My Thoughts on Independence Day in the Church

As Michael Horton observed, we suffer from a Christless Christianity in this country.  We have moving church services flag_organ[1]that honor veterans, sing stirring renditions of “God Bless the USA,” and sometimes even recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag to stage-right of the pulpit.  Yet, while we feel sufficiently patriotic after such a service, can we honestly say that we have corporately worshipped in Spirit and in truth?
There are reasons why such a celebration in the middle of church makes Christians uncomfortable.  Here are a few:
  1. The disjunctive purpose of the service.  As one veteran told me yesterday, he doesn’t want the recognition, period, especially not at a time when people’s eyes are supposed to be on Jesus.  The question is whether the service is meant to honor the country and possibly even our servicemen, or the Lord of Hosts.  Another way of phrasing it would be: why would we take the Lord’s Day service and conflate it with other purposes?  One possible solution might be to have a special recognition ceremony before or after the service, or on a different day when it doesn’t get confused with Sunday worship.
  2. The song selection is not consistent.  Some of the tunes in our American songbook are true hymns (especially if more than the first verse is sung).  Others, not so much.  I recently attended the swearing in of new officers where one young lady sang a beautiful “Star-Spangled Banner.”  That was an appropriate venue for that song.  However, music in church must be biblical and Christ-honoring.  Again, if the purpose of the service is not for honoring the country, but to preach the Word, then the song selection should reflect that.  By way of example, consider this with the song selection in this Southern Baptist worship service:
  3. The country’s flag in the worship service also distracts. I know this isn’t a popular position, but it needs to be said… err., written.  It used to be that churches thought about everything that was to be part of the worship service.   The pulpit was not only meant to hold a preacher’s Bible and notes, but also hide him from view while the Word was exposited.  A congregation Bible appeared front and center to emphasize the centrality it has in our lives.  Lights are for reading, the chairs are for sitting, and any decorations such as stained-glass windows or banners pointed us to biblical realities.  The American flag doesn’t serve a purpose in the worship of our Lord and, thus, would be better suited to a foyer, if anywhere.  Why? 
  4. Because the gospel is to all nations.  A better image of the gospel would be to display all flags, as some churches do during their missions weeks.  American patriotism in church can tempt us to forget that we are all awaiting a better country, and it can cause us to forget that Jesus is at work in other nations with other people groups.
Dovetailing off that last point, we Americans should remember this Independence Day that we live in a country affording unique freedoms.  Thus, it wouldn’t be untoward to offer a prayer of thanksgiving to the Almighty this Sunday for keeping us the home of the free as well as a prayer for our persecuted brothers and sisters.  So, none of this is to anyway denigrate the pride American citizens should feel in this country. 
It’s obviously not a sin to sing patriotic songs or wave an American flag.  Let me say it again: there’s nothing wrong with honoring one’s country for the good things that happen in it.  Eat a burger and set off a few firecrackers to the glory of God.  Just not in California.
The issue is this: Our churches cannot encourage the continuation of civil religion in this country.  This is a false religion especially prevalent in the South.  The false idea most people have is that if you have a “God bless America” bumper sticker and pay your taxes, you’re a Christian.  When they come to church and hear nothing to challenge that notion, they continue to live in the myth that they are okay with God.  When they come to church, they should hear the consistent rhythm of Christ-honoring music and biblical exposition.  Only then will they hear the true gospel, repent, and believe.0

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