In a recent speech before the parliament of the European Union British representative Nigel Farage said that a conflict had sprung up across the Western World; a conflict between nationalism and globalism. His concern was that the liberal desire for peace and harmony between the nations had transitioned into a global shadow government which was slowly forcing uniformity on all the diverse peoples of the West. Defiantly waving his national flag (an act forbidden in the Brussels parliament building) he quipped “You may loath populism (meaning nationalism) but I tell you a funny thing, it is becoming quite popular.”
The spirit which the British delegation to the European Union had tapped into is indeed on the uptick today. Around the West, and even the entire world, people are becoming increasingly impatient with having their national customs, provincial proclivities, and family traditions castigated and altered by big government and big business.
In the midst of this warming conflict many modern Christians are confused over which path to choose. Isn’t the liberal world order fostered by groups like the European Union and Trans-Pacific Partnership a good thing? Christ wants peace and harmony between all men right? Do we have the right to break off close connections with other peoples if we wish? Do we have the right to say “no” to the current order of affairs? These are all serious questions and deserve some serious thought in response.
Coloring much of evangelicalism’s answers to these questions is a pervasive confusion regarding the role of the nations in God’s plan of redemption. A common assumption is that partaking in the Christian faith supersedes and perhaps even nullifies all other human associations, thus making national affinities tenuous or outright sinful. Galatians 3:26-29 is frequently presented as Biblical support for this idea; it says,
For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
The typical takeaway from this passage is that to be in Christ is to be “neither Jew nor Greek” in a way that brings an end to all ethnic, racial, and national affinities. And although this viewpoint does not sit well with many folksthey are assured by the seminary graduates and keyboard savvy among us that their discomfort stems from latent racism and deep seated xenophobia which few more sessions in a Rogerian personal encounter group are sure to root out. But before we excommunicate Nigel Farage and grant that Vladimir Linen’s vision for mankind is more righteous than Edmund Burke’s, perhaps it is wise to dig a little deeper.
Nations in the Bible
There is some debate amongst Biblical scholars as to the exact date of origin for national existences as depicted in the Scriptural records. All disagreement aside, they are assuredly present during the latter days of Noah. Significantly, the table of nations, detailing the genealogies of the various descendants of Noah and the lands which were allotted to them, is found in Genesis 10; and the subsequent distribution of those nations across the face of the earth is found in Genesis 11.
A popular misreading of this segment of Scripture would have it that the nations began to exist as God’s punishment for the rebellion at Babel. This is not the case. The punishment which God sent forth at Babel was the confusion of languages. The sons of Noah could nolonger understand one another but God did not give a unique language to each and every individual at Babel. Rather He saw fit to assign a diverse tongue unto each nation there present. These nations, which were intended to occupy the settlements awarded them in Genesis 10, had rebelled against God by confederating together in a self-conscious attempt to thwart His will, and were subsequently punished with a confusion of tongues.
What is important here is that these various nations existed prior to Babel, sinned at Babel by refusing to embrace their various callings, and received their diverse languages (not their national existences) as a result of God’s punishment.
Matthew Henry comments on Genesis 11, saying,
The builders were scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth, v. 8, 9. They departed in companies, after their families, and after their tongues (ch. 10:5, 30, 31), to the several countries and places allotted to them in the division that had been made, which they knew before, but would not go to take possession of till now that they were forced to it.
God wills that the various nations occupy their granted possessions. The rebellion at Babel was, amongst other things, a spirit of unwillingness to be obedient to God’s calling forth of the nations which resulted in God forcing them to undertake their original calling. In conclusion on this point it may not be admitted that the various nations arose out of the smiting of man’s linguistic unity. Quite the contrary God confused the tongue in order to enforce His command for the nations to spread out and settle their various inheritances.
Turning from such ancient times it must be pointed out that Christ Himself mentions the nations in His final earthly discourse. Matthew 28:19, the central verse in the “Great Commission” quotes Christ telling His disciples,
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
The ministry of the Church is to extend unto all the nations. It is not here stated that the Church is to negate the nation’s various existences or to bring them to an end, but rather to see them all serve Christ. The nations are to be remade, but remade into conformity with the law of God, not a one world order. Henry is again helpful, commenting that,
Christianity should be twisted in with national constitutions, that the kingdoms of the world should become Christ’s kingdoms, and their kings the church’s nursing-fathers.
Christ is “King of kings” and “Lord of lords;” this is a good argument for the perpetuity of the nations in and of itself. Christ, as The King, rules over the various earthly kings. He does not rule over one earthly nation, but many. One Church, many nations.
Finally nations are mentioned in both Revelation 21 and 22 as existing on the other side of the fully realized new heavens and new earth. Revelation 21:24 makes mention of the “kings of the earth” which is a reference to the plurality of the peoples as was just alluded to in Matthew 28. Revelation 22:2 specifically says that the leaves of the tree of life give healing unto “the nations.” So here we have it, dwelling in the face of God on a fully perfected creation, we find national existences to still be a part of the plan of God. The faithful Christian can admit of no interpretative scheme which depicts the nations as arriving in world history as a result of sin or of their being dissolved or destroyed by the out-working of Christ’s redemption.
Coming back around to Galatians 3; this passage must be reconciled with the light of Scripture given in other areas. Scripture must interpret Scripture. Bringing the passage in dispute back before our eyes, I will give it again and include the verse markers for ease of exposition:
26For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. 27For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. 29And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
The controlling statement here is in verse 26: “ye are all the children of God by faith.” Paul is saying that the grace of Christ does not have a racial quota. There is no affirmative action with God. Ye are called children by faith, your direct faith. Nobody can claim rights to God’s favor for being a Jew, a non-Jew; a man or a woman, a slave or a free man. The grace of God is not contingent upon these things. Galatians 3 cannot be construed to mean that in Christ there are no human differentiations. A man is still a man, Christian or not, and a woman is still a woman. An Egyptian is still and Egyptian and an Israelite is still an Israelite. Grace does not erase nature! So you wave your flag Mr. Farage, it just might represent your nation in the New Heavens and New Earth one day.