A Post-Patriotic Thought or Two…

Is it just me, or is the Fourth of July one of the hardest holidays for Christians to figure out?  Sure, Halloween is controversial, Santa might be an anagram for Satan, and Cadbury Eggs seem to be the only legitimate reason to posit the existence of an Easter Bunny, but none of those issues affect corporate worship.  Check out the Christian social media sphere around July 4, and you’ll find scores of articles, statuses (stati?), and tweets expressing opinions about patriotism and Christianity.  You’ll find everything from “America is God’s chosen country so let’s quote OT verses about Israel as if they applied to the USA” to “patriotism is flat-out idolatry and has no place in church at all.”  Here are a few thoughts about patriotism and Christianity that I mulled over last weekend.

First, America is not God’s special chosen nation.  That’s so obvious it hardly needs mentioning.  Yet Christians persist in the error of printing Israelite-nation-specific verses on red, white & blue placards.  (I’m looking at you, Ps. 33.12 people!)  To be frank, the belief that America is God’s chosen nation in some unique way borders on nationalistic arrogance.  It exaggerates the Christian influence on the country’s founding and ignores America’s more recent history and current status.  Of course, the deepest problem is that this elitism is impossible to support Scripturally.  Ironically, the people who pretend America is a chosen nation (replacement theology of a sort!) are often strongly dispensationalist in their statements of faith.

Second, America is not as good as heaven.  How many of you sang “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” in your church services?  I nearly choked on the second stanza:

My native country, thee, Land of the noble free, Thy name I love; I love thy rocks and rills, Thy woods and templed hills; My heart with rapture thrills, Like that above.

To begin with, I like America’s rocks, rills, woods and hills.  They’re beautiful, but I don’t exactly love them.  But that last line – “my heart with rapture thrills like that above” – I cannot sing out loud.  To sing that the joy of seeing America’s geography is like the joy of heaven is idolatry.  Yes, the issue really is that simple and clear.  That stanza has no place on a Christian’s lips.

The question of whether “hymns” addressed to and extolling the alleged virtues of a nation have any place in a church service dedicated to God’s glory is an issue I’ll not answer at length here.  I’ll simply say this: any song whose primary message is anything other than the character, work or worth of God is unworthy of inclusion in corporate worship.

Third, America’s founders were not all Christians.  In their eagerness to see Christianity at America’s founding, many well-meaning people have incorporated quotations from Jefferson, Franklin and other outright unbelievers into their services.  Let’s think carefully about what this actually does.  It may seem patriotic to say, “Look, even people who weren’t quite Christians still believed in prayer and Judeo-Christian values.”  What it might actually communicate, however, is “It’s OK if you’re not really converted as long as you pay lip service to an Almighty Being of some sort.”  That’s not patriotic; that’s sad.

Proving America’s “Christian heritage” by referencing men who rejected the Gospel blurs the meaning of the word Christian.  It implies that Christian simply means “believing in or influenced by conservative, semi-biblical values” and it marginalizes the core of Christianity: Christ’s sacrifice to redeem His people!  Since so many churches intend their patriotic services to be evangelistic outreaches, the last thing they ought to do is validate a Gospel-less “Christianity” of mere ethics.

Fourth, God’s providence is evident in America’s history.  A patriotic service that accurately praises God for that providence is a great idea.  Admittedly it takes more restraint than usual to dial down certain extremes and to avoid certain pitfalls that often accompany patriotism.  Furthermore, looking at God’s providence is a lot deeper than being thankful for war veterans and political freedom.  Focusing on all of God’s providence in America also takes us right up to His present providence.  What is America today?  It’s one country among almost two hundred others.  It’s less than 5% of the world’s souls.  It’s a country that needs Christ far more than it imitates Him.  That is God’s providence today: we have a mission.  Not a political goal, not an ethical target, not a national unity to pursue, but a mission for Gospel living and preaching.  Any nostalgic look at our providential past that leaves us happy and satisfied with the status quo is insufficient.

One final thought in closing: I’d like to see a “patriotic service” that focuses the worshipers on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (but not just as a riff off of the sacrifice of war heroes), that magnifies the providential power of our personal God (not merely the vague “Power that hath made and preserved us a nation”), and that motivates the worshipers to go out and present the Gospel with their needy neighbors one-at-a-time (without getting distracted by dreams of national revivals).

I’m sure some of you have attended Gospel-centered patriotic services and have been blessed by a biblically accurate response to the position God has put our country in.  Please share some sermon links and stories in the comments!