An expression increasingly stressed in some conservative quarters has a rather strange history. "For God and country," we are told, sums up our cause, Now certainly the phrase calls to mind an apparently noble purpose but is it entirely a wise slogan? And how has it been used in the past?
Some years ago, a country in the midst of war summoned people to sacrifice their savings, gold and silver, time and effort, "For God and country." People loyally lined up and cooperated; for some who gave heavily, iron medals were awarded for their services.
Another crisis situation: inflation. The citizenry were summoned to rally to their country's welfare by surrendering their gold and silver including their wedding rings, "For God and country."
We can agree that these were bad uses of the phrase, especially since enemy powers were involved. Is the phrase a sound one in the right hands? To answer this question, it is necessary to examine the nature of Biblical ethics or morality.
The demand of humanism (and of its child, socialism) is for a universal ethics.In universal ethics we are told that, even as the family gave way to the tribe, and the tribe to the nation, so the nation must give way to a one-world order. All men must treat all other men equally. Partiality to our family, nation, or race, represents a lower morality, we are told, and must be replaced by the "higher" morality of a universal ethics.
But Biblical morality is not a universal ethics. It does not have one code for all men. Where mankind is concerned, Biblical morality has three separate kinds of moral requirements.
First, there is the law of God for the family. The family has a high and central position in Biblical law. There are four laws that pertain to the family in the Ten Commandments alone: "Honor thy father and thy mother, as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee; that thy days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with thee, in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee" (Deuteronomy 5:16). The seventh commandment forbids adultery (Deut. 5:18), and the tenth, covetousness of our neighbor's wife, home and possessions (Deut. 5:21). The eighth commandment (Deut. 5:19) forbids theft and protects property, and, in Biblical law, property is seen as one of the central mainstays of family life. In the New Testament, it is emphasized that a man's first human obligation is towards his family: "But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house; he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel" (1 Timothy 5:8). A man's first and basic responsibility, in the realm of his relationships towards his fellow men, is towards his own family. He cannot put them on the same level as all mankind. The consequence of a universal ethics can only be communism. In a universalistic morality, all men must be given the same love, support, and consideration as we give to our family. It is impossible to do this-without total communism. But Biblical morality insists that the family, which must be grounded on christian faith, must come first. A man is required to love and support his wife; he is forbidden to love and support any other women. He must support and discipline his children; he cannot do this for other children. A universal ethics is a communistic ethics.
The second area of law in Biblical morality deals with our brethren in the faith, our relationship with true believers. We are with true believers members of a larger family, the household of Jesus christ. we have an obligation of love to our "brethren" in the faith. The early church established the order of deacons and a deacon's fund for the care of widows (or orphans) who had no family (Acts 6:1-6). Christians share a common faith and a common destiny. They believe in the Bible and thus have in common a standard of law: they are a community. we can, very quickly, feel a sense of kinship with true believers whom we have scarcely met, because we share a common perspective, yet a neighbor, whom we see daily, is in reality a stranger to us, because his every belief is hostile to our's. God requires us to be partial to that which is our own. To give equal favor, support, or attention to that which is hostile to us is to destroy ourselves: it is to subsidize the opposition.
The third level of Biblical law deals with the rest of the world, with unbelievers. Here we are to "walk honestly toward them that are without" (1 Thessalonians 4:12), i.e., our behavior towards unbelievers must be honorable. We must love our neighbor and our enemy, which means giving him the God-given privileges of the second table of the law. The Bible repeatedly identifies, as in Romans 13:8-10, love of others as "the fulfilling of the laws," thou shalt not kill, i.e., respect all men's right to life; thou shalt not commit adultery, i.e. respect the sanctity of every home; thou shalt not steal, i.e., all man's property is under God's law and safeguard of law; thou shalt not bear false witness, i.e., respect all men's reputations; thou shalt not covet... i.e., respect these things in thought, as well as in word and deed. Works of mercy, in emergencies, are to be extended to all men, as the law, and the Parable of the Good Samaritan make clear. But our Christian family comes first, then our fellow believers, and, last, the world at large.
"For God and country." Where does our country come in? We serve God, not only directly in worship, but by our faithfulness in every area of our life, by our family life, our relationship to the world. We serve Him by our integrity in our vocation, and in our citizenship. We have dealt with our moral relationship to men: to family, fellow believers, and to the world. What about institutions, such as church and state? Both institutions are ministries of God. The church is the ministry of the word, the sacraments, and of true discipline. without these, there is no true church, even though an institution may call itself a church. The state is the ministry of justice (Romans 13:l-6): its function is to provide godly law and order. The obligation of believers is to be an obedient citizen, insofar as the state does not require what is contrary to our duty to God and our responsibilities under God, for "We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). The citizen must pay taxes, and bear arms in his country's defense. He must be honest and industrious, and he ought to pray for those having authority. More than that cannot be required of him.
Where does the state come in? Certainly it does not have the same status as our family. No man can morally sacrifice his family to his country; this is no more than a modern form of human sacrifice to a false god. Our family must come before church work and before patriotic work. The moral foundations of society are in the christian family. It cannot be sacrificed to anything else, to either church or state. If we say the country is a bigger and more important thing, and must come first, the liberal can say that the world is bigger and has priority over the nation and the family.
Then where does the state come in? Where does our country rank in moral importance? This depends on the country. f it is a Christian country, it has a rank placing it in the realm of our duties to our fellow believers: the state has entered into the ranks of the faithful. But if the country (or church, or school), has departed from the faith, if it has officially and practically denied God and His word, then it is a part of the world of unbelief, and honesty requires that we treat it as such.
Does this mean that we stand by and let our country go down the drain? By no means, by no means at all. All the more zealously, for the Lord's sake and for our children's sake, we need to reclaim our country. But we must have a sense of proportion. Some churches absorb so much of their members "time for the Lord" supposedly, that family life disintegrates; but family life is the first area of godly responsibility. And some patriots are ready to sacrifice their husbands and children "for the cause." But their first area of responsibility is to their husband and children. The same holds true for many men. How many, many people spend years trying to win radicals over to conservatism, and then wake up to find their children have become themselves radical! Certainly the schools have a share of the blame, but the first responsibility is parental. Should they quit their work? Again, by no means. But their work must have a sense of proportion.
If our work is truly "For God," it will be primarily constructive in every area, in the home, church, community, school, and country. To be "For God" means to establish godly homes, christian schools, christian study groups, godly political action, godly businesses geared to sound economics, and so on. It does not mean merely reacting to the opposition. It will be for the family, for the faith, for the country, and for the school, because it is "For God."
There is much to commend in the phrase, "For God and for Country," but there is much against it. It is a handy phrase for the enemy to use in the future, with the help of apostate churches: "For God and Country," "For God and the Fatherland," or "For God and the Soviet Union" as apostate Russian churchmen say. But, as Joshua said, "choose ye this day whom ye will serve...but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD" (Joshua 24:15). But even more militates against the phrase, "For God and country." With all due respect to the dedicated and fine patriots who use it, the term makes an equation where no equality exists. The phrase has a ring of truth, but it will not stand up to investigation. It joins the absolute, God, with a relative, the country. We cannot link a relative and an absolute together. We cannot call for service to "God and church" or to "God and school," because the service God requires, and the claims God has on us, far transcend the claims of church, country, or school. The essence of statism and totalitarianism is that it makes the relative absolute. It makes the state into another god; it gives to the state power and authority which rightfully belongs to God only. The state today is claiming too much. In the United States, the purpose of the founding fathers was to limit severely the powers of the federal government by means of the Constitution. The federal union had to be strong enough to avoid impotence, but it could not claim powers which infringed on God's sovereignty and man's liberty under God. The foundation of liberty they saw in the faith. As George Washington said "Let it be simply asked, Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice?" Patrick Henry said that subversive and revolutionary forces from Europe were seeking to destroy "the great pillars of all government and of social life; I mean virtue, morality and religion. This is the armor, my friend, and this alone, that renders us invincible... If we lose these, we are conquered, fallen indeed!" How many men today can equal Patrick Henry's dedication to his country? But Patrick Henry was a great American because of the greatness of his faith, character, and intelligence, and because he brought a sense of proportion and dedication to all things.
Our Pledge of Allegiance says it best: "one nation, under God." This is the true perspective, one to which we must give allegiance and service as well. Let us serve family, school, church, and country under God and only under God. No cause can rightfully claim more of us.
(Taken from Roots of Reconstruction, p. 574; Chalcedon Report No. 14)