Several years ago a young bright couple began to attend the church I serve. As I got to know them, I learned that she had been sent to Eastern Europe as a missionary from a nearby mega-church, one nationally known for its leadership among the religious right. Her husband was a Bulgarian Baptist minister. When they moved to the states they began to attend the church that had sponsored his wife. But soon he discovered that he could not worship with that congregation with a clear conscience. As he put it, “Worship there is too much about American patriotism than real worship.”
Nothing in the teachings of either Christ or the apostles calls for love or loyalty to one nation above others. All that is expressly urged in scripture is that disciples honor and pray for governing leaders and obey laws that are not contrary to God’s will. Love and allegiance for any earthly realm is neither commanded nor commended in scripture.
Because of the nature of the church’s identity and mission, patriotic or nationalist expressions have no legitimate place in its worship and ministry. This is not because all forms of patriotism are wrong in themselves. Rather it is because despite the makeup of a particular congregation, the members do not rightly come together as anything but Christians, a people created by God through faith in Jesus Christ.
What we do in worship speaks of who God is and who we are as we live before God and others. Christian worship forms us to be the sort of people who are capable of following no other god but the God of Israel who was disclosed most fully in Jesus Christ. When acts celebrating America are treated as aspects of worshipping and serving God, Christian identity, the nature of the church and the character of God are misrepresented. All this negatively impacts discipleship and undermines Christian unity in a divided world, thereby hindering the church in its ministry of reconciliation.
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