A Response: Patriotism and Christian Worship

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Pastor David Brumbelow recently posted Patriotism and Christian Worship at SBC Voices. I will admit upfront that I disagree with Brumbelow on this topic. I’ve even written about patriotic worship in the past on more than on occasion. Christians will probably continue to disagree about this topic this side of heaven.

Make no mistake that even though I disagree with Brumbelow on patriotic worship, I am not anti-American. I love America and am very thankful that I was born here. I will say the Pledge and sing patriotic songs with a warm heart. I just won’t do so during corporate worship.

Although I’m not 100% sure, I think I’ve seen more people tear-up singing patriotic songs than singing a Psalm, or hearing the gospel or a sermon. But I digress.

In this post I will offer a critique of Brumbelow’s arguments for having a patriotic worship service. I have heard similar type of pro-patriotic arguments and, with all due respect, believe they are poor arguments/assertions. That is, they do not prove that patriotism should be mixed with a worship time set aside for God alone. Most of Brumbelow’s article is quoted with a few parts left out that I deemed not necessary to address.

Some food for thought.

Can we be patriotic in our July 4th Worship Service? Can we sing patriotic songs and have the American, Texas, and Christian flags in our sanctuary? Yes, of course we can.

Of course, the answer to these questions are yes, but it is the wrong question. A pastor can drive a Harley Davidson right up to the pulpit in celebration of those great American motorcycles. Even with as fine a bike as Harley makes it does not mean we should have one as part of the worship service. A better question would be to ask if patriotism should be part of the worship service and, if so, on what biblical grounds and how?

It seems rather strange that practices I grew up with, seen in church all my life, seen the great majority of churches use, are now vehemently challenged. Some seem to feel they are the first generation in 2,000 years to finally get Christianity right. They have no appreciation or respect for those generations of believers on whose shoulders they stand.

The fact that a tradition is practiced in the church, regardless of the length of its practice, does not mean it is right or wrong. Unless someone has actually stated that they have Christianity right above everyone else this “first generation” charge is unwarranted. An observer may perceive an attitude that one believes they are the “first generation” to get it right, but that does not prove a tradition right or wrong it merely challenges intent which may be false. The last charge of “no appreciation or respect” is merely poisoning the well and even if proven does not prove a tradition right or wrong.

I heard of a young new pastor in a large church in another state who banned the flag in church and refused to do anything patriotic or recognize veterans. The church was seriously hurt and the pastor, perhaps wiser, soon moved on. A new pastor should consider the wisdom of going to a 50 or 100 year old church and self-righteously telling them they have it all wrong and he is going to straighten them out. It just could be that newly hatched pastor needs to learn a few things.

It seems the congregation eventually spoke and this pastor heard. It is unwise for a pastor new to a church to make drastic changes like a lone ranger without understanding the culture of a church. I have no idea who this particular pastor is, or how, or why he implemented such changes. It seems wise not to make drastic decisions as a new pastor. It could also be said that maybe a congregation that is used to particular traditions could also learn a few things though he should do such as a caring shepherd most likely over time.

Some have fretted over a patriotic service causing confusion over our allegiance to Christ and to our country. Frankly, I’ve never had someone come to me with such confusion. Usually this issue is pretty clear. Jesus said, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). Some have worried a patriotic service leads to idolatry. Far from idolatry, come July 4th we commonly thank God (that’s a mighty Christian thing to do) for the good things about our country, and speak out against the moral failings of our country. We do not blindly follow our country, right or wrong. We are grateful however, for God’s blessings on America, including the incredible gift of religious liberty.

Is the challenge here that it is not possible to confuse Christ and country making an idol out of country? Are people that aware of idols in their lives? How long did Moses have to be gone before Aaron and company made the golden calf?  Are we more faithful than the saints of the past in this regard? Based on experience my answer is no and the biblical evidence for the tendency of people to create idols cannot be overlooked. Christians are not always as aware as they think they are when deciding between what is Caesar’s and what is God’s. (Ultimately, it all belongs to God.)  This point citing Matthew 22:21 is that we know worship is for God alone, but that doesn’t mean we never sin by giving something else our worship.

I agree with the final points about idolatry versus being grateful for God’s blessings on this country. These points do not prove that patriotism belongs in worship service. One biblical comparison may be made with the bronze serpent that God gave to heal His people. People were being healed from death by God working through the bronze serpent. They had every reason to thank God for the blessings of being healed through this serpent, but even the serpent became an idol that had to be destroyed (2 Kings 18:4).  I’m pointing out that regardless of how grateful we are for our blessings this does not alleviate the potential to create idols of any given blessing.

It seems that like the Public Invitation and using the Sinner’s Prayer, most criticism of having a patriotic worship service is more a criticism of the abuse, rather than the proper use of them. Of course we should not abuse them. But properly used, they are greatly used of God.

I agree there can be a proper use and abuse of the invitation and the sinner’s prayer, but Brumbelow has not established a biblical warrant or proper use for a patriotic worship service so the comparison fails.

Some criticize a patriotic worship service because it is not explicitly found in Scripture. So are a long list of other practices the critics use on a regular basis. No, God Bless America is not found in the Psalms; but the concept is there, and there is nothing anti-biblical about using a patriotic service to tell folks about Jesus.

Since Brumbelow did not include a biblical concept which supports the singing of “God Bless America” during worship I can’t comment on his assertion. However, I will offer two posts which address two popular patriotic hymns.  Michael Spencer (R.I.P.)  basically exegetes “God Bless America” and explains why it should not be sung during corporate worship. And Steve Curtis explains why he does not sing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”. Both are worth reading:

What about international students being in a patriotic worship service? Well, they can learn that Americans love God and love their country. They can see believers praying for their country. They can see believers striving to better their country. International students may just be inspired to go home to their own country and do likewise.

Is this the message American Christians’ want to send? Should I read intent into Brumbelow’s position here stating that he has “no appreciation or respect for those generations” of international believers who worship across this country weekly? This may send a confusing message in light of Psalm 67:3-4, “Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth.” (ESV) Which nation do they praise and love? Which nation should they include patriotically during their corporate worship time?

Are there some tensions and conflicts between God and country? Yes. That is why Christians discuss the issue of a just war. That is why just because a man dies fighting valiantly for his country – that does not earn him a ticket to Heaven; only faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ does that. But a patriotic worship service can give us the perfect venue to preach that very truth!

There are many things that can give a venue to preach Christ and Him crucified. Again, this is not proof that a patriotic worship service should take place. I would say that the idea of one dying for their country may be a great opportunity for an illustration of Christ dying for sinners, but this can happen without a patriotic worship service. I’ve witnessed such an illustration during a patriotic time of year while attending a non-patriotic service.

Recently I preached on being ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). An ambassador learns the customs of his adopted country, while integrating and teaching them the customs of his home country. A Christian ambassador learns the customs of the country in which he resides, while teaching them the customs and beliefs of his home country of Heaven. Our church had an Easter Egg Hunt. We took a custom of our country of America (Easter Egg Hunt) and used it to teach the values and beliefs of Heaven, the Sacrificial Death and Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Whether this is what an ambassador does or not, there seems to be a bit of equivocation on this point. Churches that use Easter egg hunts for outreach don’t normally have an “Easter Egg worship service” where Easter eggs are honored, sung about, hidden and looked for in the middle of service. So while I understand that it is possible to use different cultural aspects of a nation for outreach it does not show the warrant for a patriotic worship service. But like an Easter egg hunt why not have a patriotic celebration outside of corporate worship?

My prayer is that for corporate worship and all areas of the Christian life that Christians, as they are conformed to Christ, would strive for holiness by reconsidering and reforming those areas in which we are lacking. Technically, even though some areas of our lives may be less sinful than others, all areas are lacking being used solely for God’s glory. Of course, the debate over patriotism in worship is not settled, but I hope the above critique helps in thinking over the issue.

“That’s where we are in this country. So if we’re saying “God bless America…God bless America,” on the basis of what? We’ve turned our back on God, we’ve blasphemed God, we’ve rejected God. In His place we’ve made our own idols. And now we’re saying “God bless America?” I’m quite sure that if He were to bless America in the way people are now asking, it would be hard for Him to maintain His reputation as a holy God.”

John MacArthur
Can God Bless America?
November 11, 2001

 

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tagged as , in Church Issues,Culture,Gospel,politics,relativism,Southern Baptist,theology

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jared Moore June 30, 2011 at 8:34 pm

Mark, Great Article. I couldn’t agree more.

2 Shamgar June 30, 2011 at 8:43 pm

Wait, did he actually just imply that the church has been singing patriotic songs in congregational worship for 2000 years? Is he really going to try to claim the testimony of church history is in FAVOR of his position? I would love to see his supporting evidence for this.

Can you imagine any church in the first century singing songs of praise to Rome?
I love this argorent too, “sure its unbiblical, but the people criticizing it do unbiblical things too, so there.” That’s some quality argumentation right there. I don’t think I’ve seen its like since this last time I read the comments on youtube.

3 Mark June 30, 2011 at 9:52 pm

Jared, thanks man.

Shamgar, I got the same impression of patriotism being a 2000 year old tradition, but the wording wasn’t too clear so I left it alone. But I’ve thought the same thing as you. If I recall correctly Herod the Great made many cultural and economic improvements in Jerusalem including rebuilding the Temple, but I don’t recall any evidence of Herod being praised in worship service.

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