Patriotism in Church

bible-american-flag1There was a time when I was a volunteer firefighter. Sometime after I joined with Stonewall Fire and Rescue, I was having a conversation with the chief, at the time it was a man named Jimmy Andrews, and he told me something that I have continued to remember even since I have moved on from being a firefighter. Jimmy said that when he first became a firefighter he heard someone say that the following should be one’s main priorities (and in this order): God, country, family, the fire department, and everything else. Someone else once told me to always make sure that I “keep the Main Thing the main thing.” The takeaway from both of these bits of wisdom is that God should always be the number one priority over all else in our lives, period. When we worship we should always make sure we remember that we are participants in a service for an audience of one: God. We are to worship him and no one or nothing else.

We especially need to remember to keep the Main Thing the main thing when we gather to worship. When we worship we should always make sure we remember that we are participants in a service for an audience of one: God. We are to worship him and no one or nothing else. Now, that should be obvious but I feel like we can sometimes get carried away with celebrating other things to the point that it becomes idolatry. In other words, we forget to keep the Main Thing the main thing.

I’m proud of my country and I love the fact that we, as Americans, have a lot of freedom that we tend to take for granted. We are able to speak our minds, able to gather in worship, able to choose our elected officials and pursue our lives as we see fit. We can come and go as we please without a government official checking our “papers” every few miles. These are things we should be thankful and I feel that it’s appropriate for us to give thanks to God for these freedoms and for our country. Having a flag in the sanctuary is OK. I even like belting out “God Bless America” on Sundays around the patriotic holidays. These things are fine and, so long as they are done properly, I believe they are acceptable to God. But we do have to be careful not to cross a line and make our worship activities more about Lady Liberty, Uncle Sam, and Old Glory than about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

A few days ago I read an account of last Sunday’s worship service at First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. I have to be very honest: Reading about this service – and watching some of it – made me very uncomfortable and I can’t honestly say that I would have wanted to be a participant in it. The author points out that the worship service was much more about American and very little about God.

The fact that there was a red, white, and blue hued cross made me cringe.

To me, this is a major problem that, unfortunately, seems to be an issue that is becoming more and more prevalent in churches in the United States. This does not seem confined to any particular denomination or type of church but more and more American Christians are equating their faith with their patriotism. This is nothing short of idolatry. In celebrating our country, we must be very careful to make sure that we do not place our loyalty to our homeland equal to or even greater than our loyalty to God. Our love for anything (or anyone) should not be equal to or greater than our love for God.

In scripture, we are reminded that we are to place nothing – absolutely nothing – above God. When God told the Israelites, “You must not have any other god but me” (Exodus 20:3 NLT) he wasn’t just talking about a statue of Buddha or the like. An idol can be anything that we are willing to worship or otherwise place above God. This includes patriotism. I want to emphasize that it is perfectly alright to be thankful for our country and to celebrate that blessing but we must be careful to make sure that we do not do so at the expense of our loyalty to God.

We must keep the Main Thing the main thing.

When a celebration of anything overshadows God in a worship service, the line between acceptable and unacceptable has not only been crossed, it has been ignored altogether. It’s also worth noting that in many countries such celebrations are virtually unheard of in Christian worship. I look back on the Wesleyan Pilgrimage I set out on last summer and out of all the churches I visited in England – Methodist or Anglican – I can not recall one that had a Union Jack anywhere on or in the building.

All I’m saying is that we must be careful to make sure that we do not cross a line that should not be crossed.

Inevitably, someone is likely going to accuse me of not being a patriot or of condemning those who do acknowledge patriotic holidays during worship. That could not be farther from the truth. Sing a patriotic song recognize the military, say a prayer of thanks for our freedom (we will be doing all of these things at Shiloh this Sunday). I am not against these things. I am against a worship service not being centered on God and centered on other things, be it a nation, a celebrity, or anything else that is not God. These thoughts – which are mine and mine only – are only intended to serve as food for thought as to what boundaries should be set.

I will close with the words of the author of the article I linked above, as his concerns are also mine.

What would a Christian from another country say? Would they recognize their place in this church?

What about those for whom this has not been such a great country? What about those who still bear the stripes callously inflicted upon their ancestors’ backs?

What about those who don’t claim the Christian faith? Would they come away from such a celebration understanding anything about the gospel of Christ, and hear its call on their lives?

What would happen if Jesus showed up in the flesh? Would we recognize him as our guest of honor? Would we even recognize him at all? (emphasis his)

I don’t think so.

Ladies and gentlemen, something has gone desperately wrong.

God, forgive us.

And may it be so, Lord. Amen.

My Testimony

The following is a testimony that I’ve typed out. At the request of a couple of my Twitter followers (speaking of Twitter, you can find me here), here it is in blog form. God bless!

Many of my earliest memories involve church. From as early as they could, my parents had me in church as much as possible. However, this wasn’t always possible because I spent a large percentage of my childhood in a hospital bed. I can remember many instances where my pastor or the hospital chaplain would visit and pray, where other people would pray and of course my parents would pray. I was told about Jesus at an early age so I have a hard time finding a time where I never believed. Jesus was a part of my life from the beginning.

As I got older and learned more about the faith, I joined my church and became active in the youth group. There were many times where I questioned whether I was really saved or if I was playing church. One evening when I was about 16, my youth group went to a play at a Meridian church. The drama deeply affected me and I wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t spend an eternity in Hell. When the invitation was given, I responded.

Later on I graduated high school and went to college and I did the things that college kids do but I always knew that I was doing wrong and that Jesus expected more of me. However, much to my detriment, I continued down a bad road. Eventually I moved to Indiana and it became even worse, mainly because for the first time in my life I was truly on my own and thought I could do anything I wanted to without consequence. You name it, I did it.

One night when I was about 25 I was laying in bed, having problems sleeping because I kept thinking of all the junk in my life. The Holy Spirit had been working on me for quite some time and that night He made Himself known beyond a shadow of a doubt. I heard a voice say “you can’t keep doing this.” Right then I hit my knees, repented of my sin and rededicated myself and my soul to Jesus Christ. Soon after that I became active in a great church, surrounded myself with strong Christians and I was even re-baptized.

Now that I’m back in Mississippi, here I am: A man who’s still a sinner but who realized the way he was living was wrong, the things I had placed more emphasis on rather than Jesus were wrong and that I was trying to do it all myself. I can’t. No one can. Only Jesus can save us and I thank God that I came to realize that. I married a Godly woman, I am involved in an amazing church and am seeking out God’s will for my life. I’m proud to say that I love Jesus and I want to serve Him in all ways as possible. My road has been a bumpy one but I thank God that I went down it because it helped me learn to rely on Him and that without Him I am nothing.