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.