I am thankful to be an American! I am thankful for the men and women that are serving and have served our country! I even love watching movies or documentaries about the history of America, former presidents, etc. America is awesome and I am thankful for God allowing me to live in such a country. But have you ever thought about what place these feelings should have in church? Do we have to suppress them while in church? More specifically, as worship leaders, what place should they have in our planning? Should we include patriotic songs on Sundays that fall around holidays? Should we do patriotic musicals? These are all tough questions for the worship leader. For some churches, these things have achieved “sacred cow” status.
As I was growing up, I remember that we typically included a few patriotic tunes such as America, the Beautiful, and My Country ‘Tis of Thee on holiday Sundays (specifically the 4th of July). I also remember attending a few 4th of July musicals / celebrations in various churches over the years, but I never really thought anything more of it. It was just part of the culture. When I started serving in the music ministry, I quickly began to notice that there were certain people who would sing the patriotic songs with gusto, but would hardly pick up a hymnal at any other time of the year. Over the years, I grew more perplexed about this phenomenon but never really had the courage to say anything. How could love for country provoke greater emotion than love for God?
In 2002, I remember that Professor Chip Stam raised the issue in class at Southern Seminary. He talked about how proud he was to be an American and how he would often cry when the national anthem was sung and the planes would fly over at ballgames. However, he was the first person I had ever heard question the place of patriotic music in the church. His position was that the corporate worship of God on Sunday should always be about God. Nothing should compete with Christ for the affections of the people. Kevin DeYoung has written a tremendous article over at The Gospel Coalition website that reminded me of that day in Stam’s class. The post is entitled “Thinking Theologically About Memorial Day.” Click here to view the post. (Hat tip to Dr. Andrew Dyer for retweeting the link!) Here are DeYoung’s 5 main points…
1. Being a Christian does not remove ethnic and national identities.
2. Patriotism, like other earthly “prides,” can be a virtue or vice.
3. Allegiance to God and allegiance to your country are not inherently incompatible.
4. God’s people are not tied to any one nation.
5. All this leads to one final point: while patriotism can be good, the church is not a good place for patriotism.
As worship leaders, these are things we need to wrestle with. I don’t think we should be legalistic about these matters, but we should make sure that nothing we do gives the appearance of competing with God as the main attraction in our services. If we must use patriotic elements, we must always keep them in context. (Today, we are thankful for those who have laid down their lives for our physical freedom. As we think about their sacrifice, let us not forgot the One who paid the ultimate price and laid down His life on the cross for our eternal freedom!) My fundamental belief is like that of DeYoung and Stam, I don’t believe the church is the best place for displaying patriotism. If you have patriotic events at your church, you are not wrong to do so. Let’s just makes sure our people are never confused about WHO is the main attraction when we gather to worship!