Several pastors have issued warnings ahead of the July 4 celebrations against being overly patriotic in church, noting the combination of national pride and Christian ministry can result in idolatry.
Indeed, according to a 2016 LifeWay Research study, almost 90 percent of Protestant churches included something in their worship services to celebrate Independence Day. A common response from the church members who took part in the study was, “Our congregation sometimes seems to love America more than God.”
And that is simply not right — it smacks of idolatry. “To be blunt: anything that replaces a love of God is idolatry, and this needs to be addressed,” wrote Ed Stetzer of Christianity Today. “It is our job as pastors to point people to Jesus and highlight idolatry in our lives, in our churches, and in our culture.”
According to Christian Copyright Licensing International, among the top 10 most popular patriotic songs sung in church are “America the Beautiful” (#1) and the 1984 country hit “God Bless the USA” by Lee Greenwood (#5).
But Stetzer isn’t the only one concerned with a trend of patriotic evangelicalism that has resulted in the official registration of a worship song entitled “Make America Great Again.”
Last year, The Gospel Coalition’s Matt Smethurst tweeted his concerns:
Pastors, if you’re planning a patriotic worship service tomorrow, you still have 24 hours to change your mind.
— Matt Smethurst (@MattSmethurst) July 1, 2017
Indeed, Christians must be reminded their ultimate allegiance is not a to a flag, but to Jesus Christ. “As pastors and leaders, we MUST call others to that reality, particularly when confusion abounds,” Stetzer noted. “It’s not that we can’t be patriotic — I am. It’s that we need to be careful.”
“My friends, no one can top what the Bible says about how we live and view the world. Our earthly citizenship is too fleeting and heaven is too eternal for us to ignore Paul’s words in Ephesians,” he wrote, before referencing Ephesians 4:4-6, which states:
There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
But Baptist elder and Gospel Coalition regular columnist, Jonathan Leeman, went even further. He argued that when you mix Jesus with nationalism or partisan politics, you run the risk of counteracting the call to evangelize.
“When you add that patriotic song, display that flag, or invite the politician to offer a special word to your church gathering, you risk working against the Great Commission,” he wrote. “Jesus commissioned us to ‘Go into all nations.’ That means he was establishing a people not bound or defined or constrained by this world’s national borders.”