Square Pegs, Round Holes and Decoder Rings: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
America is not ancient Israel. America is not the Church.
The most the United States can claim is that it was a quasi-Christian country by culture until about 50 years ago because most people self-identified as Christian. However, claims that America was founded “as a Christian nation” covenanted to God are greatly exaggerated and do harm to the truth of history and, indeed, America’s founding documents.
Likewise, the application of Old Testament prophecies, judgements and norms to contemporary America can most likely be classified as a hermeneutical crime, for such applications ignore proper exegesis, including historical context. Now, this is not to say that these Old Testament cannot be illustrative. This is obvious. When pulled from their original intent and context, however, and applied specifically to America as a nation state, such texts, by definition, are distorted. Much the same could be said for the minor prophetic/apocalyptic elements of the New Testament, such as the Revelation, Jude and select passages in the Pauline letters.
Yet, in the attempt to put a square peg in a round hole, segments of the Christian community have devised “decoder rings”, that is, a means by which prophecies may be applied to our own era, our own nation state and with which we can understand the intent. Dispensationalism is one such device. Interpretation of glossolalia and contemporary prophetic utterances among Charismatics and Pentecostals (often laced with Old Testament prophetic themes) are other such devices. In the extreme, one might go to the Book of Mormon and speculate on ancient Israel (or at least one tribe) in the Americas fulfilling the prophecies of the Old Testament.
The square peg, however, will never fit in the round hole.
Christ made it clear that his kingdom is not of this world. His kingdom is not America… or Russia… or China… or Great Britain… or the Republic of Venice… or the Kingdom of France… or Byzantium… or the Roman Empire. Somehow, after 2,000 years, we still don’t want to hear what Christ said as he made his way to the Cross.
When Christ confronted his critics, he said, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; but these are they which testify of Me.” He might have also said, “No decoder ring needed…” When we turn to the corpus of the New Testament, if we are looking for anything to do with the modern nation state, we will be disappointed, for it is almost entirely about Christ and the Church and, once again, no decoder ring is needed. Again, it is about grace, self-sacrificial love, and living our lives as Christians as a reflection of Christ in us. Moreover, through centuries of Christians living in empires, kingdoms, republics, dictatorships and democracies, that message has not changed.
There is no divine endorsement of this or that political party, or of this or that nation state. When we read “God so loved the world…” we should believe it, and not try to use our decoder rings or try to put a square peg in a round hole.