The Fourth of July

Now that it’s over, and the subject is no longer quite as inflammatory by being outdated, I’d like to tell you what I believe about celebrating the Fourth, saying the Pledge of Allegiance, singing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” displaying the flag and doing any or all of those things in a church building whether on a Sunday morning or not.

I believe Romans 14. Specifically, on the point of the subject at hand, I believe verses 5 through 13.

One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written:
” ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will confess to God.’ ” So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.

This is not a cop-out answer. I believe it is the right answer, the complete answer, the scriptural answer, the answer inspired by the Holy Spirit of God and Jesus Christ, His Son about referring to our country in worship.

It ain’t right. It ain’t wrong. Get over it, folks.

Everybody’s going to have a country. Everybody’s going to want what’s best for his/her country. That doesn’t mean that everybody wants only his own country to prosper or to know of God’s love or to be blessed. But let’s face it, the folks in every country have their own flags and their own national birthdays and their own patriotic songs and pledges and fealties and loyalties and preferences.

Israel’s leaders (and later, Judah’s leaders) prayed for God to bless their nation. God often indulged their requests – when they were obedient. And when they weren’t, He reminded them through His spokespersons that He didn’t love them any more or less than the people of the nations around them.

Singing patriotic songs at church is not essentially different from singing songs like “Come to the Church in the Wild Wood” or “Precious Memories,” which thoroughly bless some people but have no intrinsic spiritual value (other than, perhaps, an oblique reference to “unseen angels”). Some patriotic songs – “America the Beautiful,” for instance, actually contain a prayer for God’s ongoing blessing of the land and its people. They don’t include or exclude others by not mentioning them. They are what they are: patriotic songs.

And to exclude them entirely because they are not specifically worship songs to God is just silly. We’re also advised in scripture to “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” as well as to “Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The verses sit right next to each other (Ephesians 5:19-20). They are co-equally important. Don’t give me a bunch of hooberbloob about not singing entertaining songs if you have ever been uplifted or blessed by any of the songs you’ve sung (and heard; you know you’re hearing them, too) at church. They’re meant to be entertaining to God, and above all else, to help us help each other recognize and confess His extraordinary wisdom, power, justice, mercy and love.

My advice (and that’s all it is) is to choose worship activities wisely and sparingly if they don’t express that kind of worship. We only give ourselves about an hour at best – out of the 168 that God gives us each week – to praise His name together and build each other up. Why not choose songs, pledges, oaths and symbols that express our worship as – first of all – His people; His nation … and incidentally of this nation that He seems to have superabundantly blessed?

Let’s do a few things which recognize that perception of ours and which bless people who have especially deep loyalties to this country – who may have served to defend her, or have lost dear ones who did – but let’s not go overboard with it. Keep first things first. Give honor to whom honor is due (Romans 13:7) and give glory and worship to Whom it is due (Psalm 29:2).

Let it all be done in peace for mutual edification (Romans 14:19); patriot for pacificst and pacifist for patriot.

Let all be done – eating/drinking, fasting; day-observing, day-ignoring – let all be done to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

And, uh, please … no fireworks inside the church building!

6 thoughts on “The Fourth of July

  1. Oh come on, Keith, live a little! Didn’t we come pretty close to having fireworks in the building w/Elijah? And see, that was cool! I actually saw an article this a.m. on CNN about a mishap when some fireworks accidentally got knocked over at a show in Illinois (i think) and they were shooting out every which way. Scary!

  2. Seriously, though, good advice. “It ain’t right. It ain’t wrong.” (So many things that could be said about!) I love your emphasis on speaking to each other through worship.

  3. Sing the songs. Enjoy the warm, fuzzy, patriotic feelings that flood over us when we hear these words. And should they, the songs lyrics, invoke the blessings of God upon us, all the better. And should we be stirred to think upon from whom these blessings flow, we’ll come around full circle with a grateful heart and offer thanks where they really belong.

    As for fireworks in the church building. Some weeks during our 1 hour of worship, as you stated, a sermon that really reaches/resonates with the state of my soul that week can set off fireworks in my heart and soul. These fireworks don’t fall to earth as embers, but remain smoldering thoughts in my mind urging me to keep the fire of the message alive and applied to my life. So I’m all for fireworks.

    Appreciate your thoughts about those of us who have, “especially deep loyalties to this country”. My father served, I served, now my son serves. And my husband is retired from having served this country.
    I will say that I personally would never feel disenfranchised or slighted if we never sang a patriotic song during worship. But if, when, we do
    sing a patriotic tune, let it always be sung to His glory. Because all glory is due Him and every serviceman worth his salt knows that.

  4. Hooberbloob???

    I appreciate your thoughts on this. We’re so good at making mountains out of molehills (I’m an expert at it). Thanks for putting things in perspective.

  5. Amen Keith. What a blessing it is to worship with people who don’t even give a thought to getting hung up on this stuff……I pray it reaches the places I have left as well.

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