Thursday, July 7, 2016

Patriotic Christians

This past Sunday, we had a man leave in the middle of Services because he disagreed with our reciting the Pledge of Allegiance during our Worship Service on the Sunday before Independence Day. He didn’t speak to me on this occasion, although he has previously expressed his concerns on this issue to me and to others.

One of his primary arguments is that we shouldn’t recite the Pledge or participate in other patriotic displays because of the separation of church and state. That’s a pretty weighty issue on which there are a wide variety of learned opinions. But even if you concede that the separation of church and state is a legitimate issue, here’s the thing: the restriction is on the state, not on the church. The state (i.e. the federal government) is in fact prohibited from making laws respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. It’s right there in the 1st Amendment. Clear as day.

Again, honest people will disagree on how to interpret it, but there is no honest disagreement on this salient point—the 1st Amendment regulates the government, not the church. The church is free to participate as much or as little in the promotion of the state as it desires.

I consider myself a very patriotic person. I love my country and feel incredibly blessed to have been put here by God. That’s true regardless of whether Democrats or Republicans wield power. That’s true no matter whether conservatives or liberals are in charge. I am not always proud of the things our government does, but I am proud to be an American, where (to steal the words of the song) at least I know I’m free.

It might surprise some people to know, however, that I do struggle with how far we should go in the church in our patriotic zeal. I think we have to be careful not to confuse being an American with being a Christian. They are not the same thing. I think we have to avoid thinking that the blessings God has promised to believers apply across the board to our nation, because they don’t.

So we do have to be cautious in aligning ourselves in the church with the state. Even a cursory review of Church History makes this very clear: whenever the church and the state get too closely tied together, the church inevitably loses. Every time.

That’s why the focus in our Worship Services—on Independence Day, Flag Day, Veteran’s Day or any other day is on Jesus. We may honor our nation, but we worship our Lord. We may recite the Pledge of Allegiance, but our loyalty is always first and foremost to our God.

In the same Service in which we have one man walk out because of the Pledge of Allegiance, we may have others who are upset because we didn’t go further in recognition of Independence Day. We didn’t sing God Bless America or The Battle Hymn of the Republic. The Sermon was not explicitly a patriotic sermon.

And that’s OK. Honest people can and will disagree on such issues. But as long as I am privileged to pastor Life Spring Church, we will do our best to achieve a balance in which Jesus Christ remains preeminent.

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