I went to church this morning, but I didn't hear the gospel, did you? With American Independence Day coming up this Wednesday, like so many Evangelicals across our great nation, this morning I was subjected to a 'Patriotic Worship Service' that consisted of a string of flag-waving, patriotic, God-and-country types songs followed by a gospel of 100% Law and 0% Gospel. Christ, his cross, and any mention of redemption were conspicuously absent this morning...to our detriment.
Now don't get me wrong, I've got more patriotic, flag-waving, red American blood in me than most folks. I consider the opportunity to serve in the military as a cadet, active duty, Reservist, and now Guardsman for the last 15 years to be one of the greatest honors an individual in this nation can be afforded. I thank God each and every day that I live in the United States of America and sincerely think this is the greatest nation ever to exist in the history of the world...but I absolutely HATE PATRIOTIC SERVICES even more than I despise having to look at the American flag in a place of prominence in our church's sanctuary.
Why? For starters, the whole Patriotic Service implicitly suggests that the God of the bible is the King of the United States of America, and this simply ain't the case. Not only are we not a theocratic state ruled by God but the majority of our citizens are not even Christian in any discernible way (despite what survey after survey might tell us...look around folks, it just isn't true!). In other words, for all practical purposes, a 'God and Country' service is really little more than a charade. No wonder non-believers make fun of us! How blind are we to the current state of affairs?
More than this, Patriotic Services seem to imply that the U.S.A. somehow has a monopoly on God, another grave error. The bible seems pretty clear that God is the Sovereign Lord over every nation on earth, not just ours, thankfully. I shudder to think how arrogant we would have looked this morning to an international visitor who was looking to worship along with countless other Christians around the world beyond our borders. Putting an American flag in our sanctuaries in a position of honor (i.e., to the speaker's right) over the Christian flag makes this implication rather explicit. Wouldn't it be great if we could leave the flag out of the sanctuary all together that believers around the world might feel welcome?
What disgusts me most, however, is that these services practically place God and country on the same level, which is basic idolatry. As Christians, while we can pledge allegiance to the U.S.A., our allegiance is not primarily to our nation, no matter how great she may be. Our allegiance is also not a co-allegiance with God and country. No, our allegiance is to God above all else. If we can be faithful Christians and patriotic Americans at the same time (which I believe we currently can), great, but if the time comes when we must choose, let us not hesitate for even the briefest instant in our fidelity to Christ.
Take this with tongue firmly planted in cheek, but I'm a bit relieved that as the Fourth of July weekend passes, we will have only one more major Evangelical church holiday to look forward to. Easter is passed until next year, but so are Mother's Day, Memorial Day, Father's Day, and Independence Day--all important dates on the church calendar of Evangelicalism. Our only other holiday is Christmas...and even though Evangelicals place it at the end of the year instead of the beginning (again jettisoning 2000 years of Christian tradition), at least we can all agree on its importance.