Around the time of national days of remembrance such as Memorial Day and Independence Day, I hear two questions about patriotism in church. Here are the questions in their basic form:
- Why don’t we do more to show our patriotism in church?
- Why do we celebrate patriotism in church?
These questions represent two mentalities about recognizing national holidays and what they represent. Some people wish we would devote more attention to it while others wonder why we devote any attention at all.
I have considered speaking to this issue, and a recent article prompted me to go ahead. You can read the article, titled Why Younger Evangelicals May Feel Uneasy in a Patriotic Church Service, here.
Here’s a less recent article, this one by Kevin DeYoung, making some of the same observations and expressing his opinion on the issue.
My thoughts are similar to some, not all, of these guys’. If any of what I say sounds the same, it is not copied. I thought these things before I read what anyone else said about them. Here goes, not in any clearly logical order.
- We should express gratitude to God for all of our blessings, including the freedoms that we enjoy as Americans. There is plenty of Scripture that directs us to be thankful, and it is certainly appropriate to publicly thank God for our freedom, just as we thank Him for other material and circumstantial blessings in our lives. We should be grateful for the people who founded the USA and for those who have defended it and do so today. We can express thanks in prayer for them in the local church setting.
- Christianity is not national. America does not equal Israel. America is not a manifestation of the kingdom of God. Christianity is personal. It is experienced individually, and it is embodied and expressed in the setting of the local church, not in the culture and political leadership of a nation. I am uncomfortable with preaching and praying for “America to turn back to God.” I do not think it is helpful to urge people to “Return to the faith of our founding fathers.” What Scripture guides us to pray for “God’s blessing on America?” We need to preach and pray for people to turn in repentance and faith to Jesus Christ. God does not have to give a particular nation prosperity, freedom, and security in order to show that He is alive and well and at work in the world.
- Our fellowship in Christ does not eliminate national identity, but it does supersede any and all distinctions, including nationality (Acts 2:5ff; Galatians 3:26-29; Revelation 5:8-14). My local church is not an American institution. The church was founded by Jesus Christ, and He is its head. Having too much patriotic and nationalistic expression in church gatherings sends the wrong message. I did not say any expression, just too much. Finding that balance is each church’s prerogative. In many local churches, including ours, there are members, attenders, and guests present from countries other than the USA. I do not want to convey to them that our church is American. The worship, focus, message, and attitude of our gatherings should transcend nationality. “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ . . . “ (Philippians 3:20).
- Church gatherings should include times of specific prayer for national leaders, especially for those who are not friendly to Christianity (1 Timothy 2:1-7). This should not be limited to national holidays and election season.
- Christians’ lives should be characterized by submission to, cooperation with, and respect for government leaders (Matthew 22:21; Romans 13:1-7). Read that sentence again. Read the Bible verses. Christians who get upset about not having a patriotic service in church and then disrespect, mock, and defy national, state, and local governmental authorities are hypocritical.
- In summary, I see Scriptural basis for giving thanks for blessings we enjoy as Americans, praying for governmental leaders, and learning and practicing what the Word of God says about living as Christians in whatever national setting we have been providentially placed.
Here’s what we did last Sunday, July 6, at our church. During our Sunday morning gathering, we made comments acknowledging the significance of the weekend, expressing gratitude for freedom, and a reminder that true freedom is found in Jesus Christ (John 8:36). Our prayer included thanks for national freedom as well as prayer for our brothers and sisters in the world who are oppressed and persecuted for being Christians. After that there was really no further mention of anything that would be considered patriotic. The musical worship and the message were focused on God and our relationship to Him. Then those who wanted to stay enjoyed a fellowship lunch in our wooded picnic area. At 1:30 a few children and families shared songs, and we sang a few fun Americana type songs and one or two that you’d find in the Patriotism section of the hymnbook. One of our pastors shared a message from 1 Timothy 2:1-7.
Our observation of Independence Day at Calvary may have been too little for some, too much for others. I think it was appropriate in that the main gathering of worshiping, learning, and growing was not focused on our nation, but on God and His Word, and that we spent time as a church family later in the day expressing our thanks to God, being reminded of what it means to live as Christians in our nation, and just enjoying being together.
Let the fireworks begin. =)