Should July 4th Affect Sunday Planning?

West sent in this question.

Do national holidays have any influence on your worship planning? To what extent? Specifically, would you use the Sunday before Independence Day to focus on our utter dependence on Christ, our freedom from bondage to sin, our slavery to Christ (and so acknowledge, but spiritualize the holiday), or do you have a way of genuinely giving thanks for our nation without worshiping it? Is it just contextual – the answer depending on the congregation we serve? Surely we shouldn’t pull out the American flag, and sing “My County ‘Tis of Thee” in worship, but how can we show (if you think we should at all) heart-felt thanks to God for the United States?

I answered a similar question last year, and thought I’d repost that answer, slightly edited, here.

In brief, since God’s kingdom is not of this world (Jn. 18:36), we don’t feel any obligation to draw attention to, highlight, or celebrate civil holidays as part of our Sunday gatherings. There are a number of reasons. Our country doesn’t set the agenda and priorities for the meetings of the church – God’s Word does. Also, one country’s celebration may confront another country’s values. For instance you won’t find many Christians in Britain excited about Independence Day. Finally, we gather on Sundays to remember the covenant God has made with us, celebrate the redemption He has provided through His Son, and to encourage one another to live lives worthy of the Gospel. The values celebrated by a particular public holiday may not always line up with those goals.

However, that doesn’t mean we need to completely ignore civil holidays. I asked our resident theologian and my good friend Jeff Purswell for his thoughts, and he wrote:

“If [civil holidays] loom large in the mind of my congregation, I don’t want to draw more attention to it by ignoring it—rather, such occasions become opportunities to help people think Biblically about them and to place them in their proper theological context (e.g., on July 4th:  “We’re most grateful for the freedom we have as a nation this day.  We’re completely undeserving, and most in the world don’t experience this common grace. However, it should remind us of a greater freedom we have. . .”).”

For example, we use Mother’s Day as an opportunity to extol the value of motherhood in God’s plan, and will often honor them in some way. One year we had a mother/daughter choir sing two songs. We emphasize that Hallmark cards doesn’t determine who we honor, but we don’t want to miss an opportunity to draw attention to the significant role mothers play in raising the next generation. Near Memorial Day we might take a moment to honor and thank those who have served our country in the service. In previous years our church held a Labor Day picnic as an evangelistic event for the community. But we never allowed a public holiday to define or govern our decisions about how we led the Sunday meeting. In other words, we didn’t sing God Bless America, My Country ‘Tis of Thee, or any other patriotic song. Of course, we can always pray for our government, but that’s not limited to a particular holiday our country might be observing, and doesn’t assume God is required to bless us because we’re a “Christian” nation. (1 Tim. 2:1-2)

Finally, Jeff made the excellent point that we shouldn’t take the opposite extreme of unnecessarily criticizing the holiday or those who observe it.

“[Civil holidays] can be real expressions of common grace that enable us to rest, celebrate, and even to do so with a common frame of reference with non-believers. Therefore, I don’t want to be a dour, angry, graceless, ungrateful spiritual snob (e.g., “The 4th of July means NOTHING!!!!  This country is under God’s judgment!!!  The secular humanists have stolen this nation from the Christian vision of our founding fathers!!!!”).”

Good counsel. God tells us in Colossians 4:5-6, “Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

Let’s make the most of every opportunity to exalt the superior glory, wisdom, grace, and truth of our Savior and His glorious Gospel that provides our only hope of lasting freedom and joy.

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3 Responses to Should July 4th Affect Sunday Planning?

  1. Worthey June 2, 2007 at 1:53 AM #

    Our church body loves the patriotic holidays and the songs that go with those holidays. In light of God having set this country apart from others in a very special way, I find it hard to understand how anyone can have a problem with Believers recognizing/celebrating the gift that is this country through the singing of songs that declare its beauty and strength, and our hope/pledge, not only as a Christian, but also as a citizen, to serve our God.

    I find/have found arguments by those opposed to such celebration to be smacking of legalism, certainly spiritually myopic, and, unfortunately, often times causing an unneeded/unwarranted fragmenting of the Believer community.

    Let’s afford each other the freedom to celebrate both our freedom in Christ and as Americans…

  2. Bob S June 12, 2007 at 6:07 AM #

    Thank you to Worthey for good and gracious advice about Independence Day.

    I fail to understand the concern in these words, “Also, one country’s celebration may confront another country’s values. For instance you won’t find many Christians in Britain excited about Independence Day.”

    I am planning worship in a small town in Maine, so the needs or desires of British believers are not a significant issue! And if a British subject should visit us, I hope they are gracious enough to realize we may celebrate God’s blessings to us through our nation. As I would not object if visiting their nation.

    God’s word tells us much about the nations and peoples whom He has established in certain places and times, and His plan to rescue many from each group but still have them recognizable as members of those groups, so we have no need to shy away from recognition of our nation.

    I would suggest that we recognize not only our national blessings but also our national sins so there is a Biblical balance.

  3. Bob Kauflin June 12, 2007 at 12:28 PM #

    Bob and Worthey,

    Thanks for stopping by!

    Just wanted to clarify a few thoughts.

    Worthey, you said God has “set this country apart from others in a very special way.” I’m curious what you mean by that and what you base that statement on. Certainly we are better off than countries like India, where partly because of idolatry millions go hungry while sacred animals roam through the towns. But God has given each country a unique role to play in his purposes. I don’t assume ours is the best or the brightest.

    Balance, context, and leadership play crucial roles in this issue. I don’t mean to imply that it’s wrong in the context of a Sunday meeting to pray for our leaders, to thank God for his many blessings on our country, and to encourage the church to be faithful, law-abiding citizens. However, none of those activities require that we engage in undiscerning or unrestrained praise for our country. The church of Jesus Christ has been bought by his blood. The United States hasn’t.

    Worthey, you also said that those who oppose patriotic celebrations are characterized by legalism, spiritual myopia, and divisiveness. Whew! You’ll be more persuasive if you explain what makes you draw that conclusion. My desire to avoid rampant patriotism on Sunday mornings is to protect the Gospel and its unique accomplishments.

    Finally, Bob S, you questioned the effect a national celebration could have on those from another country. Good point. I’m sure there are references we make every Sunday that may sound foreign to internationals. But that’s different from an entire meeting being built around a theme that only has reference to a particular country.

    Thanks for your contributions.

  4. Joyce Hasko June 24, 2007 at 1:20 PM #

    How often do we receive emails asking us to push for “In God We Trust”, “one nation under God,” prayer in schools, etc. How glad I am that my CHURCH, too, believes we are one nation under God and celebrates that on Patriotic holidays in our worship and song.

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