I love the patriotic worship service our church has each 4th of July Sunday. I would not have thought that to be a controversial statement a few years ago but some theologs suggest this to be a bad thing. I hear them out, but disagree. In fact, some seem to have a wrong idea about what goes on at these events. So, right in the dead of winter, when picnics seem distant, let me suggest some food for thought (that picnic thing got me food focused).
What we don’t do.
We don’t worship our country. We have only one King and we make that quite clear. No one coming to our service falls under the illusion that our church worships our country or those who lead her. Loving one’s country doesn’t make one less loyal to God anymore than loving one’s spouse does. We worship the Lord only.
We don’t gloss over the mistakes of our country. Quite the contrary. We call sin by its name and are not afraid to point out the ways in which our country and culture are drifting from God. Unfortunately, this has proven to be far too easy in our age.
We don’t bash other nations. We love the Lord and, therefore, the nations. We want the name of Jesus to be famous far and wide. Missions is part of our warp and woof (feel free to use that “warp and woof” thing, it sounds neat to say. Try it!) and we make that clear on patriotic services like any other Sunday.
What we do.
We remember our heritage. Imperfect forefathers gave us an opportunity to know liberty and live free. Their blindness to the bondage of slavery is tragic. (It is not unlike our own generation’s blindness to the sanctity of life.) But their call to liberty is noble. They declared all men to be created equal and, while that declaration was slow to be realized, it has been a great boon unknown to many parts of our world. How grateful we are that enough of them had enough of a Christian world view to see the benefit and blessing of freedom and faith.
We pray for our leaders. We know the answer to the greatest need of man cannot be met by politics. But we also know that our political leaders have great opportunities for good and for bad. We obey God’s command to pray for our leaders and we do so in a concerted way.
We thank those who serve our nation. Living near a large Air Force base allows us the privilege of saying thank you to hundreds of military members and their families who sacrifice on our behalf. Freedom is not free. It comes through the sacrifice of brave men and women who stand ready to defend that freedom. I cannot tell you how meaningful it is to our veterans to hear of our thanks and our prayers.
We challenge our nation. The sermon calls us to be followers of Jesus Christ in the midst of a difficult culture. We call our nation to repent and to turn to the only true Sovereign. We speak the truth of God’s word to our land.
On a personal note, I had an amazing experience at one of our patriotic services some years ago. We were recognizing our veterans by their branch in the military. (Though overwhelmingly Air Force, we have members from every branch in attendance- including the oft forgot Coast Guard!) When the Army veterans were recognized, an older man near me stood to his feet. To my shock, it was my own father who was visiting from out of town! I knew, of course, that he served in WW II and again in Korea, but that was long before I was born. It was all theory to me– until that moment.
For the first time in my life, I said “thank you” to my father for his service to our country and to my future. It was a special and moving moment.
If your church doesn’t want to do a patriotic service we are fine with that. After all, it is a free country. But do consider that churches may have them without selling out to blind patriotism. In fact, a service that calls the country to faith from a heart of appreciation for her blessings is about the most open-eyed patriotism there is.
Now excuse me while I go back to that dream about picnics on warm days!