The O'Nan Family Blog

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Patriotism in the Church

This weekend, I visited a church in Nashville. The entire service was patriotic-themed, and I was uncomfortable the whole time. Right now, I am having a hard time articulating all the reasons that I was uncomfortable with this type of service, but I will do my best to communicate my beliefs and reactions.

First of all, the pastor freely admitted that he was not going to preach an expository sermon from Scripture. Rather, he was going to offer a "history lesson." He went on to talk about the fact that America was founded by Christians. Her documents were framed by Christians. And the American principles and standards are Christian. Of course, I would agree with the fact that the overwhelming majority of America's founding fathers were Christians or exemplified Christian standards of morality. And I am very thankful for this fact. However, the pastor went on to say, "America is a Christian nation! America is a Christian nation! America is a Christian nation!" Really? According to the documents that our Christian forefathers wrote, America is a republic, not a theocracy.

It is naive to believe that a simple history lesson will cure everything. I am sure that liberals, agnostics, even anti-Christians, are quite well aware of the fact that America's founders were mostly Christians. But that has no relevence to them today. Many of them would say that we as a nation, and as a culture, have evolved past the need for religion, for God, for a strict standard of morality even. We cannot change the minds of liberal politicians by telling them the history of America. We must change them by telling them the Gospel.

I felt like the pastor was communicating that the way to change America is through voting the right people into office, the ones who will make decisions like a Christian would. I do not believe we can shape America by simply voting the right people into office. The government will not redeem our culture. Our political leaders, in fact, are a reflection of our culture. While it is our duty to vote for politicians who best represent Christian standards, voting is not the way to make America into a nation that upholds Biblical morality and standards. We redeem culture by living as Christ would live - by working with integrity, by telling others of Christ, by creating things of beauty, by showing love and hope to the poor and the helpless, by showing hospitality, by faithful participation in a local church, by preaching God's word. Our culture will be changed by Christians living faithfully. Faithful Christians will reap a harvest of more faithful Christians. The American people must begin to look like a people that is concerned with Christian standards before our government will look this way.

Another problem that I had with the church service was that while the Word was never read or taught, an invitation was given. Why? Salvation comes through faith in Christ, and faith in Christ comes through the hearing of the Word. The invitation was certainly inappropriate for the type of service that the pastor had planned. The pastor also said that he thought God had raised up America, a nation with so many economic resources, to use its money to spread the gospel all over the world. He threatened the congregation that if American didn't "shape up," God would remove his hand of blessing and protection. Where in the world did he recieve such a prophetic word?

So... Back to patriotism in the church. What do some of you feel about patriotic services/sermons/history lessons? Have any of you experienced similar services? What were your reactions? What are practical ways that we can work to redeem culture? How should a Christian be involced in politics? How do you feel about American flags in the sanctuary? What is the Church's relationship to America? I am still sorting through my feelings on this topic and would love others' opinions.


  • At 3:18 PM, Blogger Josh Buice said…

    Laura Beth,

    BTW -- Will you keep Beth or Atwood?

    I would like to shout -- AMEN! to your current post. I am in agreement with you on this topic, and I believe many Pastors today are preaching the gospel of patriotism rather than the gospel of Christ.

    Problems I see with this “Patriotic Service” you mentioned:
    1. The Word was never read or preached throughout the entire service! This is a major problem. Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.

    2. The idea of changing America through the voting process. I agree with you, America must be changed by the gospel not the voting process. Voting specific Christians into office should always be our goal when we go to the polls, but we should never look at this as the answer to our nation’s moral and spiritual demise.

    3. Making statements such as “God raising up America to spread the gospel” is a little much. We have no proof of this statement…..other than the great commission in Scripture.

    4. Our nation was based upon Christianity when founded. There is overwhelming evidence to prove this in history. For instance: In July of 1775 Continental Congress calls for day of prayer and fasting; preachers debate whether to submit to British authority. By July of 1776, the battles of Lexington and Concord along with Bunker Hill had taken place, and Thomas Jefferson penned our Declaration of Independence from Britain. This Country was built on the moral principles and Godly principles of Christianity, and was raised up as one nation under God. We still today have on our money the motto, “In God We Trust”, but I am afraid that it is more of a historical statement rather than a truthful statement. What we need in America is a genuine revival of the saved and salvation of the lost in order to be truly changed.

    5. I am typically against symbolism in church sanctuaries. We have recently taken down pictures of Jesus from our church walls due to an improper focus on symbolism which made some people feel uncomfortable. In the case of the American Flag, it is a symbol of our freedom as Americans to worship God. While in the proper use, it should be a tool to thank God for that freedom rather than to worship the Flag, freedom, or military. I admit, it is a thin line, but when used properly, I see no problem with having an American Flag displayed.

    6. God’s chosen nation is Israel, and that will never be changed or altered. Our nation may have once been a Godly nation, but I feel that it is far from that today. Our relationship to God should be submissive rather than arrogant, otherwise, we are not above His judgment hand that could remove our power and freedom.

    7. I agree with you concerning the invitation. While I believe in evangelistic invitations (as long as they are proper), I disagree with an invitation during a service where the Word of God is not read! What would the person respond to, the spirit of patriotism? When invitations are given in situations as you described, it confuses the lost and it cheapens the real and genuine invitation.

    Psalm 33:12
    Blessed [is] the nation whose God [is] the LORD; [and] the people [whom] he hath chosen for his own inheritance.

    Good topic! God Bless,

    Josh Buice
    Practical Theology Discussions

  • At 7:49 PM, Anonymous Charles said…

    God made nations; God is the Lord of nations. That being said, God is God in North Korea as much as He is God in the United States. That doesn't mean, however, that all nations have equally Godly policies or practices. There are certain aspects of our civil government that I believe are commended in Scripture - most of my political ideals stem from a belief in the total depravity of man, for example.

    Patriotic worship services - the term is almost oxymoronic to me - give me the willies because there is necessarily an implication that for some reason the United States and its citizens is "better" than other nations and their citizens. I'm not saying that there aren't aspects of America's system of government that are commended by Biblical doctrine; I'm just saying that there's a big difference between commanded and commended, and that Jesus didn't tell people to rise up in revolt against what was arguably the most tyrannical government in history. He told them to render unto Caesar what was Caesar's. Along with that authority that God has granted the civil government comes a lot of power for good and evil.

    For example, our Supreme Court has recently said that the civil government could force one to sell their property, merely for the reason of raising the tax base. I think that's a highly dangerous decision, placing way too much power in the hands of a few sinful individuals. However, I wouldn't refuse to sell my land if I was told to (after exhausting all my legal remedies, of course). On the other hand, if some states, such as California and Massachusetts, keep heading in the direction they've been heading, pastors preaching that homsexuality is a sin may soon be considered criminal hate speech. That is a case where I wouldn't acquiesce, because we have a clear command to preach the Word.

    My point is this: we have clear blessings in the United States, but we also have clear curses. I almost shudder when I think about a camel passing through the eye of a needle, because we are definitely, by historical and world standards, a nation of rich people.

    I would disagree with you about most people agreeing that we were a Christian nation. The honest, educated liberal will admit that fact, and say that we have evolved past it. However, much of academia and popular culture is devoted to the advancement of a historical revision that says our founders intended for things such as the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause to mean what a few jurisprudential hacks from the 20th century think they should mean. For instance, the term "separation of church and state" occurs nowhere in the Constitution or Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson used the term in a letter to an Anabaptist congregation. So, the entire popular idea of "separation of church and state" is the product of what was, essentially, the equivalent of a form letter written by a White House staffer to a constituent - no law whatsoever, until it suddenly became gospel truth in 1947 when it was first cited by the Supreme Court. Also, for the record, Jefferson, who all would agree was the least religious founder, held church in the Capitol building weekly. Also, Jefferson, whom everyone cites as the dispositive interpretation of the Constitution in all matters religous, wasn't even in the country when the Constitution was written; he was in Paris. These are all facts that you won't see in the history textbooks of public schools, and I would assert it's not because of space constraints.

    I agree with you about people placing too much faith in the civil government to change society. The best example of this was the reaction to the 2004 election from both sides of the brouhaha. The Democrats thought our nation was going to be in flames shortly; I can't count the number of times I heard people say bs like "I should just move to Canada." The Republicans, on the other hand, partied like it was 1999. I've never seen so many rich white people so happy. Both responses reveal a troubling view of the civil government, a view that it is the primary means of effecting changes in the hearts and lives of people. I think a certain amount of that view is laziness; if the government's doing it, why should we?

  • At 8:14 PM, Blogger Alex & Laura Beth said…

    Thanks Charles (our up and coming lawyer) and Josh (our young theologian). Both of your comments have been helpful.

    Charles, I checked out your livejournal and noticed your Current Music is Arcade Fire, which is really funny because I'm listening to them right now!

    Also, I don't think Thomas Jefferson was a Christian. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I beleive he was a Deist. Isn't he the one that cut out the portions of his Bible that he didn't like? As a Deist, he did not beleive that God continued to work or interact in creation at all, and especially not supernaturally, so he cut out accounts such as the miracles. HOwever, although he and several others (I can only think of Ben Franklin right now) were Deists, they still held general Christian values.

  • At 9:33 PM, Anonymous Charles said…

    You're absolutely right. Jefferson wasn't a Christian. Yet, he recognized the connection between the principles of liberty surrounding the founding of our nation and Christianity. Benjamin Franklin, who was also a deist, called for the Constitutional Convention to cease their deliberations, and have prayer, that being the only chance they would succeed in drafting a document everyone would agree on. They stopped debating, had a prayer meeting for a few days, and after that had local ministers come in and lead in prayer and Bible study every day. These, the least religious, non-Christian even, founding fathers recognized the inherent connection between a just civil government and the tenets of Christianity. The point is important because of the myth that permeates our culture that it is possible for the government to be neutral on all issues concerning religion; even Jefferson and Franklin would have laughed at that proposition. It doesn't make logical sense, nor historical sense.

    One funny story, then I'll quit taking up space on your blog: When Thomas Paine, the writer of Common Sense, a very influential document of the Revolution, denied his faith and wrote The Age of Reason, placing the reason of men higher than the revealed Will of God, he was blackballed amongst American political leaders. Franklin wrote him telling him that he was, essentially, spitting in the wind. Paine goes to France; the French revolution occurs. Paine is arrested. The French, who highly revered George Washington, tell him that if George Washington will write a letter vouching for him, they'll let him free. Washington refused, because of The Age of Reason.

  • At 9:49 PM, Blogger Josh Buice said…

    Laura Beth,

    Beth or Atwood -- which will remain?

    To clarify, I didn't intend to paint Thomas Jefferson as a Christian. I was simply stating history by using his name. The point was centered on the fasting and praying and counsel of Godly ministers concerning the Revolution. Sorry if I confused you!

    God Bless,

    Josh Buice

  • At 9:02 AM, Blogger Alex & Laura Beth said…

    Well Josh, I haven't decided about the name thing yet. You know what is weird though? Alex has a baby cousin whose first name is Cary, and his middle name is Ellis (a family name) - just like your wife's maiden name.

  • At 11:02 AM, Blogger Alex F said…

    I agree. Here are a few loquacious thouhts:

    I don't think that a corpoate worship service is a place for patriotic celebrations. In fact the common practice, such as that you and countless others experienced Sunday, really frustrates me. I made the comment on a couple of other blogs that it seems to me at best misguided and at worst it could be syncretistic.

    Now naturally we can worship God for His blessings for us, but I think that many of these services go way beyond that in extolling he blessing rather than the one who blesses. They become a time to be puffed up with pride. They become a time when we equate loyalty to country with loyalty to God, a position that just does not seem biblically defensible. Lastly I think they often become a time when the focus is shifted toward a political agenda rather than an agenda centered on the expansion of the Kingdom. Jesus did not seem to love the ideas that some of his zealot followes had regarding political revolution. His focus was higher.

    Certainly Romans 13 adjures us to pray for our nation and the governmental authorities (and were I pastoring a church my July 4 service might include a special time of such prayer to note the holiday, but that's about else). And we certainly should thank God for the freedoms we enjoy because in His providence we are here.

    But we are ultimately "aliens and strangers" here (1 Pet 2:11). 1 Peter 2:9-12 reminds us that believers have been fashioned together as a people belonging to God and rendering ultimate alleigance to Him, in distinction from the pagans around us to whom our lives (individally and corporately) offer a witness to the Gospel. Similarly, Paul told he Philippians (3:20) that their citizenship was in heaven.

    Having said all that (and I'm sorry this has turned into an essy nobody will read!), let me quickly add that christians should be engaged in the culture, including the political culture. We should articulate the Gospel and the Christian worldview in these arenas. But we must beware the danger of confusing God and country, and of confusing political change with kingdom growth.

    As an aside, I'm not sure about the assertion that "most" of the founding fathers were believers. Certainly some of them were, and certainly nearly all of them were influenced by the prevailing worldview which stemmed from biblical notions of truth and human dignity. The kind of civic religion the founders had in mind may or may not bear resemblance to biblical Christianity. But sometimes I think some Christians are revisionist in the same way some liberals are. I'm open to correction on this point though.

  • At 12:27 PM, Blogger Lindsay said…

    Hey ya'll,

    I've had fun reading your discussions. It's definitely food for thought. While I agree on some points...I disagree on others. Granted, my words aren't big and my knowledge isn't deep enough, but I love America. And, I love being patriotic. I don't see anything wrong with this fact.

    However, I do see a problem when America starts taking the place of God in others' lives. At the church service that was mentioned, it does seem quite ridiculous that no "bread" from the Word was offered to people. I for one, would have loved the Word in combination with a few historical facts. Yes, it is true, no country can save people...only Christ and His Truth can. So, yes, I do have a problem with patriotism in the church when it becomes an idol or a stumbling block.

    But, in many cases that I've observed, that hasn't been the case. Being thankful for the country we live in, honoring our troops, both fallen and fighting, saluting the flag...I think all of this can be done in a God-honoring, God-glorying, God-exalting way. And I guess that would be when we do it in the context of holding all things loosely, recognizing (and living like) these things are under God, that His is the glory for the blessings, and He is Sovereign over it all. And, ultimately, that He is the only One who can save and free us. If "whatever" we do can be done to the glory of God, even "eating and drinking," then this is one of those for me.

    One reason I especially love the 4th of July is because of the discussion that all the talk of freedom allows. It provides a way to say, "Yes, we enjoy some incredible freedoms in America, but there is a freedom that 95% percent of Americans have never known...and that is freedom in Christ!"

    My patriotism also gives me a bigger burden for the people that live in America. Because I love the country, I love the people. I know that some can take patriotism to levels that cause them to despise other countries. But there's no reason that God-honoring patriotism should do that. It is possible to love your country, it's people and, in turn, to have a heart for the nations. There's no reason non-Christians should feel that way...but, for Christians, it's a miraculous work God does in our hearts.

    I also think it's an incredible privilege to be able to be involved in our country's politics. We absolutely need to be involved in such a way that we could help stop another Roe vs. Wade from happening or an obvious immoral leader from presiding over our country. I think it's almost dishonoring to the Lord when we fail to use the abilities He's given us to step up and take a stand on these matters. Christians, especially, have to be careful not to allow the way they handle politics to become a stumbling block to those they could lead to Christ...but that can be true on almost any issue. I think it's our responsiblity, as people who have been redeemed and actually have the Spirit abiding in us, to be a voice for the Truth in our country...especially it's politics.

    Forgive me for taking up so much space. My mouth (or fingers) run like wildfire sometimes. Like I said, though, I'm a simpleton. But, I'm a simpleton who loves my God (too little much of the time), my country (and the people who comprise it), and when those two have a head-on collision!

  • At 7:12 AM, Blogger Martin LaBar said…

    Interesting post, indeed. One comment, about it, and many other publications, is that "liberal" is not defined. I believe that a "liberal" politician, depending on how the term is defined, can, indeed, be a Christian.

    Why not be Laura Beth Atwood? Why drop any part of your name?

    Thanks to you and the commenters for writing.

  • At 9:08 PM, Blogger Spider in a Mason Jar said…

    A question was once posed in an article I was reading-- whether or not we deem ourselves Christian Americans, or American Christians. In other words, do we hold our government higher than our God, or do we put God first? Personally, I try to keep up with politics so that I will be able to make a good conscientious decision-- to vote for a person who will stand for Godly principles. Admittedly, I have been disappointed before with how certain politicians do not always necessarily stand for the things they advertise prior to their election. This can be frustrating. But I think all in all it lends to the point that our ultimate dependence is on the Lord rather than men.
    Patriotism is definately not a bad thing, but it's also good to keep things in perspective. I do certainly pray that the nation's leaders be led by God. I also pray that we don't deify our politicians. I love this country, and I certainly believe that it shouldn't be a theocracy-- people should be given the choice to choose Christ, not to be forced into Christianity. By the same token, it lends to the fact that not all folks who live here will necessarily choose Him. Our leaders are important, but I agree that we shouldn't dump the Great Comission solely on them. Some folks can only be reached by Christians who know them personally and can relate to them. Body of Christ, after all. We can't all be hands, we can't all be feet. God puts us where he wants us to serve him in the roles he designs for us. If we want a Christian nation, this is where it starts.


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