This coming Sunday is July 3rd. It is a weekend where millions of good folks around our great country will be celebrating freedom and thanking the men and women in our military who have made endless sacrifices over the course of our nation’s history. It is a time of hardcore cookouts and a bunch of hot dogs being consumed. I love it. I am a proud American and, I suppose, a pretty patriotic guy. I willingly offer, with no conflict in Scripture, my allegiance to the United States of America and understand her to be the greatest country in the world. I am thankful to have been born in the USA. I see zero conflict when Christians embrace an ultimate allegiance to Jesus Christ but also love, support, and are thankful for their own country, whether that be America, Canada, or San Marino. Some may push back by citing Galatians 3:28 and the first few chapters of Romans to describe a lack of national identity once we are in Christ Jesus; “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.” These verses were not intended to dissolve any sense of ongoing identity among Christians, but rather remind us of our common spiritual condition before Christ and our common spiritual condition after Christ. We are all dead before faith in Christ Jesus, and we are all clothed in His righteousness after faith in Christ Jesus, regardless of our national identity, sex, or occupation There is no exegetical ground to believe these verses, which are salvation oriented, teach a retraction of identity. Rather, they teach an addition of identity, that we now most belong to Christ Jesus and in that relationship, we find common ground now and forever (by the way, most egalitarians will use these verses to show why roles for men and women should be the same. That argument fails for the same reason). As a matter of fact, the Bible is filled with examples of how we should be praying for our own national leaders, our country, and be thankful for what God has ordained with our leadership and our government. Thus, the notion of honoring or “having allegiance” to both God and country is a biblical principle, made most famous by Jesus’ shocking words to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesars.” Our priorities might get out of whack. We run the possibility of turning country into an idol. But that is true of anything. So, in short, to be a dedicated follower of Christ does not mean we must expunge our patriotic tendencies.
Where things become a bit more tricky is when Christians gather together for worship as the Church. In doing so, we join with the “innumerable angles” and the “assembly of the first born” in heaven, so that our worship is a gathering together in the heavenly places to join what is already happening. That theological marvel must be at the forefront of our minds when we engage in worship activities as the church. Although worship happens every second of every day in the lives of all Christians (Romans 12:1), Scripture makes clear that the gathering of the church for worship is the highest expression of praise and the most important thing we do as Christians, which is why the author of Hebrews warns us from neglecting to meet together. This seems to be one of those clear areas where we should not exceed what is required and laid out in Scripture for our worship. I feel at peace praying for our leaders in worship. I feel at peace thanking God for our military. I feel at peace asking God to allow the good to overcome the evil. Those things are presented in Scripture as reasonable and right for the church to participate in. But it is when we slip into the motto of the great Muppet Sam Eagle that we end up on thin ice (Sam Eagle delivers one the funniest lines in Muppet history at the “Muppet Vision 3-D” show at Disney World in Florida). He says:
“This is a salute to all nations. . . .but mostly America.”
As a unified body of believers in Christ Jesus, the church does not gather with a national identity but rather with a Christiological identity. To say the Pledge of Allegiance or sing overly patriotic songs in a church service, as great as both those things are, is to surpass the guidelines of Scriptural worship and place expectations on folks that probably ought not to be there. To put it simply, there is no way the innumerable angles and the assembly of the firstborn in heaven are singing “My Country Tis of Thee.” Pastor and author Kevin DeYoung in writing about the Church and Memorial Day put it like this: “While there are many Americans singing glorious songs to Jesus in heaven, they are not singing songs about the glories of America.”
So how can we make this work? If Christians can and should be patriotic, in the sense of honoring and being thankful for their country, do they just ignore that when at church? I think there can be a balance. We have acknowledged that certain aspects of country are reasonable for worship. But for the “we love America” sentiments, there are better places suited for that kind of expression, even within the context of the church. A wonderful idea is to get a group of Christians together, those who are interested from a congregation, and attend the local 4th of July parade, perhaps wearing church t-shirts. That is a setting where Christians can be together in as much patriotic fervor imaginable and not cross a worship boundary. There are even possible special church get-togethers that could serve that purpose.
So, if your church sings “My Country Tis of Thee” on Sunday, should you walk out? Of course not. All churches will lead worship on Sunday with the very best heart and desire to do what is honoring and worthwhile. This is one of those topics where we would do well to slowly start educating and engaging in conversation. There are many who feel very, very strongly about God and country in the local church. We must honor those beliefs and never cause a riff to come between folks in an attempt to unify us even more. Love, as always, still wins the day here. This is an important issue. But not one to jump into without any regard for the folks who feel differently.
And with that, God Bless America!
8 Replies to “Should Churches Recite the Pledge of Allegiance on Sunday?”
Another great post!
I am proud and very thankful to be an American. We pray for our president, the congress, the judiciary, the governor of our state and our local officials every single Sunday.
But I believe we’d be crossing the line to have overtly American patriotic songs in Christian worship. I’ll happily say the Pledge of Allegiance when I go to my weekly Rotary meeting, but not in God’s house. For one thing, not everyone who attends my worship services are necessarily American citizens. We don’t stand before God as Americans. We stand before God as sinners who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ. The church, when it gathers, is a people drawn from all tribes and nations. We don’t even have an American flag in the church. I would mind having one in a school or in a civic center, but would strongly prefer not to have one in the sanctuary. It mixes the symbolism too much together. Lutheran churches in America only started putting American flags in their buildings at the time of the first and second world wars. You can understand why when you realize that many Lutheran churches in this country were founded by German immigrants. But nowadays, it’s not the best practice, in my opinion.
Amen brother. Your comment concerning church members who are not necessarily American citizens is what I had in mind when I said, “place expectations on folks that probably ought not to be there.” I think you are absolutely right.
Have a great 4th weekend!
Oops, I should have said, “I would NOT mind…”
Thank you for your thoughts. In the spirit of engaging in conversation, what are your thoughts about the prayer, “God Bless America”? You closed your article with it, so I assume you have some affinity for it, but I wonder if that prayer is biblically sound. I understand the sentiment behind the prayer, but are we asking God to bless a nation that approves some very sinful things. Would we pray for God to bless the sinner? I guess in some ways we might; but it seems more biblical to pray for the sinner to repent and then for God to bless him or her? Is it irresponsible for us to ask God to bless a nation He may not be happy with? Perhaps we should pray, “America bless God.”
Thanks for your comment. I like the way you think and believe we would probably be on the same page. John MacArthur wrote a book called “Can God Bless America?” that asks the questions you raise here. So yes, I would agree that our country is in a dangerous Romans 1 kind of situation. And yet. . .
1 Timothy 1:1-2 would make too strong of a position that we should refrain from asking God to bless us as a nation a difficult one to embrace. It is difficult (and not the purpose of the text) to make “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings” for “all people” without asking God’s blessing. If we followed the notion of not asking God to bless anything that was stained by sin to its logical conclusion, we could never ask God to bless anything this side of eternity – everything and everyone struggles with sin, even the righteous.
So, I think it is a good question to ponder, but I would be careful about getting to narrowly focused on that sentiment. Like so many things, a healthy balance is probably in order. (Besides, I really just thought it was a fun way to end a post warning about the dangers of church patriotism!)
I appreciate your comments on the subject, but have questions about your last paragraph. You stated that it wouldn’t be appropriate to walk out of the church during a patriotic song, due to the strong God-and-Country beliefs of fellow Christians there. So what would you recommend? You don’t say, but seem to imply to do nothing but sing along, thereby violating one’s own conscience on the matter. I suspect you don’t hold to that option either, but your silence implies it.
My own response would be to not stand up when asked to, and not recite or sing (the standing part is different if the congregation were already standing), specifically if it was an unplanned arbitrary decision by the pastor. To not stand and recite would be an obvious public demonstration of disagreement with the pastor….BUT, it is because the pastor has engineered it that way. He has not left any room for any other response, except a ‘Yes I agree’ or ‘No I don’t.’ So a probable rift in relationship between God-and-Country congregants and those who disagree is actually created by the pastor’s changes to the service order. This is what happened in my church July 2014. I am a deacon in the church, and the pastor surprised us all by arbitrarily sticking it in the service. None of us deacons had any warning. There was no room to suggest alternatives, or protest. It was either comply or publicly show disagreement. I actually was on vacation and not there at the time, but found out later. I plan to talk to our pastor before the upcoming July 5, 2015 service, to see if a better event structure can be arranged.
I would love to here a reply to your question too. Walking out seems harsh…and sitting down in disagreement is tough too. I agree that there needs to be a ongoing dialogue on this subject because I know so many Christians put America on a pedestal that makes it on equal footing with the Kingdom of God. This is a very slippery slope, but I can’t imagine Paul allowing Roman Christians to pledge their allegiance to a Roman flag.
The problem with serving the flag of any nation, is that God said, “you should not make or serve any image in the likeness of heaven above or in the likeness of the earth below”(Ex.20:1-5) (De.4:15-19)…The founding fathers made carved images of the stars, the moon, the sun, of birds and four footed beasts, in the likeness of heaven above and in the likeness of the earth below…The founding fathers set the carved images in the flag and the flag is high and lifted up on a flag pole and those who are serving the flag are serving idols…The god of the U.S. is the star spangled of heaven and the eagle of the earth…The god of Mexico is the eagle and serpent of the earth…The god of Canada is the maple leaf of the tree of the earth…The god of Japan is the sun of heaven…The god of Israel is the star remphan of heaven Acts 7…The devil uses Romans 13 to deceive those who are serving the flag…But He who said, “submit to the authorities” in Romans 13, also said, “do not make or serve any image”…If you submit to the authorities, you do well, but if you serve any image, you are a transgressor of the law…The nations idols are high and lifted up on a flag pole and those who are serving the flag are called “idol worshippers”…God calls this type of flag service “idolatry”…When God said, “you shall not make an image in the likeness of heaven above or in the likeness of the earth below”, God meant not to make an image in the likeness of heaven above or in the likeness of the earth below…And when God said, “not to serve any image”, God meant not to serve any image in the likeness of heaven above or in the likeness of the earth below…When the king of Babylon played the national anthem at the sound of music the Babylonians fell down to worship the gold image…Today, when the U.S. plays the national anthem at the sound of music the U.S. citizens stand to sing a song to the star spangled of heaven…The star spangled is of heaven because the star is from heaven…The eagle is of the earth because the eagle is from the earth…The devil has blinded the minds of the churches of God who are serving the flag because they cannot see the nations idols high and lifted up on a flag pole.