Patriotism and Worship

Patriotism and Worship

With Memorial Day and Independence Day just around the corner we, as your pastoral team, are faced with a recurring dilemma every year.  Is it proper to incorporate national patriotism into our worship service?  Many times, we have the same type of question for other popular holidays on the calendar, but these particular holidays seem to bring out a lot more emotion.  Since we, as a team we have been discussing this, I thought now would be an excellent time to explore this topic together and give insight into our reasoning for leading worship the way we do.

The first things we must consider are our goals for leading worship.  Our goal as pastors and worship leaders should be, first and foremost, to please God – not, necessarily, to please those whom we are leading.  Of course, we do want to please you, but we want to please you in appropriate God pleasing ways.  For example, many in our family of faith would love it if we only sang the old hymns with organ accompaniment. But God’s word tells us in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 that we are to sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” while Psalm 150:3-5 instructs us to Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!”  You see, God is pleased with many types of music and many types of instruments.  To arbitrarily exclude any one type is to limit our worship experience and possibly to diminish God’s pleasure.  We must always elevate His pleasure over our own.  Nothing should come before or replace God in our services.

The next thing we considered is that just because a particular day is celebrated as a national holiday, it is not necessarily a sacred church holy-day.  Memorial Day and Independence Day are rightly celebrated as American holidays.  It is right and proper to honor those who have given their lives in service to their country.  Likewise, it is right and proper to celebrate the founding of our country and the freedoms that we enjoy.  However, we are not only citizens of the United States of America.  In fact, our greater citizenship is in the Kingdom of God which should always be our first allegiance.  “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness…” (Matthew 6:33). Whenever our eyes slip from that target we are being distracted.  Paul warned us, “Those who use the things of the world should not become attached to them. For this world as we know it will soon pass away” (1 Corinthians 7:31).

Finally, unlike Christmas and Easter, the focus of most holidays is not Jesus, who should be the only focus of our weekly worship service.  When confronted with the issue of paying taxes in Matthew 22:21 Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” I think the same principle applies here.  There are times and days set aside to celebrate our national holidays.  We should celebrate them!  However, we should not take additional time from that which is set aside specifically to worship and celebrate our God and His kingdom.  That is not to say that there be no mention or acknowledgment of veterans, mothers, fathers, historical circumstance and the like.  Of course, there will!  However, our focus and praise must be locked firmly on Jesus and the Kingdom of God.

Our country was founded during an 18th century philosophical movement in Europe known as the Enlightenment or the Age of Reason.  In fact, many of our founding fathers like Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson where heavily influenced by the thinkers of this time (Thomas Paine, Voltaire, Rousseau and others).  During this time, intellectualism replaced faith and established religion was rejected in favor of nationalism.  This was especially true in France where even church alters were converted from God worship to worship of the state.   Of course, history shows us that this reliance on man and state over God and faith took a terrible, bloody toll, not only in France but across Europe. The effects of this can still be seen in the governments and societies of many European nations today.  I pray that we will keep our priorities straight and never try to replace our eternal personal Savior with a temporary political one.

Please know that your pastors honor and appreciate all the men and women who serve and have served in our country’s armed forces.  They are true heroes whom we thank for their service.  We stand shoulder to shoulder with you at civic services to mourn our national dead and to honor those heroes who sacrificed to protect our freedoms.  We celebrate God’s grace that placed us in a country where we might live and worship in fearless freedom with fireworks and patriotic songs.   While we might not be happy with the direction in which we see our country going, we proudly do our civic duty by voting in elections, paying taxes and participating in political dialog when it is appropriate.  We encourage you to do these things as well in their proper time and place.   However, in our worship, all of these rightly take a back seat to praising, glorifying and proclaiming God, His grace unto salvation and His kingdom come.

Only by Grace!

Pastor Mike