Editor’s Note: This post is the second in a series of what it means to be a patriotic Chinese and a Christ-follower, and how the two intersect. The writer of this post provides a theological account of where Chinese nationalism is and isn’t in conflict with Christian faith.
The New York Times recently reported on a policy statement from the Chinese government that “demands that university and college students be instructed more thoroughly to ‘always follow the party’ and be ‘clearly taught about the dangers of negativity about the history of the party, nation, revolution and reform and opening up, as well as of vilifying heroic figures.’” In this context, where patriotic education is emphasized and party loyalty authoritatively insisted upon, how ought Chinese Christians respond? Is there a fundamental conflict between Chinese nationalism and the Christian faith? Is there such a thing as a “sanctified” nationalism? These are big questions, so this post won’t be the last word, but will be a preliminary orientation to them.
The biblical teaching is that Christians ought to be the best citizens of a country. Paul teaches that we ought to be subject to governing authorities, particularly because those in authority have been placed there by God (Rom 13:1-5). Indeed, Peter notes that being subject to such human institutions is ultimately for the Lord’s sake (1 Pet 2:13-14). Being a good citizen, subjecting oneself to the civil magistrate, and engaging in good civic behavior is for the ultimate end of God’s glory. In this sense, loving God and country are not fundamentally opposed. Christians are, for the Lord’s sake, to give appropriate honor to all, from the emperor on down (1 Pet 2:15-17).
While Christians owe their allegiance to the earthly authorities God has appointed for them, their ultimate allegiance is to God himself. Mt 22:15-22 recounts an incident in which the Pharisees, seeking to trap Jesus, ask him whether the Jews ought to pay taxes to Caesar. Jesus asks whose likeness (literally, “image”) is on the coin. When the Pharisees answer Caesar, Jesus speaks to a much deeper truth, saying, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” What belongs to Caesar, or to God, is determined by what image the owner has stamped on them. The denarius, bearing Caesar’s image, may belong to Caesar, but human beings have God’s image stamped on them, and so belong to God.
We owe allegiance to our country, but we owe the whole of our lives to God. Yet, what does this mean for Chinese Christians? In our next post we will consider the practical implications of a “sanctified” nationalism.