Patriotism and the church
OK, so let's talk patriotism. It's the Independence Day and Americans are waving their flags, singing The National Anthem, and reflecting on the blessings of living in a constitutional republic, the United States of America. Many churches celebrated our national history this past weekend, prayed for our elected and appointed leaders, recognized those who protect us at home and around the world, and made commitments to bring biblical standards to our practices of citizenship. Honestly, last Sunday when the congregation that I'm currently serving, all 108 of them, sang God Bless America, tears of emotion rolled down my fat cheeks. It was quite stirring.
Before last Sunday I saw the sophomoric Tweets warning us not to worship the flag or the nation or the founders in our pre-Fourth of July worship service, but to worship Lord Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. Those condescending Tweets said a lot more about the people who shared them than the spiritual leaders to whom they were supposedly addressed. Their assumption, at least in my limited opinion, was that many evangelicals would make the nation and it's symbols the object of our worship. Give me a break! Such an assumption could only have derived from the shallows of ignorance, that is, not knowing the hearts and minds of American pew Christians. The people I worshiped with last Sunday love the Lord Jesus, worship and adore him as best us moral humans can, but are grateful to live in a nation where freedom of religion, and worship, is a constitutional right. They didn't worship George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Heyward, Thomas Lynch, Edward Rutledge, or Arthur Middleton (Google those last four). They worshiped Jesus. They were grateful for their citizenship in heaven, and in a nation originally built on such strong biblical ideals.
Today the blather is about whether patriotism is a Christian principle that should be acknowledged and celebrated in the Christian community. In my opinion, which is only that, the answer is an unequivocal "yes". No, the United States of America is not God's chosen nation, even though USA are the central letters in the word "JerUSAlem". Still, there are certainly biblical truths that establish our roles as Christian citizens. They were given to the people of Israel to guide their covenant with God, and to the early church while under the oppression of the Romans. Certainly this kind of patriotism guides us to pray for our leaders, submit to and obey our legal precedents as long as they don't violate our citizenship in heaven, and to value our freedoms in recognition that they derive from the absolute Lordship of Christ.
Once again, let me reference Eric Metaxas' book, If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty ( Penguin Books, reprint 2017). Before you jump down my throat let me assure you that this book, again in my opinion, is not more authoritative than Scripture. But, Metaxas does explain Christian patriotism in a very plain and understandable manner. Chapter 6, Loving America, opens with Greek proverb that underscores our patriotic duty: If you don't boast about your home, it will fall down and crush you. Patriotism isn't worshiping our home or our system of government. It is merely a way for us to appreciate and boast about the unique qualities of our nation.
President Abraham Lincoln is quoted in this closing chapter as well. It was the occasion of Lincoln's inaugural address, March 4, 1861. Seven states has seceded from the Union and the nation was on the threshold of Civil War. President Lincoln spoke with boldness and passion for the nation. His final words are moving---
I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.
Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The
mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to
every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the
chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better
angels of our nature.
Metaxas wondered about those "mystic chords of memory" that would eventually "swell the chorus of Union" and re-unite the divided nation. He concluded it would be our love for America, the loving sentiment of our citizens. Many years later, Ronald Reagan added that "If we forget what we did, we won't know who we are". And, that is an element of patriotism, knowing who we are, the good and the bad. Metaxas concludes that "... we can Love America through remembrance and ritual". And, that, of course, in central to the rituals of Independence Day. And, there is no better place for this remembrance than in communities of faith. This doesn't mean worshiping the nation, it's founders, leaders in our history, or our cherished symbols. It is about remembering.
Today is Independence Day. I'm celebrating the birth of our nation and giving thanks for the wisdom of our founders who brilliantly charted this system of governance. I'm asking God to help me remember who we are and how we got here. And, I'm thankful to serve a church that believes the community of faith is the right place to celebrate and remember.
Happy Independence Day.
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