Alex Kocman

Christian Nations and the Aim of Missions

Imagine the following statement being made from the pulpit of your church by a guest speaker: “Our mission is to make this nation a Christian nation.”

What is your reflexive reaction in this hypothetical situation?

Perhaps you have noticed the lack of context in this thought experiment. Regardless of what context you may have added in your imagination, now consider if your visceral response is any different if our fictional guest speaker is:

A political officeholder sharing his agenda for the upcoming legislative session.

A Chinese missionary explaining his exploits in Asia.

An urban evangelist summarizing his recent ministry in your city.

Each of these scenarios that what the phrase “Christian nation” denotes can vary widely from what it connotes.

If this thought experiment teaches us anything, it is that context matters. Such is always the case in matters of theology in general, and this is nowhere truer than in matters of political theology, and specifically, the conversation on Christian nationalism.

In terms of the latter, Andy Naselli has attempted a helpful taxonomy of the various species of this movement—making clear the great deal of overlap between various camps of principled, biblical conservatism regardless of whether one willingly wears the Christian nationalist moniker. Naselli has done commendable work, with all the necessary nuance and carefulness in his definitions. Yet in the emotion-laden discourses that prevail in the negative world, Christians do not always have the opportunity to offer such clarifications. Sometimes, we are best off attempting to steer the connotations in a positive direction.

But, returning to our hypothetical scenario, we can easily imagine how the connotations of terms like Christian nation or Christian nationalism can vary widely, even among ostensibly conservative evangelicals. In political discussions, such shibboleths often arouse suspicion, thanks to progressive rhetoric linking them with colonialism, racism, or other aberrations. But in the context of global missions, to long for the flourishing of Christian nations is simply to echo the refrain of Scripture’s great missionary texts:

“Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth.” (Psalm 67:4)

“All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord and shall glorify your name.” (Psalm 86:9)

“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands[.]” (Revelation 7:9)

My simple contention is that as the debate over Christian nation boils, we must keep these texts close at hand for the sake of our brothers and sisters who have yet to work out their theology of political engagement. The missionary spirit of the Christian faith, expressed in these and similar passages, contains all the resources we need to awaken (some might say “radicalize”) our fellow evangelicals to the monumental task of subjecting our civil life to the lordship of Christ. If our fellow Christians who are indifferent to the civil sphere, or who have imbibed the secularist fantasy, would but consider what Scripture says about discipling the nations, they’d soon be our allies in discipling ours.

By way of illustration: recently, I was privileged to spend nearly two hours with a pastor from the Indian state of Manipur—now a war zone. My pastor friend described in detail the conflict between the Hindu-majority valley tribes and the predominantly Christian hill tribes, along with the persecution and internal displacement happening to Christians as a result.

“The conflict between the two tribes flared up on [May 3rd], 2023,” he explained, “when the students from Kuki-Zo community namely All Tribal Student Union of Manipur called for a Tribal Solidarity march to oppose the High Court’s recommendation for inclusion of Meiteis in Schedule Tribe list. The Kuki-Zo were against this inclusion because it would help the Meiteis to monopolize all privileges and resources such as jobs, lands, and property which would be a threat to their very existence.”

He continued, “Thousands of tribal students participated in this rally which was held peacefully. In retaliation, the valley-based Meitei organizations organized counter-blockades, beat a pastor to death, and started burning houses belonging to Kuki-Zo community. From then on, the situation spread like wildfire with the burning of over 300 churches, hundreds of villages, 150 deaths, 60,000 displaced with ongoing kidnappings and arsons.”

At the heart of these tensions lies a complex interplay of ethnicity, religion, and political maneuvering—most notably a broader Indian political context in which radical Hindu groups, leveraging the Meitei tribe, have expanded their influence. Despite these barriers, the pastor to whom I spoke, together with his church, is ministering to displaced Christians who have lost everything and preaching Christ to those they encounter from the valley tribe. Sacrificially, they have devoted themselves to frontlines ministry including orphanage work, education, evangelism, and more.

Hearing such accounts overwhelms comfortable suburban ears such as mine. Yet impressed as I was with the faith and endurance of this community of believers, what struck me most was the pastor’s analysis of the situation in general and its potential answer: “The only solution to end this ongoing conflict is to grant Total Separate Administration to the Hill Tribals who are under the governance of Valley State government.” This amounts to the division of Manipur into two states: one with a Christian government, the other under Hindu rule.

At this point, I questioned my friend. Surely this is not possible, I reasoned, given the Hindu character of India as a whole. But he then proceeded to list several Indian states in which Christianity, in his characterization, is a “dominant cultural force”: Kerala (18.4% Christian), Nagaland (80%), Mizoram (80%), and Meghalaya (70%).

He shared as well, of course, the way in which the current Hindu regime would resist the addition of a new Christian state in India. “India is still a Hindu majority country,” he explained. “There has been propaganda to make India an entirely Hindu nation, with many pro-Hindu parties and government calling for everyone to return to Hinduism.”

Still, from his standpoint, the notion of organizing the hill tribes into a Christian state was at least plausible—especially since the hill and valley tribes currently cannot coexist peacefully. For him, this “Christianized” hill tribe government would simply entail freedom from persecution, freedom to consume foods such as beef, and freedom from anti-conversion laws which impede Christians throughout the country—benefits, he noted, which other predominantly-Christian parts of India do enjoy.

Throughout the entire conversation, I was struck by the straightforwardness of this pastor’s reasoning. Here was a Christian pastor—hailing from a corner of the world marked by idolatry, spiritual warfare, violent persecution, high concentrations of unreached people groups, and Hindu nationalism—unironically advocating for Christian self-governance. Yes, he was completely aware of the negatives of a nominal Christianity. (He shared that calling nominal hill tribes Christians to true discipleship forms a major part of his ministry.) Still, he saw no conflict between his evangelistic aims and the parallel goal of aligning their civil polity with the aim of Christ’s kingdom. And why should he?

Put another way: it apparently did not occur to this faithful minister that statements such as those found in John 18:36 (“My kingdom is not of this world”) and 1 Peter 2:13 (“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution”) preclude the formation of Christian states or nations. This shepherd was willing to “dirty” his hands with political concerns because of his overriding concern for the peace of his people and the welfare of his sheep. His desire for the conversion of the nominal Christians of his tribe and the ultimate evangelization of the enemy tribe cannot be fulfilled if his own tribesmen are all dead. Christian self-rule in Manipur, thus it seems, is the logical implication of missionary zeal and love for one’s neighbor.

Reasoning according to a biblical worldview demands we employ just weights and measures (Leviticus 19:35-36). This means employing the same standards evenhandedly upon others’ ideas as we would use in measuring our own. Thus, when we hear talk of Christian nations or even Christian nationalism, ought we not afford such persons the benefit of the doubt—given that their aims for our body politic are those same aims we pursue in missions for all nations? And if this is the case, could we not win more and more of our brothers to the cause of godly Christian political engagement by emphasizing these biblical realities—that Christ has received authority over all the nations (Revelation 11:15), and that we are to labor in the public square in light of that authority ourselves?

Brothers: let us recognize that if we truly believe in global missions, then we necessarily confess the imperative of striving for Christian nations—and inversely, if we believe in shaping Christian nations, then we must joyfully commit ourselves to doing so not only at home but also abroad. And in this way, may the Lord establish the work of our hands.

Nashville, Suffering, and Fearlessness 

“. . . and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is  a clear sign to them of their destruction, but  of your salvation, and that from God.  For  it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also  suffer for his sake,  engaged in the same  conflict that  you saw I had and now hear that I still have.” (Philippians 1:28-30 ESV) 

When was the last time you truly experienced fear? 

Few of us will ever encounter such ghastly horror as what took place on March 27, 2023. 

That Monday morning, a 28-year-old, female, transgender-identifying former student at the elementary school on the grounds of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tenn., entered school property and opened fire, murdering three adults and three children in a planned attack before she was neutralized by police. 

The attack has come on the heels of what some media outlets are increasingly recognizing as an uptick in calls for violence against Christians among social media’s sexual revolutionaries. 

Pastor Chad Scruggs, whose nine-year-old daughter Hallie was slain, responded the next morning to reporters with a single sentence: “Through tears we trust that she is in the arms of Jesus who will raise her to life once again.” 

Scruggs’ simple statement of faith underscores the Apostle Paul’s words in our text: “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ . . . not [being] frightened in anything by your opponents” (1:27-28). 

Only this “gospel of Christ”—the announcement of both forgiveness of sin through the cross and victory through Christ’s resurrection and reign—can arm the believer with such fearlessness. And this fearlessness speaks volumes to the watching world. 

“This is a clear sign to [your opponents] of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God,” Paul continues (v. 28). The Christian’s patient endurance amid opposition signals both (1) God’s judgment on his enemies and (2) God’s vindication of his people. 

Elsewhere, Paul tells the Thessalonians that their suffering for the kingdom of God is “evidence of the righteous judgment of God,” that they may be considered “worthy of the kingdom of God”—since God will “repay with affliction” and “vengeance” those who persecute believers, while he grants “relief” to his people who are afflicted (1 Thessalonians 1:5-7). The Christian sufferer’s fearless confidence in the gospel draws today, between God’s true children and his enemies, that line in the sand which will open into a great gulf on the last day. 

But we may ask, how? That is, how is it that patient endurance in persecution serves as a sign of the Christian’s right standing with God? The answer comes from the notion of suffering as a gift. 

“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29). Contrary to what we are often told as modern, self-made individuals, saving faith is more than my own personal initiative to take hold of Christ for salvation. It is more than a mere expression of my “free will.” It is also, and more accurately, a gift from God: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). 

We need faith as a gift of God, given to us by the Holy Spirit, because we are “dead” in sin, intently following others, the devil, and the desires of the flesh (vv. 1-3). We are blinded by sin and need new eyes to see the light of the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4). Our hearts of stone must be replaced with living, beating hearts (Ezekiel 36:26). In short, we must be born again (John 3:3). 

The beauty of the gospel is not only that Christ freely redeemed sinners by dying for them, but that the Holy Spirit freely saves sinners now by giving them faith in Christ when they hear the gospel, conquering all their resistance (cf. Acts 13:48, 16:14). What a precious gift this is indeed to those of us who know our own propensity to rebellion and unbelief! 

Thus, Paul instructs the Philippians: just as your faith itself is a gift of God in salvation, so is your suffering for Christ. It is as sure a sign of God’s grace in your life as the very act of trust that unites you to Christ. This is why, when Jesus’ disciples endured persecution for the first time, they left “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name [of Christ]” (Acts 5:41). 

And the Philippians aren’t alone in this Christian suffering; they partake in it along with Paul, “engaged in the same conflict” as the apostle (v. 30). This is a comfort to those wary of entering into missionary sufferings as a Christian engaged in our gospel task. When suffer for Christ, we suffer with Christ, and with his whole body—and yet, in this suffering, we win. 

Not long after learning of the tragic news from Nashville, my wife and I put our own children to bed. I couldn’t help but be overcome by the weight of Jesus’ words as I read Mark 5 for our family worship: “Taking her [a young girl who died] by the hand he said to her, ‘Talitha cumi,’ which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise’” (Mark 5:41). 

The enemy may steal, wound, and destroy, but our Lord Jesus Christ is the one who takes his people by the cold, lifeless hand, breathes into them the breath of life, and causes them to rise. One day we will all be raised, and in our flesh, we will see God face to face (Job 19:26). Until then, our hope in the face of suffering is an omen of doom to Christ’s enemies and a sign of our own sure victory. Suffering has indeed been granted to us, yet so have our faith and our very salvation. 

Prayer:

Merciful Father,

All around us, we see reasons to fear. As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered” (Romans 8:36). Yet we look to you and confess boldly that nothing can separate us from your love. We know that whatever the extent, great or small, to which we may suffer for the gospel, you have ordained these sufferings for us as a gift—just as our faith itself is a gift. We praise you for this gift and ask or the grace to bear it gladly, looking to Christ. Grant us the type of fearlessness that would be a sign to all watching us of the final judgment and of your saving power. Give us a sound mind set on eternal things, and use this to move and change their hearts.

In your Son’s name,

Amen.

PRAYER REQUESTS:

Pray for the families of the Covenant School and Covenant Presbyterian Church in Nashville as they mourn. Intercede before the throne of grace, asking that they would not “grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13) but rather as those with their hope firmly settled in Christ. Lift up others in prayer who have endured similar hardships. 

Pray for persecuted believers worldwide facing violence for their faith. Plead with the Lord to reveal his justice and vindicate his saints so that the gospel would be advanced. Ask God to grant that the blood of his martyrs would be the seed of his church. 

Pray for sent missionaries suffering for the gospel in ways great and small across the world—enduring criticism, marginalization, legal opposition, physical resistance, or even the simple inconveniences of cross-cultural living. Ask for grace, strength, and heavenly perspective for these workers.

This article was originally posted at ABWE and is reposted here with the author’s permission.

Pragmatism Isn’t the Problem

Faithfulness in ministry may mean displeasing a colleague, a mentor, or a training group that embraces more pragmatic methods. If our solitary aim is to please him who enlisted us (2 Tim. 2:4), we will do well. Faithfulness is its own reward.

In The Devil’s Dictionary, the satirist Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914) defined dishonesty as “an important element of commercial success” (p. 85).
While this definition is cynical, it’s not wrong. One can only wonder what Bierce would say if he witnessed the state of today’s church.
You don’t have to look far to see dishonesty in the church. In the US, concert music and TED-style talks take the place of reverent worship and faithful biblical exposition. Across the globe, roaming “apostles” skip from one downtrodden, developing nation to another, lining their pockets with each staged signs-and-wonders crusade.
But the problem isn’t only external—it’s not just the bad guys and heretics out there. The problem lurks in our own hearts.
It’s the small-town pastor who, rubbing shoulders with bigshots at a conference, puffs his chest and rounds up when asked about his church’s weekly attendance. It’s the nonprofit that parrots the world’s marketing lingo of inclusiveness and “justice” to hit that Gen Z target audience. It’s the overseas worker tempted to cook the books on the “decisions for Christ” column in the annual report—after all, who would know?
Few of us are above these temptations. We must diagnose the problem. But we must also take great care to not misdiagnose it.
One common diagnosis is pragmatism.
We are too utilitarian—we do what we think works. We tweak our language to avoid gospel offense. We offer entertainment because it seems to grow the church, reasoning that more bodies in pews means more changed lives. We focus on results more than faithfulness.
But a missionary friend of mine recently challenged this diagnosis. “Pragmatism isn’t the problem,” he told me. He has seen similar problems firsthand in the Islamic world, where pioneering missionaries in risky countries, backed by enthusiastic supporters, face daily temptation to exaggerate the fruit of their efforts.
Read More

Pragmatism Isn’t the Problem

In The Devil’s Dictionary, the satirist Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914) defined dishonesty as “an important element of commercial success” (p. 85).
While this definition is cynical, it’s not wrong. One can only wonder what Bierce would say if he witnessed the state of today’s church.
You don’t have to look far to see dishonesty in the church. In the US, concert music and TED-style talks take the place of reverent worship and faithful biblical exposition. Across the globe, roaming “apostles” skip from one downtrodden, developing nation to another, lining their pockets with each staged signs-and-wonders crusade.
But the problem isn’t only external—it’s not just the bad guys and heretics out there. The problem lurks in our own hearts.
It’s the small-town pastor who, rubbing shoulders with bigshots at a conference, puffs his chest and rounds up when asked about his church’s weekly attendance. It’s the nonprofit that parrots the world’s marketing lingo of inclusiveness and “justice” to hit that Gen Z target audience. It’s the overseas worker tempted to cook the books on the “decisions for Christ” column in the annual report—after all, who would know?
Few of us are above these temptations. We must diagnose the problem. But we must also take great care to not misdiagnose it.
One common diagnosis is pragmatism.
We are too utilitarian—we do what we think works. We tweak our language to avoid gospel offense. We offer entertainment because it seems to grow the church, reasoning that more bodies in pews means more changed lives. We focus on results more than faithfulness.
Worldly, pragmatic methods in ministry are simply rotten fruit on a sickly vine.
But a missionary friend of mine recently challenged this diagnosis. “Pragmatism isn’t the problem,” he told me. He has seen similar problems firsthand in the Islamic world, where pioneering missionaries in risky countries, backed by enthusiastic supporters, face daily temptation to exaggerate the fruit of their efforts.
I asked him what he thinks the real problem is. “Fear of man,” he replied.
He pinpointed the root issue as the desire to be well-regarded. Like the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day, those in ministry who justify dishonesty and compromise the Lord’s work love “the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (John 12:43). Worldly, pragmatic methods in ministry are simply rotten fruit on a sickly vine.
If my missionary friend is right, then our ailment goes far deeper than our North American obsession with results. Idolatry of human approval affects all of us to some extent—even we, who oppose using shrewd, worldly marketing tactics to grow our ministries. At times, we all prefer an “atta boy” or “atta girl” to “well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:23). We covet favor with the guild or with teammates above the unpopularity produced by fidelity to Scripture.
Let’s assume my friend is right. What do we do?
In C.S. Lewis’ lecture “The Inner Ring,” addressed to a group of young, up-and-comers, he expounds the danger of our lust to belong to an elite in-group:
“The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it. But if you break it, a surprising result will follow. If in your working hours you make the work your end, you will presently find yourself all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters. You will be one of the sound craftsmen, and other sound craftsmen will know it. This group of craftsmen will by no means coincide with the Inner Ring or the Important People or the People in the Know. It will not shape that professional policy or work up that professional influence which fights for the profession as a whole against the public: nor will it lead to those periodic scandals and crises which the Inner Ring produces. But it will do those things which that profession exists to do and will in the long run be responsible for all the respect which that profession in fact enjoys and which the speeches and advertisements cannot maintain.”
It is one thing for us to reject worldly pragmatism in ministry. But we should not commend ourselves unless we also wage war against our own lust to belong to the in-group—whether to the pragmatic mainstreamorto its ranks of critics.
For the missionary, pastor, or church planter, faithfulness in ministry may mean displeasing a colleague, a mentor, or a training group that embraces more pragmatic methods. If our solitary aim is to please him who enlisted us (2 Tim. 2:4), we will do well.
Faithfulness is its own reward.
May we fear God more than men.

This article was originally published here

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