Be Careful What You Worship on July 4
Is national patriotism inconsistent with Christianity?

I've been a part of numerous churches that celebrated American Independence Day with abandon: 80-foot flags hanging from the ceilings, singing the "Star Spangled Banner" and "I'm Proud to Be an American" and even— most disturbing to me as I reflect back—saying the Pledge of Allegiance during our corporate worship.

If some visitor had asked us on those Sunday just what we were worshiping, I think that might have been a very perceptive question.

For many, the Fourth is about gratitude for the blessings of freedom. And as far as that goes, I'm in complete agreement—though to see only the "blessings" of freedom and not also repent of all the many varied and creative ways we've abused it might be a bit short-sighted. Still, yes to gratitude.

For others, these celebrations go beyond merely the gratitude and obedience that Scripture commands, into something else, something entirely absent from the God's Word: Patriotism.

Patriotism, defined as "devoted love, support, and defense of one's country; national loyalty" makes little sense to a people called to live as aliens and strangers, as exiles. If I am—as Scripture tells me I am—a "citizen of another country," where should my "national loyalty" lie?

And as for my "devoted love"what does it mean to say I "love my country"? I love and feel called to the people in it? Yes. But should I ever love the people of America more than the people of Canada or Mexico, of Haiti or Ghana? Probably not. To say "I love America" is to say I love a political system, a set of laws and arbitrary boundary lines that history will eventually erase and more: I think it might be saying more than I ought to say as a follower of Jesus.

Tony Campolo puts it this way: "America may be the best Babylon the world has, but it is still Babylon nonetheless."

We are exiles living in Babylon, folks. Our corner may be called "America," or "Canada," or "France," but it's still all a part of the same thing: a world system that transcends borders, is dominated by materialistic consumerism and exploitation, and is fundamentally opposed to the Kingdom of God. And while love and affection for the people living in that system is entirely necessary, and while we should certainly pray for the peace and well-being of the place where God has set us, we need to avoid the mistake we see over and over in Scripture: becoming so enamored with our temporary dwelling—whether that's called Egypt, Babylon, or even America—that we lose sight of what Hebrews calls "a better place."

July 01, 2010

Displaying 1–10 of 73 comments

ATM

June 22, 2011  7:17pm

Interesting that someone mentioned "No King but King Jesus." From my understanding, this was a quote from the radical Fifth Monarchists of England. Their ideology did well among some of the radical artisans of Boston, but it did not become the ideology of the new Republic based on property. Not taking a side here, just pointing out an interesting fact.

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modafinil rezeptfrei

April 26, 2011  4:59am

Fire is a good servant but a bad master.

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Dave Terpstra

July 08, 2010  1:35pm

Bob, I think you missed the nuances of some of your critics. Many of us don't disagree with your most recent comments. We know where our primary identity lies. We don't believe we should be "enamored" with the USA. However, unlike you, we believe there are some "degrees of nationalism" that can be appropriate. There is no scriptural command to love your country, but there is no prohibition either. In Ephesians 2:19 Paul tells Gentile Christians: "you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God's people and also members of his household..." We have a new citizenship and new household we belong to. Does that preclude our previous citizenship and household? In some circumstances, yes. Jesus tells us to hate our father and mother in comparison to our devotion to him. However, Paul tells us that if we don't provide for our relatives/household, we are worse than an unbeliever. We are instructed to love our spouses, so normally, loving members of our household is acceptable. So if we are members of God's household, but can still love our household (as long as that love does not interfere with our devotion to Christ), why can't we love the country we are a citizen of (as long as that devotion doesn't interfere with our love of Christ)? Why does loving one's country necessitate "losing sight of the better place"? Does loving your family necessitate losing sight of the better family?

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J.L. Schafer

July 08, 2010  12:25pm

Discussion seems to be drying up, and that is probably a good thing, given the intransigence seen in many of the comments above. Regardless of our disagreements about the relative merits/dangers of patriotism, can we at least agree to heed the words of Jeremiah 29:7 which were written about Babylon? "Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper."

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Bob

July 08, 2010  10:12am

"Yes, I am a citizen of the Kingdom of God, and that is my greatest loyalty. But that does not preclude being a citizen of this country. Several writers on this thread have tried to point that out." As though saying it over and over will make it so? "And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them." If, like Paul, you need to use an earthly citizenship for a specific reason (eg, to defend yourself in the case of unjust imprisonment), fine. But don't revel in it. Your primary identity is an exile- an alien and stranger in this place. And while that doesn't mean turning in your driver's license, it probably should impact how you think, worship and especially celebrate in the context of a gathered church community. You must love the people of the place you are called to live in, but don't become enamored of the system/place itself.

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Dan Brown

July 07, 2010  7:43pm

No man can serve two masters. If you pledge allegiance to both Jesus and the flag, someday you will be forced to choose which vow to break. Hence uttering the Pledge of Allegiance in church is nothing less than an act of idolatrous rebellion against Jesus himself.

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Melody

July 07, 2010  3:40pm

sheera, The most basic rule for interpretation of any text (whether Biblical or other) is to first read the text itself and go with the obvious meaning. If the text is confusing or obscure, further research is necessary. I celebrate historical framework research and study/review of other historical documentation of the manners and mores of the day in which the text was written. What bothers me here is that not one single commenter, or even Bob himself, has addressed the apparent context of this Biblical statement. The context of the comment - if I may say so - is that the Pharisees were looking for a way to trip Jesus up and make him say something that they could use to arrest him. Jesus simply refused to bite their bait. They were NOT interested in knowing the mind of God regarding where their loyalties were to lie but rather in engaging him in a controversy. Look at what we have going on here. Bob (for whom I have much respect in other areas, btw) threw out the bait, and we all took it (on both sides). I don't mean in any way to imply that Bob is being like a Pharisee here, but simply to point out that what often happens in sermons is preaching to the preconceived purpose and looking for some scripture to back it up. Most folks don't know their Bible well enough to discern when this happens and it is particularly difficult for a lay person to point it out. Hence, there are abundant misconceptions about a great many things that people think the Bible says that it simply doesn't. sheera, I entered this discussion because I truly believe that this is a type of watershed issue for contextual misrepresentation and also because I was hopeful that a true give-and-take could occur, especially with folks like you who are not just the typical drive-by commenters. I apologize that I have come off as disrespecting you and recognize that a blog forum with strangers is limited at best. As for the ice-cream cone, I'm torn between Jamoca Almond Fudge and Chocolate Chip.

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Dan

July 07, 2010  2:22pm

Thank you for this post. I always feel so uncomfortable at our church on July 4 and Memorial day, singing patriotic songs and especially when we go beyond just appreciating the military but idolizing them. I appreciate the sacrifice of our service men and women, but other countries have a military too that has sacrificed for their country. What makes America different is the First Amendment, which allows us to worship and share the Gospel freely.

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Wayne Shockley

July 06, 2010  6:15pm

Bob, I suppose I should check in on these discussion more often. Attention has probably moved on. But. Every time I think you're starting to make some sense, you then go too far. E.g. "It's not about giving the USA credit. I think it's a great country as far as countries go. Like I said- the best Babylon we've got. But it's still Babylon. You are a citizen of a different country." Yes, I am a citizen of the Kingdom of God, and that is my greatest loyalty. But that does not preclude being a citizen of this country. Several writers on this thread have tried to point that out. There has been a serious lack of careful definition in your comments. What do you (or rather, Tony Compolo) mean that this or any country is Babylon? If you mean that any country must be a secondary loyalty, I agree completely. If you mean that this country is as bad as the Roman empire, to which Babylon in Revelation refers, then you contradict many of the complimentary things you have said about the U.S. Or is it something else? Speaking of definitions, you wrote "the nationalism inherent in "patriotism" is by definition crossing the line" What definition? and where is the line? Let me offer a definition of the line: Patriotism becomes idolatry when Christians fail to hold their country to Biblical standards. With that understanding in mind, we should be able to sort out the symbolism of our worship, perhaps putting the American flag under a cross instead of side by side with a "Christian flag", whatever that is.

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Edward

July 06, 2010  3:45pm

"The whole history of these books [the Gospels] is so defective and doubtful that it seems vain to attempt minute inquiry into it: and such tricks have been played with their text, and with the texts of other books relating to them, that we have a right, from that cause, to entertain much doubt what parts of them are genuine. In the New Testament there is internal evidence that parts of it have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds. It is as easy to separate those parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills." -Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, January 24, 1814 "I believe in one God, Creator of the universe.... That the most acceptable service we can render Him is doing good to His other children.... As to Jesus ... I have ... some doubts as to his divinity; though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble." - Benjamin Franklin (Alice J. Hall, "Philosopher of Dissent: Benj. Franklin," National Geographic, Vol. 148, No. 1, July, 1975, p. 94.)

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