The Hyphenated Christian
by Alan Allegra 9/25/2007 / Christian Living
"Allegra? You must be Italian!"
"No, I'm American."
I've relived that conversation many times. True, Allegra is an Italian name, but I'm a second-generation American. I don't live in Italy, I can't vote in Italy, I wouldn't join the Italian army, and I can't even speak Italian. I am not an "Italian-American." Since my mother's side of the family is Hungarian, I could call myself an "Italian-Hungarian-American." But I won't, because I'm American. I have a single national citizenship.
However, I am also, and foremost, a Christian. I have pledged my allegiance to Jesus Christ and place my loyalty to him above all other loyalties. This was not inherited; I joined his kingdom voluntarily. I live in his kingdom, I can vote in his church, I am a soldier in his army, and I can speak his language.
Hyphenated loyalties can cause great division and conflict, both internal and external. Jesus Christ himself said, "Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand" (Matthew 12:25). And yet, ironically, it is his followers who claim to be citizens of two countries.
The apostle Paul, in contrasting the enemies of the cross with Christians, stated, "But our citizenship is in heaven" (Philippians 3:20). Yet he was writing to citizens of Philippi, a city in ancient Greece. To be a Greek citizen was a high honor in antiquity, and brought with it many legal and social privileges. Why would Paul emphasize that their citizenship is in heaven?
Those who walk by faith have, since the beginning of time, done so in anticipation of a better, heavenly country (Hebrews 11:16). Indeed, Paul tells us that Christians are already "seated with (God) in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:6). They are here, but they are there, too. They are Hyphenated Christians!
How should the Hyphenated Christian live? Paul devoted an entire chapter of his letter to the Colossians about this, beginning with "Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things" (Colossians 3:1, 2). The Christian has higher standards and loftier goals and greater promises than the world can offer. However, Christians are not to disregard the laws of their nations. Paul reminds the Romans, "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established" (Romans 13:1). Remarkably, he penned these words during the reign of the wicked Emperor Nero!
Living out this dual citizenship can be difficult. There are times when the heavenly and earthly worldviews conflict. In the world of Hyphenated Christendom, the Heavenly King takes precedence. When the authorities arrested the apostles for preaching, "Peter and the other apostles replied: 'We must obey God rather than men!'" (Acts 5:29). This may not be a popular stand, but it is a necessary one. Being a Christian often puts one in direct conflict with the government and the popular culture.
Sadly, many Christians choose to blend in with the world in order to be "relevant." This denies their primary citizenship. When the language, music, dress, and philosophies of the earthly country invade the heavenly assembly, the church's witness to the world is diluted; the hyphen becomes a slash, and the kingdoms become interchangeable. The Christian is to engage the world, not become engaged to it.
Christians have a dual citizenshipnot by birth, but by choice. And the choice to live out that citizenship is theirs as well.