was from Ur of the Chaldees, one of the great cities of the Ancient Near East. Abraham’s life is generally accepted by most biblical scholars to be around 2,000 BCE. According to Joshua J. Mark, the Ur III Period (2047-1750 BCE) and was the age in which the city of Ur reached its height. The great ziggurat of Ur, which can still be visited in modern times, dates from this period as do most of the ruins of the city and the cuneiform tablets discovered there. The two greatest kings of the Third Dynasty were Ur-Nammu and his son Shulgi who created an urban community devoted to cultural progress and excellence and, in doing so, gave birth to what is known as the Sumerian Renaissance.
Abraham was able to envision a greater city, a better city because he had lived in a great city. While it may be rightly argued that patriotism and concepts of citizenship have evolved greatly over four millennia of history, there should be little argument that the many aspects of our identity (even in our fallenness and sinful natures), are shaped, for good or evil, by the language, culture, geography, political and demographic situations in which God has placed each one of us.
Jesus and Patriotism
I struggle to use Jesus and the Gospels as a pattern for any discussion of patriotism, at least in the modern sense. It’s a bit like walking through a minefield. The Gospels, perhaps more than any other biblical genre, are appealed to in support of or against patriotism. But what is clear from Jesus’ words is that we do have some responsibility to the government. Accordingly, in Luke 20:20-26, “give back to Caesar (taxes) what is Caesar’s.”
Jesus’ influence on his disciples is probably most clear in the encounter between the Apostles and the Sanhedrin in Acts 5. After being directed to cease preaching about Jesus, Peter speaks on behalf of the group and says, “We must obey God rather than human beings.”
I understand there are areas when my earthly and citizenship overlap and intersect. But there are also those times and situations when the priority of a heavenly citizenship as a believer and disciple of Jesus which I can only grasp through Scripture, supersedes that of any human laws or allegiances. My allegiance to Jesus Christ and his kingdom as revealed in Scripture should influence, shape and guide every action toward human (secular and church) government.
Paul and Patriotism
The Apostle Paul provides a very interesting study for reflection in regards to patriotism. Paul is definitely a Jew’s Jew. We sense Paul’s pride in his Jewish roots in Philippians 3:5-6, “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.” Upon his conversion there is a radical re-orientation of his national identity that he refers to as “garbage” (literally, “manure,” “dung,” or “human excrement” in Philippians 3:9).
Regarding his love for Israel, Paul elaborates in Romans 9-11 as he shares his love for his nation Israel and her role in the divine plan for history. While Paul appeals for individuals to belief (Romans 10:1), there is much more at work in this section. Some interpretations (and denominations) want to ignore the clearly national implications based on their eschatological persuasions. But as a pre-millennialist, I see Paul’s great love not only for Israel as lost people, but his belief that one future day, Jews will turn in belief (repentance) toward the One with pierced hands (Zechariah 12:10 – 13:9) and that implies a nation, a landed people with a functioning government under YHWH in their promised land and as the pre-eminent nation that leads all others in worship of the One true God and in faith and obedience to Jesus.
Paul was also a Roman citizen. He appeals to his citizenship in Acts 16:37-39, 21:24-29 and 25:10-11. In Romans 13:1-7, Paul gives guidance to believers (Roman citizens and non-citizens) on how their responsibilities to human governments. While never advocating for absolute submission to human government, he does call on “all” – including Christ followers to “be subject” to the governing authorities … “as a matter of conscience.”
It is interesting that one of Paul’s strongest admonitions for specific prayer is found in 1 Timothy 2:1-4. In his commentary on this passage, Dr. Homer Kent, Jr., stated what seems obvious in the text but is for the most part absent from our highly scripted worship gatherings today.
Paul singled out one group which should receive mention in our public prayers. These are the rulers, those who possess the greatest temporal power for good or evil … These were the days of the infamous Nero. Christians were not wholeheartedly protected by the administrators in most areas … The Christian writers of the second and third centuries inform us that prayer for rulers always formed a part of the Christian gatherings. [author’s emphasis]
Loving as Evidence of Loving the Unseen God
We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. (1 John 4:19-20 NIV)
Most commentators agree that John establishes some sort of litmus test. To borrow from cartoon character Linus’s famous words, “I love mankind, it’s people I can’t stand.” But there is a deep biblical truth here. How can we love God whom we can’t see if we don’t love humans that we can see? While not stated, it is a reasonable extension that John would have said something to the effect that “your love of the invisible God is a sham if you don’t love those He loved and for whom He gave his one and only Son.” By extension, how can we love a heavenly country/city that we can’t see if we don’t love an earthly country/city that we can see?
In the early fifth century A.D., Saint Augustine of Hippo seems to use this line of argument in his writings. In his Letter 91 (408/409 A.D.) to Nectarius, Augustine appeals to Nectarius’s patriotism and commends Nectarius’s love and devotion to Rome as good and natural but insufficient and temporary.
I am not surprised that your heart still glows with such warm love for your hometown … showing by your life and your behavior, that “a good man’s service of his home-town has no limit or terminus.” That is why we should love to count you too as a citizen of a certain country beyond; it is because we love that country with a holy love – as far as we can – that we accept hard work and danger among the people we hope to benefit by helping them reach it. If you were, you would consider there to be ‘no limit or terminus’ to the service of the small group of its citizens who are pilgrims on this earth; and in discharging your duties to a much finer city [cf. Heb 11:16].
In Letter 138 to Marcellinus (c. 411/412 A.D.), Augustine wrote,
God revealed in the wealth and fame of the Roman empire how powerful are civic virtues even without true religion; to make it clear that with the addition of this human beings become citizens of the other city, whose king is truth, whose law is love, and whose limit is eternity. 
Even under Roman rule, Augustine argued that love for one’s homeland, i.e. patriotism, as an analogy that our love with right actions for true good for our earthly country (patriotism) should train us to love our heavenly country that awaits us as believers and followers of Christ. Is it then not reasonable that part of our training in spiritual affections include a genuine affection for the land of our human birth, or adopted nationality as is the case of some?
During my years as a chaplain, I was always also assigned to be part of a pastoral team for Protestant services at a military chapel. As an evangelical, I was introduced to some liturgical practices uncommon to services often found in Charis Fellowship congregations. One of these included the singing the Doxology each week after the offering. In one chapel in particular, we sang both the Doxology and the fourth verse of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.” At first I thought it odd, but upon reflection, I found it to be a sober and important reminder of our responsibility as believers in Jesus Christ.
“Our fathers’ God to Thee, Author of liberty, to Thee we sing.
Long may our land be bright, With freedom’s holy light,
Protect us by Thy might, Great God our King!”
My prayer is “May God help us to use the natural love and biblically informed love for our country to rightly direct our love and actions for His kingdom.” – by Chaplain Mark Penfold (U.S. Army, Col., retired)
Editor’s Note: Mark Penfold is the endorsing agent for the Charis Fellowship. In 2017, he retired after 30 years as a Charis Fellowship chaplain in the U.S. Army.)
 “Ur.” Joshua J. Mark, April 28, 2011. Ancient History Encyclopedia at ancient.eu/ur/.
 Dr. Homer A. Kent, Jr. The Pastoral Epistles, Rev. Ed. Chicago, Moody Press, 1982. Pg.97.
 E.M. Atkins and R.J. Dodaro, eds. Augustine’s Political Writings. Cambridge, U.K. Cambridge University Press. 2004. Pg. 1.
 Adkins and Dodaro, eds. Augustine’s Political Writings. Pg. 41.
This article first appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of GraceConnect magazine. Click here for more information.