Is America the “city set on a hill”?

1You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 5:14-16

Yesterday evening, after the U.S. Capitol Building was secured following the violent assault by protesters, the legislators reconvened to complete the Electoral College certification process in connection with the recent presidential election.

I watched the proceedings for a short time and heard several legislators plead for national unity following the unprecedented turmoil. A few mentioned that the world was watching and that the United States must go forward as the “city set on a hill,” a beacon of democracy to the rest of the world.

Ever since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth in 1620, politically-minded colonists and Americans have misappropriated Bible passages for their temporal ends. Faith and politics have been conflated for so long that many/most can’t distinguish between the two.

In Matthew 5:14-16, Jesus Christ DID NOT have in mind the United States as the “city set on a hill.” It’s quite clear from the context that He was referring to His followers. Believers are the city set on a hill. The church, the body of believers scattered throughout the unbelieving world, is the city set on a hill. Our message is NOT political, it is rather the GOOD NEWS! of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. This Good News! of salvation in Christ Jesus knows no national boundaries or political affiliations.

“Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.’” – John 18:36

Addendum: Ronald Reagan famously referred to America as “The Shining City Upon a Hill” in his same-titled speech delivered in 1974 (see here) and in several speeches thereafter. But the notion didn’t originate with him. Preacher John Winthrop had claimed that designation for the Massachusetts Bay Colony 344 years earlier in 1630 (see here). The notion that America was in an anointed, covenant relationship with God has been preached from American pulpits ever since.

30 thoughts on “Is America the “city set on a hill”?

  1. These truths cannot be overstated! We need to press this into our heart. These current events may be the very impetus needed to refine our faith. Read ‘United States’ into I John 2:15 May we be free from worldly entanglements and fulfill all God’s calling upon us. I dont want to miss anything He has in the short time we have left!
    Press on Tom!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Lisa Beth! Disentangling from the world (in a spiritual sense) is SO HARD for believers living in America because they have been taught the opposite from pulpits for 400 years. Yes, may the bitter outcome of the recent events cause believers to question the popular faith-politics paradigm. Sadly, these events will serve as a catalyst to draw some in even deeper.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Cathy. Yesterday’s mob action was a good example of the very misguided “America the anointed Christian Nation” paradigm. I’m guessing last night the Democratic legislators used Ronald Reagan’s “city on a hill” in an attempt to appeal to their Republican colleagues’ sense of national unity. We should surely pray for this country so that we can live peaceful lives and the Gospel can go forth (1 Tim. 2:2) but the Lord can also use this tumult and insecurity to draw souls to Him.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Mandy. We don’t hear America being proclaimed the “New Jerusalem” or the “New Israel” as it routinely was when the country was young. I’m guessing many pastors realized that such a bold claim was increasingly indefensible. But I think the view that America is somehow specially anointed among nations is still quite popular. It’s clear that the political landscape in this country is becoming increasingly polarized. As believers we should be wary of becoming enmeshed in these temporal political tussles.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Mandy. Yes, I think the Lord is going to do some amazing things amidst all of the temporal turmoil. Unbelievers who view American society and government as their foundation, anchor, and identity are seeing how fragile and unreliable these things really are.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sorry I responded twice! My thought was that some believers act like DC is the New Jerusalem in hoping that what it represents although flawed is yet just and good providing favorable outcomes. The light that the world is watching from the “city set on a hill” is fire, only God knows how hot, high and long it will burn.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I understand that my criticism of the notion of America as the “city set on a hill” wouldn’t be well-received by the majority of believers living in this country because the paradigm is 400 years old and deeply ingrained. I realize many good things have been accomplished by believers living in America including support of Gospel mission and charity efforts throughout the world. And Democracies certainly beat tyrannies. But using the metaphor spoken by Jesus in Matthew 5:14 that was meant only to describe believers to describe this country is a regrettable misapplication that has reinforced American “civil religion.”
        Puritan John Winthrop was wrong to appropriate the term for the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630, but at least he had the hope that the semi-theocracy of believers would be proclaiming and living the Gospel. I doubt few if any politicians have the Gospel in mind when they invoke the “city set on a hill” metaphor for America.
        This isn’t a “hill to die on” for me because I realize the vast majority of American believers would disagree with me.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Thanks. There are some beliefs/causes worth dying for, but pointing out the flaws of Christian nationalism/American civil religion is not one of them.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Well said. The United States is imploding on itself. But praise God this is not all there is. He have eternity in Heaven to look to. And on that day can leave this fallen world behind. All politicians have done is deceive and pollute the minds of American Christians

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Joseph. I pray for governmental leaders that we can live peaceful lives so that the Gospel is not hindered, but the temporal foundations are definitely developing some major cracks. Praise God for our Rock of Ages, cleft for us!

      Liked by 1 person

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