Patriotism = Idolatry?

I've just read two posts at the Boar's Head Tavern that concern me greatly - not about the contributors there (they're always a problem!), but about two anecdotes about how American patriotism has affected the evangelical church.

Wyman Richardson gives an interesting anecdote about a Memorial day service at his church in Georgia. The service included, amongst other things, a "color guard" with flags marching through the service, the reading of all the names of local residents who have died in war, as well as a testimony from a Gulf War veteran. It was apparently the most emotional service they had all year.

In response, Douglass Burtt gives his own anecdote about a church service in which the sermon subject was America would be much better off before God if we'd just obey the Sabbath. The service ended with a singing of the national anthem. Burtt was livid that this had been sung, but when he expressed his opinion to other leaders in the church, they could not see the problem.

Both of these anecdotes remind me of the experience I had when I visited America in 1991. In the one week I spent on American soil, I attended Grace Community Church (John Macarthur's church). Before I get any threatening emails from Phil Johnson, I'll point out that nothing in the service was remotely patriotic. I heard John Macarthur for the first and only time and he was preaching on the Millennium, which was too much for this Amillennial.

What did worry me was the family that I had gone to church with. I can't remember their names, but the wife had Tammy-Faye style makeup and they had little American flags decorating their living room.

To be honest, nothing about their lifestyle and their patriotism was wrong - but it was the first time that I had been exposed to such an overt nationalism in a person. It's not that I don't like my own country - I do - but placing Australian flags all over the place seems a trifle over-done to me. I will maintain, however, that nothing they said or did was a problem to me (except when they begun to ask me if I was pre-trib or mid-trib and I said huh?)

The American constitution is reasonably clear in its separation of church and state, and the Bible is as well. In John 18.36, Jesus says "My Kingdom is not of this world". Titus 3.1 speaks about how a believer should respect and obey those in authority, but says nothing about nationalism or patriotism. This same argument can be backed up by 1 Peter 2.13-17 and Romans 13.1-7. Certainly if patriotism was commanded by God then these passages would naturally have taught it. Moreover, Colossians 3.11 indicates that faith in Christ transcends national and racial boundaries.

Patriotism is not wrong - let me be clear. There is nothing wrong with loving one's country. The problem occurs when love for country and the beliefs that it stands for transcends the Christian's loyalty to God, or forces an unnatural blend of the two together, which results in a form of equivalence that assumes that love of nation and love of God is one and the same thing.

In Nazi Germany, it is well documented that many Christian churches were "encouraged" to remove the cross from the front of church and replace it with a Swastika, with readings from The Bible replaced by readings from Mein Kampf. The Nazi authorities also attempted to subvert traditional Christian ceremonies to further the cause of national socialism. This was a gross perversion of religious rights by an all-powerful state. Yet in many American churches today, the cross has been replaced by the American flag, and the Bible has been replaced by the US Constitution. This process has not happened in a literal fashion, but has occurred in practice as the two commentators from the Boars Head Tavern have testified.

The irony is that this gross perversion of Christianity has come from within the church itself, rather than being forced upon them from an all-powerful state. As a result, many Evangelical Christians view America as simply "the church as a nation", and will fight to ensure that Christian beliefs, Christian practices and Christian ethics are mandated and enforced in society around them. Yet this is nowhere to be found in the New Testament concept of the church.

It is important, therefore, that true Evangelicals remind their bretheren that the nation they live in is not a nation specially blessed by God. God does not view America differently to the rest of the world, and God makes no exceptions for America. Certainly America's existence is a result of God's providence, but that is not some guarantee that it will remain wonderful and powerful forever - after all, other nations (like Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany for example) exist by God's providence as well.

And God is certainly not blessing America for their hard work and cursing other nations for their laziness and godlessness. After all, God "makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust."

It is obvious that American Evangelicals, as a movement, need to reassess their uncritical understanding of their relationship with the nation they live in. Until evangelical leaders who honour the Bible come out and openly criticise their fellow evangelicals for this distortion of God's truth, the church will continue to focus upon works, rather than faith; upon politics, rather than God; upon laws rather than upon the cross.

From the Theosalient Department

© 2005 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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