– 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…”
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 democracy or blood.
It’s to a King and a Kingdom.
– Derek Webb, A King and A Kingdom