Patriotic Worship Idolatry

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patrioticI love, appreciate and revere my family. I am grateful I get to be their husband and dad. I think about them often and can’t imagine life without them. Our story is something I enjoy celebrating and telling others about every chance I get.

As a result of that gratitude, what if I used the worship service this Sunday just to exalt my family? So instead of worshiping the Father that day, what if I planned the entire service to celebrate and sing the praises of my family?

If idolatry is extreme devotion to anyone or anything that isn’t God, then replacing the cross with the American flag as the primary symbol of our worship can cause us to stray into idol territory. Christian worship is stepping into God’s story instead of expecting Him to step into ours. His story and our response to that story transcends Americanism.

So in the context of a patriotic worship service, we must be careful to ask whom or what we are worshiping when we sing, “My country ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.”

Harold Best wrote, “There is one fundamental fact about worship: at this very moment, and for as long as this world endures, everybody inhabiting it is bowing down and serving something or someone – an artifact, a person, an institution, an idea, a spirit, or God through Christ.”[1] Best continued with, “All worship outside the worship of God through Christ Jesus is idolatrous.”[2]

We can still pay homage to our country and those who sacrificed so we can live freely without ignoring Christ who sacrificed so we might live eternally.

 


[1] Harold M. Best, Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003), 17.

[2] Ibid., 163.

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8 Responses to “Patriotic Worship Idolatry”

  • David Manner Says:

    Eric,

    The point that stood out in your comment is “over the last 20+ years.” It’s easy for me to write about it but it takes time to actually implement it. Because you have done it over time and with patience, you are having healthier conversations and still able to emphasize without compromise. Thanks for the helpful response, my friend.

  • Eric Benoy Says:

    In general, over the last 20+ years I have preferred to not address patriotic holidays, mother’s or father’s day, or a plethora of other such days. However, I do address them at the urging of the congregation BUT on God’s terms. I will acknowledge what day it is (or coming up) but always within the context of the supremacy of our Lord in all things. It has taken these years to move slowly, but inexorably from full-blown centering on the day to setting those days in the periphery and centering on God. I will not detail the “conversations” I have had with church members, but over time they seem to have taken a better understanding of what worship is about and to whom it is directed.

  • Steve Clarke Says:

    i always use the occasion of patriotic celebrations to make the connection of temporal sacrifice to eternal sacrifice. I find the principles upon which our nation was founded to be an excellent way to convey the weight of Christ’s sacrifice. There are many who have laid their life in the line for temporal freedom that will end. Christ went way beyond. It is very possible and advisable to use the cultural and national experiment called “United States of America” to draw attention to the saving acts of Jesus.

  • David Manner Says:

    Yes, David Atkins. Great real life story to affirm the point.

  • David Atkins Says:

    While attending a summer session in college, I asked a Nigerian PhD student who attended my church if he was looking forward to being part of the Independence Day worship service that was coming up. He politely said that he and his family would be “out” on that Sunday. I pressed, and asked if they were going to be out of town. He sheepishly said they were not going to be out of town but that they would be having family worship at home on that day. I pressed further and asked why. He humbly said he had found the “God and Country” worship service to be 98% country and 2% God. That conversation has shaped my ministry. If what is presented about God is not true for all times and all peoples, we are worshiping other than the God of truth as he has revealed himself in all times to all peoples. Believers from every language, tribe, nation and people should reasonably be able to participate in a service of worship I plan.

  • Dr. Calvin Sayles Says:

    While in seminary, this was a topic of some heated debated, sides often chosen along age lines. I have come full circle on this topic but have come to a personal understanding in this way. I have a wife I love every much. I know there are many wives in this world, but God has blessed me with this one. Because this is true, I would be a sorry husband if I did not love, support, honor, and if necessary, defend her. Likewise, there are many churches in this world and I am thankful for all who worship the Christ. It is not a perfect church, but God has placed this one in my life and I am blessed to be part of this community of faith. I celebrate this great gift. In the same way, I know there are many nations – but God has placed me here. Our nation is far from perfect but certainly there are things to celebrate and a great ideal to pursue. This is my country and I would be a sorry citizen if I did not support it, celebrate it’s successes, and work to make it a better place. Christianity does not equal American Democracy – this I understand. But we will sing patriotic songs in Sunday and rejoice in our freedom to worship.

  • Jeremy Says:

    This is an extremely difficult subject and unfortunately for many areas in the midwest and south it is the third rail for many pastors. Since 9/11 the national idolatry has taken over in many churches to the point that the idea of taking the American flag out of the sanctuary is met with every bit the opposition as the idea of removing the cross. Frankly, I believe that nationalism has so infected American Christian theology and thought that it is now the leading and most insidious heresy facing Christians today. It is so dangerous because it is held so closely to one’s personal, spiritual and communal identity.

  • Harlan Moore Says:

    Thanks for bringing up this difficult subject. We still struggle in my congregation with such things as placing the flag in a prominent place or recognizing veterans in a worship service. Do I love my country and appreciate the sacrifice of others? Absolutely. But the subtle message that we send to people when the flag is positioned in a higher place of honor than other symbols has deep meaning. Especially as a church in the Midwest that strongly supports our national culture, this issue won’t disappear anytime soon.

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