“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”â€”2 Chronicles 7:14
This verse is often quoted by evangelicals every election year in most countries, America and the Philippines not exempted. This year 2010 is an election year, with Eddie Villanueva, a leading evangelical, declaring himself the only hope of the Philippines.
Like their American brethren, many Filipino evangelicals think that a Christian president will make the country better. Because he promises there will be no corruption under his administration, some even think that he will fulfill the Philippines’ destiny as God’s blessed nation. So if all Filipino evangelicals vote for him, he will win the elections and then lead the whole nation to humble themselves before God, pray and repent of their sin. Then God will hear their prayers, grant the people forgiveness, and finally the Philippines will be a real Christian nation.
But does 2 Chronicles 7:14 actually apply to any nation today? This verse is part of God’s answer to King Solomon’s prayer to God in 2 Chronicles 6-7 during the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem. Solomon prayed for God’s forgiveness when Israel repents of her sins that brought God’s curses down on them, namely, famine, pestilence, and defeat and exile by their enemies. His prayer centers on God’s covenant promise of an everlasting kingdom to his father King David and of his presence in his Temple.
After Solomon prayed, God answered with a promise of hope: if his people repented of their sin and returned to him, he will forgive them and “heal” their land. He will dwell in his Temple (2 Chron 7:16) and establish David’s throne (2 Chron 7:18) forever. “Healing” of the land therefore is more than just physical healing of the land from famine and pestilence. It also means the reversal of the curses heaped upon Israel into blessings: forgiveness of sins, restoration back from exile, and God’s presence with them.
Does this scenario apply to any nation today? Absolutely not! We see prosperous nations with wicked people, and we see many Christians who are martyred in nations where the majority are hostile pagans. But in places like North America, Latin America and the Philippines, many evangelicals think that by electing one of their brethren as president, their country would be transformed into heaven on earth, or if not, maybe just be “taken back to God,” and become “a blessed nation.”
Consider this: If Mr. Villanueva took all his flock to an island and founded a new nation, would that nation become God’s “holy nation,” a Christian utopia? This idea has been tried all throughout human history and has never worked. In the case of Israel, Yahweh himself chose them and was their King (Exod 19:5-6), and we all know what happened to this chosen, holy nation. And what about the Constantinian experiment of the early church, or the medieval “Holy Roman Empire,” or today’s “America the Blessed”?
Why did all these attempts at “Christendom” end in failure? First, even if all the inhabitants of a nation were the elect, all of them are not perfect saints, but still sinners. Second, there never has been (except Israel) and there never will be a holy geopolitical nation chosen by God. The only holy nation, chosen and blessed by God, is the church, the Kingdom of God, whose head is Christ (1 Pet 2:9).
Since no nation on earthâ€”except Israelâ€”in the past, present and future will ever be God’s chosen “Christian” nation, evangelicals have no basis for working to establish a Christian nation. Scripture nowhere mandates the church to establish a Christian country, or even just to transform society. The church’s mandate is to preach the gospel, disciple believers and administer the sacraments. It is to transform hearts and minds, not nations, by calling everyone to repent and believe in Christ. The church is a spiritual, not an earthly, kingdom (John 18:36).
What, then, is the role of a Christian in being salt and light to the world? As a Christian, he is mandated by Christ to “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s“ (Mark 12:17). What this means is that we are citizens of two God-ordained kingdoms, the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man. These two kingdoms have clearly-defined roles, and as dual citizens, Christians also have responsibilities to both.
During elections, Christians are reminded of their responsibilities in relation to both kingdoms. Should the church endorse political candidates, especially if they are Christians? No, not at all. Since the church is a spiritual kingdom, it must concern itself only with the spiritual care of its members and equipping the saints for the building up of its kingdom (Eph 4:11-16).
But we are also citizens of this world. We live and work in this world. We are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven waiting for the return of our King, but while waiting, we live in the kingdom of man. This is why Jesus prayed only for his own people, â€œI do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.â€ This is also why he commands believers to perform their responsibilities as citizens of their own country, to obey its laws and regulations, to be responsible citizens, to exercise their right to vote, and to vote wisely. As well, Christians are to discuss with others how to make this earthly life better and to do what is best for the community.
However, since we are strangers and exiles in this world (Heb 11:13) and our primary citizenship is in heaven (Heb 13:14), our responsibilities as citizens of the earthly kingdom end if they conflict with our responsibilities as citizens of the Kingdom of God, even under danger of sword, e.g., Jeremiah, Daniel, Paul and the other apostles, and Christian martyrs throughout centuries of persecution. This is why Jesus prayed to his Father that he protect believers from the evil oneâ€”from temptations and sins in this world.
Confusing this distinction of roles and responsibilities between the church and the civil magistrate has led churches into scandals, bad politics, and ruin. During a recent presidential election in America, the pastor of an evangelical church told his congregation in a sermon that anyone who voted for a certain candidate should leave the church. An uproar led by one of the elders ensued, which eventually led to the pastor’s resignation and to the demise of the church.
In the Philippines, evangelical churches regularly endorse political candidates, which I believe, according to law, should cause these churches to lose their tax-exempt status. Mr. Villanueva, in his quest for votes, even said uncle to one of the most blasphemous cult leaders in the world, Apollo Quiboloy, who claims that he is The Son of God. This marriage of religion and politics is one of the ways in which cult leaders like Quiboloy and Iglesia ni Cristo have enriched themselves.
2 Chronicles 7:14 is a call for God’s people Israel to repent of its sin and return to him in order for God to restore his blessings on them, not an exhortation to the church to work for establishing a Christian nation. Instead, as God’s holy nation today, the church is also called to repent of its idolatrous worship, false gospels, and ungodly and unrighteous life.
God’s people are citizens of two kingdoms, the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man, having roles and responsibilities in both kingdoms. As the kingdom of God on a pilgrimage on earth, the church’s primary role is to care for the spiritual welfare of its flock, not to transform society and country into God’s holy nation.