David blogs at “Gulf Coast Pastor” and recently posted this article. I am very well aware that it is a counterpoint to the views of some of our writing team and readers. That is what we are about – discussing issues in a collegial way, even when we disagree (or that’s the goal anyway). So, let us set the bar high here. A lively exchange free of personal insult and invective.
Can we be patriotic in our July 4th Worship Service? Can we sing patriotic songs and have the American, Texas, and Christian flags in our sanctuary? Yes, of course we can.
It seems rather strange that practices I grew up with, seen in church all my life, seen the great majority of churches use, are now vehemently challenged. Some seem to feel they are the first generation in 2,000 years to finally get Christianity right. They have no appreciation or respect for those generations of believers on whose shoulders they stand.
I heard of a young new pastor in a large church in another state who banned the flag in church and refused to do anything patriotic or recognize veterans. The church was seriously hurt and the pastor, perhaps wiser, soon moved on. A new pastor should consider the wisdom of going to a 50 or 100 year old church and self-righteously telling them they have it all wrong and he is going to straighten them out. It just could be that newly hatched pastor needs to learn a few things.
Some have fretted over a patriotic service causing confusion over our allegiance to Christ and to our country. Frankly, I’ve never had someone come to me with such confusion. Usually this issue is pretty clear. Jesus said, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21).
Some have worried a patriotic service leads to idolatry. Far from idolatry, come July 4th we commonly thank God (that’s a mighty Christian thing to do) for the good things about our country, and speak out against the moral failings of our country. We do not blindly follow our country, right or wrong. We are grateful however, for God’s blessings on America, including the incredible gift of religious liberty.
It seems that like the Public Invitation and using the Sinner’s Prayer, most criticism of having a patriotic worship service is more a criticism of the abuse, rather than the proper use of them. Of course we should not abuse them. But properly used, they are greatly used of God.
Some criticize a patriotic worship service because it is not explicitly found in Scripture. So are a long list of other practices the critics use on a regular basis. No, God Bless America is not found in the Psalms; but the concept is there, and there is nothing anti-biblical about using a patriotic service to tell folks about Jesus.
What about international students being in a patriotic worship service? Well, they can learn that Americans love God and love their country. They can see believers praying for their country. They can see believers striving to better their country. International students may just be inspired to go home to their own country and do likewise.
I spoke to a Baptist Student Ministry college group about the American history of Thanksgiving. An international student later thanked me and told how she enjoyed the message. She said she had always wondered about Thanksgiving since her country did not have such a holiday. It is not difficult to use an American cultural theme to teach Christian concepts.
Some have expressed concern that a patriotic service may turn into a partisan political rally. Certainly that could happen, but it can also be easily avoided. We’ve never done that in a church I’ve pastored. There is nothing partisan and out of line in singing some patriotic songs and expressing your love and godly concern for country.
Are there some tensions and conflicts between God and country? Yes. That is why Christians discuss the issue of a just war. That is why just because a man dies fighting valiantly for his country – that does not earn him a ticket to Heaven; only faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ does that. But a patriotic worship service can give us the perfect venue to preach that very truth!
Recently I preached on being ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). An ambassador learns the customs of his adopted country, while integrating and teaching them the customs of his home country. A Christian ambassador learns the customs of the country in which he resides, while teaching them the customs and beliefs of his home country of Heaven. Our church had an Easter Egg Hunt. We took a custom of our country of America (Easter Egg Hunt) and used it to teach the values and beliefs of Heaven, the Sacrificial Death and Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
July 4th (Independence Day) our church will celebrate the good things of America, pray about the bad things concerning America, all the while pointing folks to Jesus. We will hold our 2008 LifeWay Baptist Hymnals, turn to a patriotic song or two, and sing with gusto. Despite what some critics are saying, you can too!
Note: the Baptist Hymnal (or Broadman Hymnal) has included patriotic songs since at least the 1940 Broadman Hymnal. Other Christian hymnals have done the same. Baptists, without apology, have expressed their patriotism going back to at least the Revolutionary War of the 1700s; they have also criticized their country when they believed it wrong.
The 2008 Baptist Hymnal includes the song, O Canada. I have no problem with believers in other countries being patriotic. If I were worshipping in Canada, I would gladly sing O Canada right along with them.