Yesterday, the United States of America celebrated its independence. This means that countless Americans spent the day poolside, grilling burgers and watching firework displays. This also means that countless churches spent the Sunday prior (July 1st) honoring both God and country in their morning worship services.
But some churches did not. The approach of July 4th and the Sunday before it caused me to read numerous opinions on my Twitter feed regarding the mention of Independence Day in local church worship services. Some are adamantly against it, claiming that celebrating America speaks against the Great Commission to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth. Other pastors shared how they have led their churches to remove the American flag from the stage of their church sanctuary. Still others do not feel so strongly and stated they would honor America during their time of worship.
Biblically, where should we stand on this issue of “God and country”? Allow me to make some observations.
The Bible does not mention America.
The Bible does not talk about America, and in fact, it was not written to Americans, either. If you think about it, God was the only one who knew anything about the Americas until they were discovered in the fifteenth century AD.
But this doesn’t necessarily mean that we should never mention America in our churches. The Bible doesn’t mention email or Facebook or airplanes or Disneyland, but surely these topics somehow arise in sermons and other in-church discussions.
Nations are not to be worshipped.
Though it is acceptable to mention America in a church service, it is not acceptable to worship America in a church service (or anywhere else for that matter). No nation is worthy of worship. Only the Trinitarian God who created us and died for us is worthy of our worship.
This is easy enough to say, and I hope that most would readily agree, but when we start reciting the pledge to the American flag and singing the Star-Spangled Banner and other patriotic songs in our worship services (in the place of other, more gospel-focused songs), the lines become blurry in peoples’ minds. When this happens, people are prone to leave the service thinking how great America is instead of how great God is. Herein lies a great danger: that churches lead people to worship and focus on anything besides the glory of God.
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Nations are important to God.
If you have ever read much of the Bible, you know that it mentions many, many nations. Of course you are familiar with Israel, the nation God chose to be His special possession. But you probably know several other nations, some which are very difficult to pronounce!
Besides Israel, some of the important nations or empires in the Bible were the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans. All of these nations were important to God, and God used these countries to bring about His plan. He used the Assyrians and Babylonians to punish both Israel and Judah for their covenant failures. He then used Cyrus and the Persians to allow the restoration of a righteous remnant. In the New Testament, He used the Romans, their language (Koine Greek), and their wonderful road system to allow the mass spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Nations are indeed important to God.
Does this also apply to America? Sure it does. America, and every other nation on planet earth, was and is a part of God’s sovereign plan. God has used this country and its citizens to do some great things.
All nations are important to God.
“America is the greatest nation in the world.” Have you ever heard anyone say that? Would God say that? “Greatest” is a very subjective term; it depends on what your metrics are, and I’m sure God’s are different than ours. Does God value America? I’m sure He does, but I can’t say that He singles America out over Australia, Argentina, Algeria, or Afghanistan. He has a plan for all nations, the utmost of which is for all peoples from all nations to come to a saving relationship with Him.
God has indeed blessed America.
There is no denying this. Since its very beginning, the citizens of the United States of America have enjoyed many great freedoms that aren’t experienced in other nations. Throughout the years God has blessed America with some great leaders, great progress, and great financial standing. But for this, God is to be worshipped and praised, not America.
God has certainly blessed America, but He has blessed numerous other nations as well.
We are Christians first and Americans second.
Our citizenship in God’s kingdom is of much more importance than our citizenship in America (or any other nation). Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:11-17 teach us that we are to be respectable citizens of whatever country we hold citizenship. But our earthly citizenship does not inform our kingdom citizenship. No, our kingdom citizenship must inform our earthly citizenship. We must live a life based on Scriptural principles, not American principles. As my pastor said this past Sunday, we must not focus on the flag but on the Father, on His glory and not Old Glory.
What did your church do, if anything, in light of Independence Day? How do you keep yourself focused on Christ and not on America?