We had some discussions on this a year ago – some real humdingers. Here are some of the thoughts I had, revised from a previous post.
In my previous church, the Sunday before the Fourth was generally a Red, White and Blue Celebration, which people greatly enjoyed. I tried to make sure, in my sermon, that Americans needed God, but that he did not need us, that neither America nor Americans had any special place in God’s heart. He loved Ethiopians and Koreans and Brazilians – even Canadians! – as much as he loved us.
Tomorrow, I have no plans to preach on anything related to Independence Day.
This has been a point of real conflict, and with my recent emphasis on unity, it might be counter-productive to raise this as a point of discussion here. But it is an interesting discussion.
Again, being the broken record that I am, I do not believe this is an area where we need to divide, even though we have differences. I believe there are certain truths we hold in common, whether we have a Yankee-Doodle Sunday or we ignore the national holiday in our worship.
Here are some points on which I hope we all agree.
1) We agree that our primary citizenship is in heaven and that our first loyalty is to Christ and the heavenly Kingdom.
I am a loyal American. But I am an American second and a Christian first. If we ever put our loyalty to America ahead of or even in competition with our loyalty to Christ, we are idolatrous and sinful.
Paul told the Philippians that “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 3:20). In 2 Corinthians 5:20, Paul defines our status in this world as “ambassadors for Christ” – a powerful pictures. We live in a foreign country and serve the interests of heaven in this strange land.
No Christian can put his patriotism ahead of his passion for Christ and the Kingdom. On that I believe we all agree.
2) We agree that God desires for us to be good citizens of our earthly home.
Romans 13:1, Titus 3:1 and 1 Peter 2:13 tell us to be subject to our earthly government. Jesus told his disciples to render to Caesar those things that belong to Caesar. We can debate what this means, but we can also agree that some level of patriotism and love for our earthly nation is acceptable for Christians.
3) We agree America has been used greatly by God, but is not special to God.
Historians debate whether America was ever truly a “Christian nation.” I have read books that make a case on both sides and am not enough of an expert on American Church history to argue the topic. I can tell you what I believe. I think that America has been a nation that at one time had a culture that saw itself as Christian and responsible to God. We have tried (sometimes successfully, often in failure) to be a righteous nation, one submitted to the will and ways of God.
Proverbs 14:34 says that righteousness exalts a nation, and I believe that we have seen some exaltation, some blessing because of our (admittedly imperfect) attempts to live in obedience to God’s laws.
On the other hand, I think we all agree that America is not Israel. We have to be very careful to claim the promises of God to Israel as promises to this nation. We hold no special place in God’s heart. He loves Tanzanians and Indonesians and Uzbekistanians (?) as much as he loves Americans.
4) We agree that God’s purpose is not primarily to restore America but to reach the world with the gospel.
Yes, I would love to see America revived as it was in the Great Awakenings or in other great periods of revival in history. Lord, make it happen here and make it happen now. But reviving America is not our chief concern. The Great Commission is. Our duty is to bring Christ to the nations, not just to restore the fortunes of the land we love.
5) We agree that it is right and good to give thanks.
Giving thanks to God is always a good thing to do. I am so thankful for living in America. I’ve never had to wonder where a meal was coming from. I’ve never had to hide from the police or from death squads roaming the streets killing and raping. I have preached 50 Sundays a year for 30 years and never once had to shrink in fear from the authorities.
It is not only right to give thanks for these blessings, it would be wrong not to.
6) We agree that our worship services should glorify God and worship Christ – and no one or nothing else.
Need we say any more? If our worship services Sunday glorify me, I am sinful and blasphemous. If our worship services glorify America above God, we are sinful and blasphemous. If we give our people the idea that America is God’s chosen nation or that we hold a place in God’s heart, if we confuse the interests of America with the interests of the Kingdom of God, we are just as idolatrous.
I think we all agree about that.
I have a simple point in this post. We have some serious disagreements about how to implement these principles. We will probably continue to disagree and that is okay. But I wish to make the point that in spite of our disagreements, we share a large area of agreement. Honor Christ and Christ alone.
1) We disagree on how to apply these principles.
Some believe we should never say the pledge or sing the anthem or “God bless America” in church. Others believe that is okay and does not unduly honor America above Christ.
2) Can we not agree that this is an issue of conscience on which pastors and churches agree?
Those who choose to give honor to America in worship services are not trying to foster national idolatry. Those who choose not to have patriotic influences in worship are not anti-American. Both have a deep concern for honoring Christ and for doing his work in the this world. We disagree on an issue that seems to me to be a matter of conscience and personal (or church) preference.
Can we agree on the points of agreement?
Can we agree to disagree on the application of these points of agreement?
So, in this discussion, be excellent to each other. And, on the Fourth, “party on, dudes.”