Shining City on a Hill

Contrary to the claims of political operatives and some church leaders, Jesus is the light of the world, and his disciples are summoned to reflect him. From time immemorial, political leaders and their cheerleaders have invoked the name of “god” to validate their agendas and governments, and virtually always, the most popular religion at the time is employed to do so. Just as today’s officeholders pay lip service to purported “Judeo-Christian values,” so the emperors of Rome appealed to their traditional gods and morality for divine approval.

In this idolatrous endeavor, patriotism and religious faith often become synonymous, lack of nationalistic fervor is almost always viewed as heresy since the nation is identified with the popular religion. “America was raised up by God to be a city on a hill and a beacon of light to all nations,” so said one populist preacher.

Lantern - Photo by Vladimir Fedotov on Unsplash
[Photo by Vladimir Fedotov on Unsplash]

And so, many church leaders participate in this elaborate pantomime and Kabuki theater especially when partisan feelings are running high. The inevitable result is the close association and even identification of God, Jesus, and Christianity with a nation, economic model, political ideology, or party.


The problem is especially acute in the United States of America. In its popular forms, preachers routinely categorize America as a “Christian nation,” as if a man’s place of birth defines his religious beliefs. And all too often, they proclaim this country to be the “light of the world,” the “city on a hill,” established by God to illuminate all humanity.

The issue is not whether America is good, bad, or indifferent. But such statements contradict the words of Jesus who declared, “I am the light of the world!” The identity and nature of God can only be found in him, and there is no truth or life apart from the Nazarene.

When Christians claim anyone or anything other than Jesus is the light, they commit idolatry. His church is called to represent him and proclaim his Gospel, not Western-style democracy or free market capitalism - (John 14:6-11, 8:12, 9:5, Acts 13:47, 26:23).

And because they reflect HIM, the followers of Jesus are to become “lights of the world,” and so they are to let their “light shine before men so that they may glorify their Father in heaven.”

In Christ’s illustration of a “city set on a hill,” the image of the “hill” represents the entire world, and the “city” symbolizes his disciples, his “assembly,” the Ekkl├ęsia of Jesus of Nazareth.

And the light reflected in his disciples is the light that illuminates all nations. Christ gave his life for the entire world, not just for one nation, ethnic group, culture, economic or political system - (Matthew 5:13-16, John 3:16).

Any attempt to associate, or worse, identify Jesus and his teachings with specific nations and political ideologies is by its nature idolatrous, blasphemous, and contrary to the Scriptures.

The Bible labels Jesus as the “light of the world,” not Western civilization or democracy. When we proclaim that democracy is the world’s “hope” or “light,” we make it into a counterfeit religion, even a false god.

That many purported followers of Jesus embrace such sentiments demonstrates just how far from the biblical ideal we have strayed. Or perhaps, more accurately, just what a dismally poor job pastors and Bible teachers have done instructing their flocks.


There is no true light, liberty, peace, or life apart from Jesus. Scripture declares that the church transcends all national, cultural, and ethnic boundaries. It is the true people of God, His “holy nation,” and the priestly kingdom that is called to mediate his light in a very dark world, including the United States of America.

Jesus did not establish his church to propagate democracy or “Western civilization.” Instead, his body is tasked with proclaiming the Kingdom of God, and to summon all men to repent and submit to the absolute lordship of its king while the opportunity remains.

Disciples of Jesus are called to be a pilgrim people in this fallen age, and their true citizenship is in the kingdom of God. To be a citizen of His domain means giving total allegiance to its sole ruler. And that leaves no room for dual citizenship or conflicted loyalties. Furthermore, by the time Jesus returns, all existing regimes will cease to exist, and only the Kingdom of God will be left standing - (1 Corinthians 7:31, 15:20-28, Philippians 3:20, 1 Peter 1:1-2).

Neither the government of the United States nor its society has ever acknowledged or submitted to the absolute lordship of Jesus (nor has the government of Canada, Australia, the European Union, etc.). By default, it is other than Christian, it is a part of the existing world order that was judged already on Calvary and is now in the process of “passing away.”

The immersion of the churches of the United States into partisan politics has diverted us from our paramount task - To proclaim the gospel to all nations.  We forget who and what we are.

Jesus did not call us to “engage the culture,” reform society, or fix the political system. The existing order is destined for destruction, its fate is sealed. So, why do so many continue to “work for the meat that perishes”?

The New Testament does not call disciples to disengage from the world but to reengage it using the biblical means - prayer, witness, acts of mercy, and self-denying service to others. In other words, to become witnesses for Jesus Christ who live cruciform lives, and thus, the “shining city on a hill.”

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