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The 4th of July and Two Kingdoms

Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world.’”
– The Gospel of John 18:36

With the July 4th holiday approaching next week you can be assured of one thing – churches around the United States will have services devoted to the theme of America and liberty. Activities like reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, singing God Bless America and salutes to the armed forces will be dotted in orders of worship throughout the country. If I could get a dollar for every sermon that deals with “freedom” in our nation’s pulpits a weekend from now I’d become a very wealthy man.

And I think for some churches it can be a very scary thing!

Let me preface this by saying I am grateful to God to be an American. While I don’t think our country is perfect by any stretch of the imagination, I wouldn’t choose to live anywhere else. I consider myself patriotic as well. In high school I wrote a piece on the great gift of being an American for a scholarship competition sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars. It went all the way to state as a finalist. My wife and I have been to a Presidential Inauguration. My uncle fought in Vietnam. My great uncle in WWII. My father served in the Army. I even have a brother who worked in the White House in the role as Special Assistant to the President of the United States. So rest assured, I love the good ole US of A.

I just get really leery of churches that devote entire worship services to the greatness of America. It’s not that one can’t consider America great, it’s just not as great as God. In fact, it is so “not as great as God” that it (or anything else) doesn’t need to be worshipped. Remember, for most churches the Sunday service is a worship service, and that worship is reserved for no one else than Almighty God. However, I believe many churches walk a very thin line by conducting services that leave people with the impression that America is worthy to be given that which only God deserves…worship! It’s won’t be uncommon in many churches next weekend to have a service where people will pledge their fidelity to our nation, sing songs of praise to her and raise her colors high in a space that is supposed to be set apart as “God’s House”. Does anyone see, if not a possible contradiction, at least a sizeable tension here?

Only the Lord is to be worshipped. Nothing, not even our wonderful nation, gets that kind of billing. In fact, there are numerous texts that show how impotent America (and any other nation for that matter) is in front of the Most High God.

  • Psalm 47:7-8, “For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm! God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.”
  • Daniel 2:21a, “He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings…”
  • Daniel 4:34b-35, “For his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”
  • Psalm 33:10, “The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the people.”
  • Acts 14:16-17, “In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”
  • Revelation 12:5, “She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron…”
Make no mistake, when it comes to an arm wrestling match between America and God for worthiness of worship, there is no competition. America’s existence in this world of ours ultimately rests not on its economical or military prowess but upon the sovereign wishes of God. Therefore, now that we know everyone’s place in the grand scheme of things, it seems churches (who represent God’s Kingdom and not the nation where they happen to be located) would be wise to put together services next Sunday in such a way that there is no guessing on the part of the congregants on who/what is to be the rightful object of worship!

The great Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin taught that Christians were citizens of two kingdoms: God’s Kingdom and man’s kingdom. As such we have responsibilities to both. For example, we obey the laws of the United States of America AND we seek to follow Jesus Christ. While these kingdoms are not equal (always God before man), when we can obey both, we should. But somehow over time many churches have tended to blur the line. Even today you can hear people talking in one sentiment or another about how America is God’s nation. Unfortunately, this is a confusion of kingdoms and becomes worsened when churches add to that confusion by hosting services which drift into more America-centric worship than Gospel-centered worship.

Can a church recognize liberty and America in a church worship service? I think it can but I’d strongly encourage it to happen within the context of a God who ultimately and unreservedly is the object of worship in that service. Let there be no confusion on Sunday! However, I’d put money on the fact that many churches likely cross the line from a biblical appreciation for the state to an idolatrous adoration of it when they gather on weekends such as the one we’re approaching. Again, I’m not saying American Christians shouldn’t celebrate their nation, I just think there are better arenas for doing that than a Christian worship service held by a those who have been given a new identity in Christ as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9) While our natural birth has made us Americans, the Gospel has made us “sojourners and exiles” in this world (1 Peter 2:11), thus believers are to reserve their highest allegiance for the One who has given them an identity that transcends any earthly citizenship.

How does that affect us? Well, at my church every Memorial Day, July 4th and other patriotic seasons we will continue to have people angered at our leadership because we don’t fly flags in the auditorium, or sing the National Anthem or have everyone stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. But let it be known, we as Followers of Jesus Christ have pledged our allegiance ultimately to the One who rules over every nation, including the United States. I will have many Presidents over my lifetime, but only one Lord. And because that is so, it means there is only One who is rightfully to be worshiped – one Kingdom over all kingdoms. At least for my local church to that end, we want that to be perfectly clear on Sunday!

My first allegiance is not to a flag, a country, or a man.
My first allegiance is not to democracy or blood.
It’s to a King and a Kingdom.
– Derek Webb, A King and A Kingdom

Picture of Yancey Arrington
Dr. Yancey C. Arrington is an eighth generation Texan, Acts 29 Network and Houston Church Planting Network fan, and Teaching Pastor at Clear Creek Community Church in the Bay Area of Houston. He is also author of Preaching That Moves People and TAP: Defeating the Sins That Defeat You, and periodically writes for Acts 29 and The Gospel Coalition.

6 thoughts on “The 4th of July and Two Kingdoms”

  1. Yancey,

    From one patriot to another – AMEN! While I am grateful to live in what is no doubt the greatest country on earth, I would be a fool to consider this a godly nation. The culture of America is why the church in America is on the decline. We will celebrate our freedom on the 4th – freedom that our culture has taken and run with as far and as fast away from God as it can. Churches will spend this Sunday celebrating that freedom – and the rest of the year trying to convince people that the culture that freedom has provided is hopeless and destitute. Quite ironic.
    Churches in America would do well to familiarize themselves with this scripture –
    Deut. 6:14-15
    14You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you— 15for the LORD your God in your midst is a jealous God— lest the anger of the LORD your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth.

    Good Word Yance!
    Brad Loser

  2. Yancey – this is so true… Like Brad just mentioned, one of the biggest reasons that our country is going awry is because we have raised our love of country to a level higher than the love of Jesus. Think about it, the biggest battle we face is regarding secularism – by definition, a raising of the love of country above all else. Thanks Yance for bringing this to people’s attention – it’s so ironic that many churches will spend this following weekend glorifying the philosophy that allows for a post-modern philosophy run roughshod throughout our country…

  3. SurrenderedMan

    What Brad said, and more. I, as well, love America, but can see where being one likely makes it more difficult to spread the Gospel on foreign soil, not eaiser. In so many quarters of our world, describing oneself as a Christian from America evokes( as one of your favorite authors said, i believe) images of BMW’s, more so than Bibles.

    When i travel to Ukraine in a month, i’m going to call myself a “follower of Jesus”, and let it stand on that.

    Again, i do love our country so much..and the freedoms it allows. I wish that it was more “in God we Trust” however, and less “McMansion or bust”.

  4. Yancey,

    I have held this belief for sometime, and when I share it, there are individuals that act as if I’m a heretic.

    Thanks for posting & I am going to post a link on Facebook for people to read.

    2009 WBU Alumni

  5. I for one believe that as a nation we have been blessed with leaders of faith and vision. The fact that persons who protested the state of worship in Europe came here to settle and worship (at least on the eastern seaboard)makes our religious connection a strong one. I look forward to a Sunday honoring (not worshiping) the grand struggle for a more perfect union. My church may not be dedicating a worship service to patriotic feelings, but we certainly are at a church picnic afterwards. As a community of faith, many of us feel a need as a Christian community to express our gratitude and love for this imperfect nation that we continue to nuture with our Christ-driven acts of faith.

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