It’s the week of July 4th and churches all across our country will be meeting to worship in the land of the free and the home of the brave. For years now, I’ve heard discussions around exactly how much patriotism is appropriate in worship. On one hand, some would say we should not overly draw attention to national pride on the occasion of the church in worship. They would contend that the focus must remain on Christ and that any attention to our nation would be a distraction of the real purpose of worship. It’s a valid point.
Others would say that the House of God is the perfect place to honor our nation and prompt our people to be patriotic. They would say that freedom is a God-given blessing on this nation and that we should acknowledge it and express our allegiance and admiration for our country in the context of worshipping our God. That’s a valid point too.
So, what should we do? Here are a few suggestions:
1) Honor America, but worship God. Peter admonishes us in I Peter 2:17 to give honor to men and to honor the king. Jesus told his disciples to render to Caesar what belonged to Caesar. And certainly citizens owe respect for and to our country. God wants us to be participants in the systems of government where we live. On occasions, like July 4th, when our nation is honored, we should be among the first ones expressing love and support for the nation we share in common. But, we do not worship the United States. The honor we give to our nation only leads us to gratitude to our God for all He has provided for us in this country. Any patriotic celebration that stops short of that could be counterproductive in a worship service.
2) Let the blessings raise the burden. In 2014, there are still many aspects of our national identity rooted in Godly principles and built on Biblical moorings. Any celebration of our country should include those foundational truths. But, at the same time, there are many ways our nation seems to be drifting away from God’s best design for people who worship Him. A service of celebration should acknowledge that reality as well and help foster a corporate burden for this land we love.
3) Make Jesus the center of it all. When the church gathers to worship, we must be diligent to raise the name of Jesus before the people we serve. If a “God and Country Day” does not also point people to the saving grace of Jesus, then we will miss the point of why we are here at all. Make sure as you give your people the opportunity to express love for country they will also be challenged to respond to the call of Jesus on their lives.
One of my favorite projects I was blessed to be part of as a writer was written in 2001, just after 9/11 and the attack on our nation by Islamic terrorists. It is titled, “America, We Must Not Forget.” The point of the musical was not that we should always remember we had been attacked (though that became a popular rallying cry of the day). No, it was that we should never forget our heritage of faith, or the heroes who have fought for and protected us, and especially that we should never forget that Jesus Christ is the only hope for our nation. I believe that is exactly the point to pursue if you are leading a patriotic service in your church. Thank God for what He has given and cry out to Jesus for His grace on our land.
If we do that in our churches, then I believe America will be honored, and Jesus will be worshiped.
Mike Harland is the Director of LifeWay Worship. When he’s not directing 30+ employees, you’ll find him leading worship at various churches around the country, writing/arranging worship songs and/or, writing his next book. In his spare time, he loves playing basketball and spending time with his family. Mike can be found on Twitter @MikeHarlandLW and on facebook.com/Mike.Harland.37.