In the news lately there have been a number of politicians who have been forced to resign as a consequence of section 44 of the constitution, which forbids elected officials having allegiance to a foreign power. These people have dual citizenship with other countries and this is being understood as allegiance to a foreign power. I cannot recall this kind of thing happening before and yet there is a spate of it going on now. The pertinent question is: what is God saying in these events? I believe that it has to do with a change in the way our country views genuine Christian believers.
Christians, whatever country they may live in, have dual citizenship. Our citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20), but we also live and work in a country of the earth. As a result there is an implicit conflict between our allegiance to the country in which we live and the heavenly calling which is ours. The apostle Paul on several occasions made use of his Roman citizenship (see Acts 16:37-38; 21:39; 22:25-29; 23:27). The implication is that citizenship of an earthly state is not forbidden by God or considered inappropriate. However, as Christian believers our primary allegiance is never to the country in which we live. Our allegiance is first and foremost to Christ. Let us consider how this works.
“Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!” (Phil 3:17-4:1).
In this passage, Paul contrasts those who live as the enemies of the cross of Christ and those whose citizenship is in heaven. The former have their minds on earthly things. These are the people who would have no trouble conforming to the dictates of our politically correct (PC) culture. The things of earth are primary and these people have their allegiance to the political states of the earth. In contrast to this the believer has citizenship in heaven. The earthly is secondary because citizens of heaven are awaiting the coming of Jesus. We know that what we have in this world is temporary and the eternal awaits us elsewhere. Our glory is not here, but there. It is not now but in the future. As a consequence, believers are told to stand firm in the Lord. This is an exhortation which we must take heed of right now.
The present political climate of Australia is unfavourable to dual citizenship. Some recent events have highlighted this reality. The Queensland Department of Education wants to stop all mentions of Jesus in schools, including the exchange of Christmas cards. Christians are expected to tow the line in regard to political correctness. Yet we cannot remain citizens of heaven and at the same time accept the PC requirements of our country. This will inevitably bring Christians into conflict with the powers that be, not just with individuals. What are Christians to do in this climate of enforced political correctness?
There are two appropriate responses to this matter of dual citizenship. First of all Christians are instructed, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves” (Rom 13:1-2). Governments have a God-given purpose and that is to bring order and justice to their citizens. As a result Christians are to obey the government. Good citizens are those who are concerned about the welfare of their own nation over against that of another. In obeying the government, Christians can rightly be loyal to their own country, as long as this does not compromise God’s justice and concern for the world. For example, would it be right to uphold your country’s decision to destroy the sovereignty of another nation?
The command to submit to authorities is true to the extent that laws of the land are not in contradiction to the commands of God. We have many examples of God’s people disobeying authorities. In Egypt the Hebrews were commanded to kill their sons, but Moses’ parents did not obey that edict (Exod 1:22-2:4). The apostles were persecuted for preaching Jesus and were told to keep quiet. They responded, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God” (Acts 4:19).
Our second response to our dual citizenship is to remember that we are in some sense aliens on earth. The great faith chapter in Hebrews reminds us that the saints of the Old Testament lived by faith and knew “that they were foreigners and strangers on the earth” (Heb 11:13). “They were longing for a better country—a heavenly one” (11:16), the country where we have our other citizenship. We know that we belong in another place, in heaven, and this alien status is the cue to behave like citizens of heaven. “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Pet 2:11-12; see also 3:13-17).
But it is because we are people who have allegiance to another that we will be distrusted by our own government. Of course Christians do not hold allegiance to a foreign power in the sense of another earthly nation. Instead our allegiance is to our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. He is the one who we obey above all else. This means that at times, and the present time is one of those, when Christians will come into conflict with the expectations of the culture and even the laws of the land.
The governments of Australia do not consciously know what they are doing when they object to Christians being Christian. But they are reacting to our allegiance to a “foreign power”. Our Lord is actually the ultimate power, since he is far above every power and authority (Eph 1:21). Governments over the world and throughout history have reacted like this to the authority of Jesus. They do not want their citizens to ally themselves with an authority which is not subject to the government’s (real or imagined) authority. This is what is really going on right now in Australia.
This can only mean a growing persecution for true believers in this nation. No amount of insistence that our country was founded on Christian values will change this fact. Our allegiance is to a foreign power, the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ. And we obey him before we obey the government of this nation.
It may be too late to avoid the persecution which is coming, and which in some cases has already arrived, but it is not too late to pray. “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Tim 2:1-2). We must remember that the people who oppose Christianity in this nation are not our enemies (Eph 6:12). Therefore, we pray and treat people who oppose us with respect and gentleness (1 Pet 3:15).