In this guest blog, Steve Langton considers the interpretation of Psalm 33 and its use to justify the idea of ‘Christian country’ or ‘state church’. The original blog post can be found on Steve’s Free Church Blog.
Steve prefaces his text by saying:
This is a piece I did for my own blog a bit back. As an Anabaptist I see state churches as a major contribution to cases of violence by Christians, and this particular text is one that’s often used to justify the ideas of a Christian country or state church. In recent months I’ve repeatedly seen it quoted and particularly as a poster often displayed by street preachers. As you can see, I concluded that this is a serious case of misinterpretation, even if a plausible one if you take just the one part of the text in isolation.
Psalm 33 – “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord”
This text is often quoted as support for the notion of ‘Christian’ nations, being interpreted as a promise that a regular geographical or ethnic nation which formally accepts God as Lord by declaring itself Christian will therefore be blessed by God. Unfortunately this is a grievous misunderstanding of the passage, divorcing it from its proper context.
The original passage is Psalm 33 – let’s look at an extended quote, starting from v10….
The LORD brought to nought the counsel of the Gentiles; He frustrated the purposes of the peoples. The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the purposes of His heart from generation to generation. Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people he has chosen for His personal inheritance.
And there it is – not a promise or offer that by choosing the LORD any nation whatsoever can be blessed, but a statement that the nation God himself has chosen will be blessed. In the original context, as is shown by the initial reference to the Gentiles, whose efforts will be brought to nought and cannot thwart God’s intentions, this means the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people. The sentence stating the blessing is an example of the Hebrew poetic practice of ‘parallelism’, saying the same thing twice in different ways so that the two expressions define and reinforce each other; the two halves of the sentence refer to the same subject. ‘The nation whose God is the LORD’ is the same entity as ‘the people he has chosen for his personal inheritance’ – that is, the nation of Israel.
In Exodus 19; 6 God says to the Israelites ‘You will become to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation’. But he also of course promised to Abraham that through Abraham’s descendants – i.e., the Israelites – he would bless the whole world, and in Jesus that promise is fulfilled as Gentiles who put their faith in Jesus become co-heirs of God’s promises with the Jews. So in 1 Peter 2; 9, in a paraphrase of the Exodus text, Christians – Jews and Gentiles reconciled together in Jesus – are described as ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a dedicated nation, a people of his acquisition’. Christians are now ‘the nation whose God is the LORD, the people he has chosen’. And so Psalm 33 now applies to the Christians as God’s people, and so this statement of blessing is for them.
No ordinary geographical or ethnic nation can off its own bat claim to be God’s holy nation, or formally just call itself ‘Christian’, because the Christians are not those ‘once born’ in such a nation, but those ‘born again’ through the power of the Holy Spirit, not of one earthly nation but of many different nations and races throughout the world. Therefore the blessing stated in Psalm 33 cannot be claimed by any earthly nation; it belongs only to the Church itself, the nation of the citizens of heaven. As has been (and will continue to be) pointed out in other posts in Steve’s Free Church blog, that Christian holy nation lives throughout the world as ‘resident aliens’ in and among the regular geographic and ethnic nations, but not identified with any of them. To receive the blessing of Psalm 33 you must be among those personally born again through faith in Jesus; if you are not so born again, no legislation by a king or parliament can make you eligible for the blessing.
And therefore this text simply does not prove the ‘Christian state’ point in any way; on the contrary, it underlines the inappropriateness of that notion.
Steve Langton regularly writes on his blog, stevesfreechurchblog.wordpress.com, mostly in relation to the Church and State. After his conversion as a teenager, a major development in his Christian life was when consideration of the Ulster ‘Troubles’, which kicked off during his university years, led him to question some Christian attitudes to church and state and to adopt essentially ‘Anabaptist’ views in that area.
As always, guest blogs are invited to stimulate comment and discussion and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CSBV.