Saturday, April 22, 2017

Are Patriotic Church Services Ok?

Now that Easter has passed, this is the time of year when churches might begin to plan a "Patriotic Service," for Independence Day weekend. I think we need to carefully and prayerfully consider how to approach this issue. Full Disclosure: I am 100% opposed to all secular music in church. As a child, the one Sunday a year my family did not attend church was if there was a special "Patriotic Service," on or around the 4th of July. Now my family is patriotic, we love America, but my Dad had some legitimate concerns with that sort of service. I too, have misgivings about certain aspects of Patriotic services in church and I remain grateful for his wise leadership. No place in the Psalms, the hymnbook of Israel, is the nation of Israel ever the object of praise or the recipient of glory. They praised God for what He had done for their nation. They asked for His blessings. They asked for deliverance from their enemies. But they never dared glorify themselves. If God's chosen people, a Theocracy founded on and by His own Word, would not dare to sing songs glorifying their own nation, then how much more hesitant should we be to honor and glorify sinful America in the House of the Lord, standing before the presence of the Almighty? Church is a place where we glorify and honor God, not sing about how awesome WE are as a nation. Perhaps a song titled "Lord Have Mercy on this Sinful, Arrogant Country," or "God, We Beg Your Mercy For Our Nation's Sins," or even "Thank Thee O Lord for Not Smiting Us," would be appropriate, but pomp and circumstance and banners for America do not belong in church. That being said, Here are 4 things that ARE appropriate to do in church:

1. Pray for our Nation
It is always right and proper to pray for our nation and it's leaders.
I urge that petitions, prayers intercessions and thanksgiving be offered in behalf of all men, for kings and all those in authority, so that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

2. Thank God for our Blessings
It is always appropriate to thank God for the blessings we have received and to show gratitude for the freedoms we enjoy in this country.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights -James 1:17  In past generations, He let all nations go their own way and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness. -Acts 14:16-17

3. Respect Those Who Serve
It is very appropriate to thank those who have fought for and protected our religious freedoms and to pray for them
Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. -Romans 12:10

4. Be Good Citizens
We should be good citizens who shine brightly in a dark world.
For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world.  -Philippians 2:13-15

Romans 13:1-4 demonstrates the intended purpose of just government and the appropriate response to that government:
Let everyone submit to the governing authorities, since there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are instituted by God....For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have its approval. For the one in authority is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God's servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

Here are some examples of The Wrong Stuff to Sing, straight out of Our Baptist Hymnal:

1. The Star Spangled Banner
This is a great song to sing and respectfully perform at athletic events and patriotic gatherings. It is not appropriate for church. It has nothing to do with the worship of God and even if you sing the never-heard 2nd verse, it's theology is highly questionable because it makes America sound like Israel.

2. Battle Hymn of the Republic
The theology of some verses of Battle Hymn of the Republic is ridiculously bad.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored----No they havn't.  If they had, you would be dead, or Jesus would have already come back we'd all be in heaven. Is blood flowing all around you in a 180 mile river as high as a horse's bridle from God's ultimate judgement in the end times as you stand in Israel? No? Then, God is not trampling and He will not be until the that time. (Revelation 14:14-20)

He has loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword....Not Even. We are living in the age of grace. God is holding back his judgement. That judgement WILL come and God WILL exact justice upon evil. But He has certainly not unleased it: The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

There are some very good sentiments in some of the other verses, but Verse 1 is so terrible, that this song should never be used in church. This song promotes the idea that a soldier killing in battle is an instrument of God's judgement using end-times language. This is highly inappropriate. Certainly fighting for the freedom of slaves was a noble and just cause around the time this song was written. But certain incidents from that era where American soldiers killed Native Americans were highly questionable. Less than 100 years later, fighting against Hitler's regime and ending the genocide being perpetrated against the Jews was a holy and just cause, but dropping the Bomb on Nagasaki was certainly not God's judgement. The bomb exploded directly over it's target, the Urakami Cathedral, the largest church in Asia. Nagasaki had the largest population of Christians in Japan and at least 12,000 Baptized Believers, whose forebears had endured centuries of Japanese persecution, were murdered by that bomb. It wiped out the Christian witness to Japan. On that fateful day, those individuals responsible for choosing to target Nagasaki were inadvertently instruments of Satan, not vessels of a righteous God. It is good to take up the just cause. But it is extremely dangerous to assume that our nation's actions have always been in the right, let alone that they were always God ordained. I would never program this song for any event, secular or sacred.

3. My Country Tis of Thee
A lovely song for a veteran's day assembly. Tacking on a last verse which mentions God does not change the fact that this song is entirely about America and is not a praise or worship song and therefore has no place in church.

For those who strongly desire, or are required to provide a Patriotic service the first weekend of July, here are a few better options.

God of Our Fathers is a fine song to sing. Whether talking about Abraham, Isaac and Israel or Christian American heroes, the song focuses on God and asks for his help.

America the Beautiful is a better alternative than some others. While the title shows that it is a song first and foremost about America, at least it speaks of the beauty of creation and asks for God's continued blessing on our nation, which is a good prayer to pray

God Bless America is a simple prayer asked for God's blessing on the nation we love

I love Independence Day celebrations. I was almost a Firecracker baby myself, born just a few hours before the 4th of July. I am grateful for my country and the religious freedoms I have grown up with and I am grateful for those who fought, died and sacrificed to give us those rights. I will always honor, respect and cherish them. My Grandfather was a WWII veteran, my Great-Grandfather a WWI veteran and my Great-Great Grandfather came to the United States as a conscientious objector, seeking freedom and to escape from the madness rising up in Germany. I am proud of the times America has been on the right side of history, saddened by the times we were wrong and concerned about our future decisions. I believe that special prayer services and respectfully honoring veterans and active-duty military are appropriate for that time of year. Reflecting upon religious freedom and offering thanks is always appropriate. Sermons that teach how to be good and faithful Christian citizens and how to be light in this world would be timely and meaningful. It might be fun to show off your church's choir and orchestra with Patriotic fanfares and flourishes, but I believe that glorifying our nation and singing it's praises in God's house is arrogant and unwise. Let us be good citizens, pay respect to those who have served, thank God for the blessings we have received and humbly repent and pray for our nation.

Here are links to the other articles in my series on Worship Ministry:

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