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Idol Worship or Patriotism?

Oh say can you see, by the dawn’s early light, all the glory of God being pushed to the right…

A fitting parody most likely to be found this coming Lord’s Day. While I am not “unpatriotic” I find it less than distasteful to impute patriotism or nationalism in place of the worship of the Most High God and the hearing of His word. Sadly, many people have never considered it, but this year especially, it seems fitting to make a note that most of the world’s so-called christians are more concerned with the perpetuity of the United States than the eternal Kingdom of Christ. A patriotic service is when a congregation has a Lord’s day celebration that centers on America and is devoid the word of God or worse, uses the bible in a twisted application as if it were taking about America.

I could speak for days on this issue as a biblical error and show that scripture actually prohibits such idolatry, but for today I will give a few reasons I believe patriotic services happen in the name of “worship” and the theological consequences of it.

Each statement can be precluded with, “When worship of country happens in the place of biblical worship…”

  1. It puts a government (creation) above God (creator) in worship. Paul is careful to show that part of God’s judgment is to give people what they love as an idol over Himself thus revealing His judgement and wrath against them. (Romans 1)  There is no place for patriotism among the people of God during a time of corporate worship. It is idolatry and there is no other argument to be made. Stop putting temporal things in place of Jesus Christ and His eternal glory.
  2. It is boring beyond all measure. The difference in seeing water flow down the drain of a tub in comparison to the majesty of Yosemite or the Grand Canyon. There is no comparison and why would one want to trade the visible majesty of the most glorious Crown of the cosmos for the young and fading glory of a man-made democracy?
  3. It may lead people to thinking that God cares anything about countries. He doesn’t. God cares about people, not non-personal governments.  As a matter of biblical truth, God established governments in the same manner He established the ceremonial laws: to show something larger and to show their non-permanence in order to reveal HIS sufficiency.
  4. It will create division among the body which is satanic. Some people don’t feel the same about America. Maybe a governmental agency has hurt them or done them wrong. Maybe some people have a sense of pride that God has rid them of that will be rekindled. Maybe there are Christians who are not Americans so that it has absolutely no relevance at all to them. Period. Division among the body of Christ is evil, and making much of something not Christ is evil.
  5. It divides the eternal unity of the church by proclaiming a nation against all other nations (makes the book of Ephesians obsolete). Paul argues that ALL nations have ceased at the cross of Christ and he teaches that the wisdom of God is that HE (God) has created ONE people out of many.
  6. It fails to understand proper end-times where AMERICA has no place except where Babylon is resting; the lake of fire. See, governments of men are over in eternity. There is no purpose for them because Christ has finished the battle, there is no reason for governance, no need for punishment, no need for boundaries because all are holy.
  7. It may be a sign of a lazy shepherd who would rather do something “themed” than expositional. How easy it is to rant and rave about the problems, even moral ones, that plague the country and that the “country” must be in prayer in order to be healed by God. Well, God will never heal lands, He will heal HIS people from sin, others He will justly destroy in just anger.
  8. It may be opportunity to please man. Yep, believe it or not, many red blooded American patriots would rather don a flag than carry a cross and many pastors know this and love to get the support of the tear-stained hard nose who loves his country. I pray it isn’t you, if so, take this Sunday to resign your ministry. It would do the gospel well.
  9. It is guaranteed to get response. If your preaching the scriptures doesn’t get an AMEN, then celebrating America will. How amazing it is that people will amen what they love, except Christ, when presented with the opportunity.
  10. It brings people to worship other gods. Yep. In some sense, rights, liberties, power, etc. are other gods. I can honestly say that sometimes it seems that Christians are not willing to give up their freedom for the sake of the gospel. We should take more time to read Philippians.
  11. It belittles the mission of the church. Thankfully the church has not been set to the task of a fool and isn’t called to make morality the central theme of its mission. Biblically speaking it isn’t even in the top ten. Yes we are to affirm what is good and holy and speak out against that which is not, but in reality, there is so much blindness and wicked affection for dying things among the church that many are unable to see the log in their own eyes.
  12. It argues that MEMORIALS are important when they are supposed to REMIND of God and POINT us to Christ. As a historical scholar of the American church, I cannot find one legitimate example of such that could be used in place of Christ. Memorials are to bring glory to God, like the stones in the Jordan, it wasn’t for the Jews to celebrate their journey, but God’s doing. It was to point to Christ.  Where is patriotism pointing to Christ when all the New Testament details people losing ALL THEY HAD in following Christ.
  13. It establishes a superiority over other nations when MANY other nations are much more GOSPEL CENTERED than America. America is not greater than other nations and from a biblical worldview, this is a slap in the face of Christ.
  14. It creates barriers to the true gospel power in the life of a community by putting the emphasis on something that is temporal, endangered (by God), polarizing, and patriotism NEEDS no voice OVER CHRIST.
  15. It may wrongly make parallels that are unbiblical. For instance, some people invoke scriptural promises made to Israel and apply them to the USA. This is a grave error and more so that people forget that in all nations there are only TWO peoples: those who are the church in Christ and everyone else. Nations cannot be saved, governments cannot find salvation, only the church finds salvation, so let’s stop confusing the matter.
  16. It displaces the object of true joy with a fading one. Many people find their hope and joy in America and her future and in turn, some of them find themselves disgruntled at the pace of where things are with the government. This isn’t worship and actually is the result of idolatry. Christ is sufficient and is cause for eternal joy.
  17. It aspires glory to a “past” instead of learning to glory in Christ at the present time and forever more. Much of what is experienced in these types of services is about what America “used” to be or “should” be or really “stands for.” Well, stand for Christ and lose your life or lose eternal life.
  18. It sometimes assumes that certain political leanings are more Godly than another and supposes that different view points on matters of civil or economic issues are not “Christian” at the cost of concerning the church with what is actually taught in scripture, thus making everyone disobedient.
  19. It produces fellowship around the wrong motive and dream. And at times it produces “enemies” between brethren because of dissenting views about country and politics.
  20. It assumes that the darkness of the world is a threat to the American Way and not Eternal Life. It thwarts by action and affection, the sovereignty of God over all men.
  21. It distorts the prayers of the Saints who pray for a way of life rather than eternal life for others. This mistakenly puts the church in torment as they linger over a desire for God to “do something” and for people in government to “repent” when they do not belong to Christ in the first place.
  22. It will prove, if all some of the above take place, that those who are born again are convicted of idolatry while those that stand their ground on their “right” and “duty” to worship in this manner are proven to be NOT IN THE FAITH of Christ because they divide over worldly affections. (See 1 John 2:15-17)

So there. Now you have a taste of what a very polarizing opinion on a matter of little importance actually looks like. Sadly something like this could cause more harm than good, but I pray it will be received the way it sounds, concerned and greatly grieved over the loss of sublime interest in the church.

What should the body of Christ do in America on Independence Day?  The same thing the church in China would do or in Uganda: hear the word, pray, worship in song and prayer, celebrate Christ, engage in life together intimacy, care for the needs of each other and long for the day when they see their Savior. (among other things.) Just as all Christians are to VALUE governments (countries), they are also to PRAY for governments but never celebrate them over Christ.

As Americans we have a duty to live as citizens of HEAVEN as we traverse this temporary existence in the US. And in doing so we are to stand out from the world in which we live and VOTE as though we are not voting, engage in politics as though they are NOT VITAL and make sure our legacies are eternal in nature. We should be THANKFUL that God has used good and evil to create a very awesome nation with laws the provide us the opportunity to worship freely and EXERCISE those rights as we are able. WE are to exercise our rights in order to express our disdain against injustice, prejudice, evil, immorality and all things that are sanctioned by our government but all the while realize that these things are not ETERNAL and so we rest in peace and hope, not in this nation, but in Kingdom of Christ in which we stand, forever.

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:13-16 ESV)

What should we do if our fellowship is planning such things? Pray and stay away. I am not saying that a mention of patriotism is prohibited, I am saying that when it replaces Christ it is wicked and evil and may be evidence that the leadership of the church should strongly consider what is vital to the life of the church before God removes what little light there is to shine in darkness.

How do I know? I’ve done it myself.

Pastor James

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