Someone reminded me of a post I did back in May of 2007 on this topic. Here it is again. I pray that today fills you with gratefulness not only for the freedom of our country for which many have given their lives, but also for the eternal freedom from God’s wrath found only in the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ.
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.
I couldn’t agree with you more. So many churches take the Fourth of July and turn it into nation worship. I actually wrote a blog post on the same topic. http://mindlessutterings.blogspot.com/2009/06/patriotism-in-church.html
who’s this West moron??
Yeah, it’s that time of year again. I dread patriotic holidays because I will be expected to devote a portion of corporate worship to patriotic celebration. I know there is nothing wrong with being thankful for a country where we can worship freely, but focusing on it during corporate worship has increasingly become a crisis of conscience for me.
Of course, I didn’t always feel that way.
I think I’m bothered by this mostly because of the way evangelicals have thrown out the traditional seasons of the church year. Oh, we love Christmas and Easter. But why no Pentecost? No Holy Week? Certainly no Epiphany (the last New Year sermon I heard was on the crucifixion). For some reason, it makes much more sense to pragmatic evangelicals to observe secular holidays like Mother’s Day and the 4th of July.
I pray that evangelicals will give themselves fully to the authentic gospel of Christ and remember which kingdom will pass and which will endure forever. We serve a higher throne.
Oh, by the way, tomorrow I am opening the service with “America, the Beautiful,” but after that, we will sing hymns and songs that focus our attention on Christ. By definition, if our worship is focused elsewhere, it cannot be Christian.
A while ago I read a quotation from Robbert Webber to the effect that we are more apt to build our worship around the civil calendar than the church calendar and that this shouldn’t be the case. I wrestle with that issue when I plan worship. I appreciate your comments. They give me more to think about regarding this issue. I like your balance of “don’t ignore” but “don’t glorify.”
As always, excellent advice, Bob. We take the same approach here at Grace Life Church of the Shoals.
I get a good bit of grief because we do not sing patriotic songs in our services. I’ve tried to find other ways of highlighting that it is a special weekend- one year we focused on the hymn writing of Fanny Crosby (an American hymn writer), her faithfulness in the midst of blindness, and sang several of her hymns in the service. This weekend we are going to have a “persecuted church” meeting and we’ll spend a few moments at the end to thank God for the common grace we have as Americans to worship uninhibited by the government and also the need for us to assist and pray for the persecuted church around the world. All songs will be sung from memory, Scripture will have to be recited from memory, etc… We’ll see how it goes.
Very good exhortation on the independence day. for me, i just wanna praise the Lord for the freedom he has given freely and I pray that I’d share this with a lot more people.
Here’s what I finally settled on doing this year:
For the Prelude, we used a meditative organ rendition of “Faith of Our Fathers”, showing verse 3 on the screens:
Faith of our fathers! God’s great pow’r
Shall draw all nations unto thee;
And through the truth that comes from God
His people shall indeed be free:
Faith of our fathers, holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death.
And during the offering, instead of doing anything musical, I showed a video I found at Worship House Media called Finding Freedom. It’s two minutes long, and for the first minute and a half, is patriotic. But the final few seconds turn the viewer’s eyes to the cross, and the message of true freedom in Christ. Find it here: http://www.worshiphousemedia.com/mini-movies/14292/Finding-Freedom
Can’t wait to see you Bob!
Sadly, my church did just that; the Flag, the Pledge, and My Country Tis of Thee… =(
I think we should be very thankful for the country we live in. Most of the posts I’m reading act as though they believe that separation of church and state is a good thing. We, as Christians, should be very concerned about what is happening in our country. We should be the best citizens there are! With that in mind, why not spend some time this 4th of July (which is on Sunday this year) thanking God for what a great country we live in. If we didn’t live here, we might not even be able to worship together in freedom. It’s not country worship when you say the pledge to the American flag along with the Christian flag… when you pray for our country… when you sing songs that point out that our country was founded on Godly principles.
Jenny, I’m glad you reopened this discussion. For those of us who are Southern Baptists, our confession of faith does say, “Church and state should be separate.” (Baptist Faith and Message of 2000, Article XVII) Now this certainly doesn’t mean what some people of late have tried to make it mean, but it also doesn’t mean nothing. And it is fully Scriptural. Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. His people’s first citizenship is in heaven. Our people are the people of God, no matter what country in this world they happen to belong to. Whenever church and state have been united, the state has ended up dominating the church.
On the other hand, of course we must, according to God’s word, thank Him for our earthly blessings (which would include our earthly homeland and our earthly freedoms) and pray for our government and for the salvation of our countrymen. I think Bob’s post is very close to the right balance.
Churches in my area generally make me sick about this time of the year. We are given one day out of seven to worship the God of the universe, and we spend it pledging the flag, singing about our father’s faith, and everything else except direct worship.
Can’t God have one day–even if it lands on a holiday? Have an after church patriotic picnic or fellowship, but leave Sunday Worship to its purpose-Worship!