I realize today is Valentine’s Day, and that many people expect something NOT like what I am about to share. Those who know me know I am not one who feels bound to convention and sometimes intentionally break it.But to keep the peace as much as is possibly while I still get my way, I will ask you to read the following post concerning Christianity and American patriotism from a “Valentine’s Day” perspective. How? By asking yourself if a divided love is really love? Jesus said we cannot serve two masters. Have we conflated American patriotism with biblical Christianity thus committing a form of spiritual adultery? The author of the article, Gregory N Barkman, that I share below makes a good point in my opinion. What do you think?
(Info for the author can be found at the end of the post)
Our beloved United States of America celebrates Independence Day on July 4 every year. This is the day in 1776, when our forefathers declared freedom from British rule, an action which plunged the thirteen American Colonies into brutal war. There is no reason, humanly speaking, why we should have won that war. Our rag-tag Continental
army, led by General George Washington, was simply no match for the well-equipped British army and navy. Though our army began with a stronger desire to win, morale slowly melted in the cold reality of a superior force, better clothed, better fed, and better armed. But win they did! Some attribute it to the military genius of General Washington. Others to the shear will power of men fighting for homeland and family. Christians ascribe the victory to God. God willed it, ordained it, and brought it to pass. God gave birth to the United States of America. This unlikely military win, coupled with strong Christian underpinnings in our early history, make the Christian religion and American patriotism virtual twins to many. “America, America, God shed His grace on Thee.” He has, and we pray that He will.
However, with the disturbing decline of the past few decades, many Christians are becoming troubled by the close equation of God and Country. Our nation, which for many years was considered a “Christian” nation, can no longer bear that designation. Some deny that it ever should have. Others are convinced that our history, properly understood, points to a strong Christian beginning with widely prevailing Christian assumptions. I believe the Christian historical viewpoint is correct, but we’ve come a long way, baby, and what was once taken for granted, is now openly denied. Christians should be careful that we do not incorrectly idealize the past, and some of the assumptions we make regarding our history are not totally accurate. Just as secularists tend to distort history to fit their philosophy, so Christians can also misrepresent history through the rose-colored glasses of a Christian Utopia. The truth is, we were once more Christian than the secularists want to believe, but less so than many Christians believe. The Christian religion was formerly respected in all levels of American society, including government, far more than now. But America has never been a thoroughly Christian nation.
I believe one reason for our decline may be that Christians have tended to sentimentalize American patriotism, and confuse it with the Christian religion. Some conflate Christianity with the American dream of individualism and material prosperity. Many of our patriotic songs are just like the hymns that Christians sing, but with America replacing God. It is almost as if we are worshipping our country. What may be appropriate in a strictly civic setting, borders on idolatry in church, in a time and place appointed to worship God. We praise God in one hymn and praise America in the next. “My country ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.” Replace country with God, and we sing virtually the same words. “My Father God to Thee, Author of liberty, to Thee I sing.” Without meaning to, we have placed God and country on equal footing in our worship. We do something similar when we put an American flag on one side of the platform, and a Christian flag on the other. We teach our children to pledge allegiance to the American flag, followed by a similar pledge of allegiance to the Christian flag, as if they are equal. This is such an ingrained part of our American heritage, that for me to question it will, no doubt, raise howls of protest. We are simply teaching our children to be patriotic, to love their country, to be good citizens! I know. But can you imagine first century Christians praising Rome along with Jesus in their church services? (Or any other State?) They would have considered that idolatry. Jesus is Lord, not Caesar! All Rome required was that people give Caesar equal honor with the other gods. Christians could have avoided persecution if they would simply honor Caesar along with Jesus Christ. But early Christians knew they must be crystal clear that only Christ is to be worshipped, not Caesar. Jesus Christ must be given His rightful place as the Supreme One. Early Christians were law-abiding, taxpaying citizens, but they would not venerate Caesar along with Jesus Christ. They understood the danger of treating Caesar like a god. May it never be!
Can we condone in our own beloved land what we would condemn in a different setting? Sometimes, as they say, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. God and country, Christianity and patriotism have gone hand in hand for so long, that it just seems right, but is it? We want to show the world that God should be honored in America, so we sing our God-honoring patriotic hymns more loudly, and pledge our loyalty to Christ and America all the more fervently. Well and good. But is that an appropriate practice for the place of Christian worship, where followers of Jesus Christ gather to praise the One Who alone is worthy of all adoration, thanksgiving, and praise?
Let’s be honest. The Christianity of most patriotism is not true Biblical Christianity at all. It is the sentimentalism of our Christian heritage linked to a weak and generic form of Christianity. It represents the tame and tepid Christianity that brought us into the decline we now lament. What we need is an invigorated, robust, vital and vibrant Christianity that worships no one but Christ, and considers no government, nation, or national ideal to be in the same league with Christ. To Jesus Christ alone is due all honor, glory, and praise! The solution for the decline of America is not more generic Christianity. We don’t need more Christian symbolism in our society. We need more of God in our homes and churches. Until American Christians are ready to get serious about making Jesus Lord, patrioticreligious symbolism is mere sounding brass and clanging cymbals. Our great need is not for more vocal patriotism, it is for a more serious commitment to the Bible. Our great need is for another Reformation in our churches, our homes, and our hearts.
God honoring Christian patriotism includes submission to the righteous laws of society. It pays the taxes government requires, as Jesus commanded. It prays for our leaders, and for the peace and prosperity of our beloved country, as taught by the Apostle Paul. It produces hardworking, peaceful, and productive citizens. But it demonstrates supreme allegiance to Jesus Christ. The best way to love our country is to love God supremely. If we love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and love our neighbor as our self, we will be the best and most patriotic citizens in America. In this way, we help our country, because we point our nation to God, whose rule our nation must acknowledge as supreme. When Caesar gets too big, God becomes too small. When God is supreme in our affections and actions, Caesar is shown the way to be helped and blessed by the God Who reigns above. The best patriotic Americans are the ones who demonstrate by life and lip that Jesus Christ is Lord, and nothing and no one compares to Him. May God bless America, because America blesses God, and demonstrates that He alone is supreme.
3 July 2010 THE BEACON BEAM – Pastor Barkman
Gregory N. Barkman is Pastor of Beacon Baptist Church in Burlington, North Carolina.
The article above can be read in PDF format here.