My nationality is Indonesian, so the flag of my country is Bendera merah putih. It is a simple red-and-white flag with two equal horizontal bands. It was introduced and hoisted publicly 75 years ago during the proclamation of Indonesian independence on Aug. 17, 1945, in Jakarta, Indonesia.
When I was in high school, I was a member of the flag-raising squad. Aug. 17 was the most important day for us. On that day, the squad had one job to do: raise the flag as a part of the ceremony to celebrate Indonesian Independence Day.
At that time, I was not Mennonite. My parents didn’t teach me Anabaptist values, such as separation of church and state and nonviolence. After my introduction to Anabaptism, everything related to Independence Day found new meaning. The way I view the flag also found new meaning.
National flags are patriotic symbols, often associated with the military because of their original use. But as followers of Christ, our identity as children of God is beyond any flag or governmental institution.
We don’t need to take pride in our own national identity. We don’t need to make our country great (again). We don’t need to pledge our allegiance to the flag. We are God’s people, a holy nation.
We do need to work together, instead of competing, by working across state and political boundaries.
Perhaps the only competition that I enjoy between nationalities is the FIFA (soccer) World Cup. I remember watching the World Cup with my dad and uncles when I was a boy. Our family never missed it.
The first thing that I noticed as a boy when watching the World Cup was the colorful flags of the teams. My favorite teams will always be the Netherlands and Argentina. I remember their flags very well.
in the book of exodus, flags are mentioned. Moses built an altar to God. He named the altar “the Lord is my banner” (Exodus 17:15, NIV). I keep wondering what God’s banner looks like. I don’t know, but I will argue that it is not Bendera merah putih, nor the stars and stripes, Union Jack or even the flag of Zion.
I believe God’s flag should unite us as followers of Christ and not divide us. God’s flag needs to represent our victory against the principalities and rulers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil.
I believe the blood of Jesus is a spiritual flag that can unite us. It is not made from a piece of fabric, but it will give us victory from sin and death. It can reach people from capitalist and communist countries. It can cross continents and geographical boundaries, regardless of nationalities.
If we carry this flag as part of our faith, as followers of Christ we will be effective witnesses who transform life while also being transformed by God.
I believe that as followers of Christ our true citizenship is in the kingdom of God, the kingdom that is not of this world, the kingdom that is yet to come.
Article 23 of the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, used by Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada, states:
We believe that the church is God’s “holy nation,” called to give full allegiance to Christ its head and to witness to all nations about God’s saving love. The church is the spiritual, social and political body that gives its allegiance to God alone. As citizens of God’s kingdom, we trust in the power of God’s love for our defense. The church knows no geographical boundaries and needs no violence for its protection. The only Christian nation is the church of Jesus Christ, made up of people from every tribe and nation, called to witness to God’s glory.
As someone who was not born and raised in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition, I feel that I have experienced a new birth in Jesus. I used to misplace my national identity. But now I am sure that my identity is as a citizen of heaven.
Every believer is a co-worker without being limited by national and political identity. Let’s persevere in our faith, especially in these difficult times.
Hendy Stevan Matahelemual of South Philadelphia grew up in Bandung, Indonesia. After serving as a pastor in Indonesia, he moved to the United States. He received a master’s degree in Christian leadership from Eastern Mennonite Seminary in 2019. He is an ordained minister in Mosaic Mennonite Conference of Mennonite Church USA.