Patriotism and the Church
By Wendell Cantrell
Do you consider yourself to be a patriot? This isn’t a topic you hear discussed much these days. A patriot has a love and devotion for his/her country and a concern for its defense. The baby boomer generation grew up hearing this term a lot as it related to the major wars in which our country was engaged. I am concerned that our younger generations are growing up hearing how we are not an exceptional country and the idea of risking one’s life defending it is senseless. This idea has crept into our churches. A few years ago, my wife and I were hosting some UNT international students in our home. As I recall, there were four Saudi students and a sponsor. We were having an intriguing conversation about their ongoing struggles with their government. The discussion then shifted to detrimental forces in our own country. The sponsor, a young American woman, bluntly stated, “One of my biggest struggles here is with all these patriots.” As a veteran of the Vietnam War, I was shocked to be hearing that from one of our own. Fortunately, God gave me the grace to bite my tongue and speak gently.
You may be asking how this relates to our church. If you have attended DBC long, you have likely witnessed services around July 4th where our country, the flag, and veterans from each branch of the military are honored. The majority of congregants cherish that time to express our love for this great country. It is an amazing service! I know for a fact that there is push back from those who think that patriotic music and flags have no place in the church. One of my favorite authors, Kevin DeYoung, recently wrote an article entitled Five Thoughts on Patriotism and the Church.1 The following quote summarizes his opinion: “I love to hear the national anthem, but not in church where the nations gather to worship the King of all peoples.” I am sure the author would consider himself to be a patriot, but he believes patriotism has no place in the church. I personally take exception to his conclusion, but a few of his thoughts are certainly worth discussion.
- As Christians, we don’t lose our national identities. As believers, we are one in Christ. This doesn’t mean we give up our tribal identity. Our tribe and tongue will be noted in heaven along with the myriads of others. Since the difference is noted in heaven, we shouldn’t discount it now. DeYoung and others, however, are concerned with the impact our displays of patriotism have on our international congregants (our brothers and sisters from around the world). Certainly, we need to keep foremost in our mind the fact that our ultimate citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). However, I think we are privileged to have the opportunity to show our friends how God has truly blessed this great country while we wait for the heavenly kingdom.
- Patriotism can be an idol. I agree that any kind of love (family, home, sports team) can grow to the point of being out of proportion with our ultimate Love. A weekly pledge of allegiance or national anthem in our churches might be a bit much. Though it could be a risk, I haven’t heard of this sort of drift. The other direction, the neglecting love of country, seems to be the more common path.
- Allegiance to God and country can be compatible. Certainly, as we saw in the previous paragraph, our country shouldn’t be our ultimate loyalty, though loyalty is certainly due. The Zealots (Matthew 10:4) were a group of Jews violently opposed to Roman rule over Israel. They felt that allegiance to God forbade any allegiance to government. In their worldview, if God was your king, you couldn’t have an earthly king. Jesus disagreed with them. He clearly taught His followers to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21). He was teaching that their duty to the Roman government didn’t infringe on their ultimate duty to God. These lesser authorities are instituted by a greater authority and they can be honored in good faith.
- Patriotism is good, but leave it out of church. DeYoung makes his strongest point here with the following comments, “Please think twice before putting on a Star Spangled gala in church this Sunday. I love to hear the national anthem and “God Bless America” and “My Country, Tis of Thee,” but not in church where the nations gather to worship the King of all peoples. I love to see the presentation of colors and salute our veterans, but these would be better at the Memorial Day parade or during a time of remembrance at the cemetery. Earthly worship should reflect the ongoing worship in heaven. And while there are many Americans singing glorious songs to Jesus there, they are not singing songs about the glories of America. We must hold to the traditions of the Apostles in our worship, not the traditions of American history. The church should not ask of her people what is not required in Scripture. So how can we ask the Koreans and Chinese and Mexicans and South Africans in our churches to pledge allegiance to a flag that is not theirs? Are we gathered under the banner of Christ or another banner? Is the church of Jesus Christ—our Jewish Lord and Savior—for those draped in the red, white and blue or for those washed in the blood of the Lamb?”
I certainly respect this author and he pastors a great church. I, however, find his premise offensive. I believe taking pride in our country is both a civil and a Christian responsibility. One is flat wrong to think that patriotism tears down other countries. It instead, promotes proper care for the one in which we live. Isn’t the idea of singing patriotic songs in our church simply recognizing the need for God in our country? We are clearly told in Psalm 33:12, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” I think patriotism has a definite place in the church. Patriotism isn’t about tearing down other countries, but instead, the edifying of your own. I can’t agree with this author’s view that patriotism reflects negatively on other countries. I frankly think that church should be a place where love of country is promoted during declared national holidays like Independence Day, Memorial Day, or Veterans’ Day. Let’s pray that as scripture is taught and practiced, all forms of our government will be changed for the glory of God!
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