I still remember it like it was yesterday. I was standing in a small room in downtown Denver doing what I had dreamt of doing since I was twelve years old. Me and a dozen or so other young men and women stood with our right hands raised swearing an oath of allegiance to the United States as the newest recruits of the U.S. military. It was a proud moment to be sure.
My love for America at that time was unmatched. I loved America with such a fervor that I would dare anyone put their patriotism and nationalism up against mine. I would do whatever my country asked for; go wherever they asked me to go, for however long they wanted.
It was interesting for me when I signed up for the military because it was during the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom was still at its peak. Why was it interesting? Because I am a first generation American on my fathers side and the guys who attacked America on September 11, 2001 looked a lot like me. My father was (is) a Palestinian Muslim, and while he loved America, he was not thrilled that both his sons joined the military.
This only served to fuel my fire for America.
My time in the military took me back to Colorado, to Alaska, to Kuwait, and Iraq. I fully intended to serve 20+ years in the military; it’s all I ever wanted to do. But then God called me to the ministry so I took the leap, left the service, and enrolled in seminary.
But then something funny happened to my American worldview. It got ruined.
It wasn’t intentional, you understand, it just kind of happened. As I looked into the pages of the New Testament I realized that while I could be patriotic and a Christian, my American nationalism could not co-exist with my devotion to Christ.
You must understand how hard this was for me. I cannot overstate how zealous I was for this country. My love for America had turned into idolatry. My god was America.
The New Testament confronted me with the fact that the Kingdom of God is far superior to America; it isn’t even close. I knew America was founded on Christian principles but I also came to realize we can no longer consider America a Christian nation. How can we? America legally murders 1 million image-bearing infants every year. America has legalized gay marriage, which flies in the face of the marriage covenant God created. And to make it worse, Paul clearly states in Ephesians 5 the purpose of marriage is to illustrate Christ and the church. That’s serious.
America’s relativism is so against the kingdom ethic, the American dream so anti-sermon on the mount, that to try to marry American nationalism and the kingdom ethic is to repudiate the kingdom ethic.
When I began to pastor my first church, this was what was confronting me. I sat one day in the worship center, by myself, and just stared at the American flag. I wondered if it was right to have kept it in there.
I concluded it wasn’t, and besides what I mentioned above, there were multiple other reasons. For one, what I strive for as a kingdom citizen is a church that looks like the one in Revelation: every tribe, tongue, and nation. What if someone from another nation visits my church? Will they conclude that to be Christian means to be American? Did Christ not die for all men regardless of nationality, race, gender, or disability? Is the gospel not offered to all regardless of zip code, country of origin, or socio-economic status?
Then I wondered: would a first-century church be caught dead with the Roman flag in their worship meeting? The answer was an emphatic NO. Why? Because nearly everything they did was anti-imperial. The Lord’s Supper, baptism, even calling Jesus Lord was anti-Rome!
Am I suggesting we be anti-America? Of course not, but contrary to what Martin Luther taught, there are not two kingdoms: the secular and the kingdom of God. He was right about their being two, but he was wrong about what they are: There is the kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness.
America is great, I love it to this day and consider myself a patriot. But I know this: there is only one kingdom which will transcend space and time and it isn’t America. America, like every other nation, will fall. God’s? Not so much.
We have to remember that we are not to make ourselves too comfortable here. We are merely ambassadors and our churches are embassies. We preach Christ and Him crucified not God and country.
Let me pose a question: if there was something your church did that could potentially be a barrier or a distraction to gospel response, what would you do? Would you retain the barrier for the sake of patriotism or would you remove it for the sake of gospel advancement?
Let me reiterate, there is absolutely nothing wrong with patriotism. But there is something wrong with nationalism. When we allow ourselves to emphasize American exceptionalism and nationalism we run the risk of viewing other peoples of other countries as beneath us or unworthy. And if we do that then we lose our love for them and our zeal to take the gospel to them. Would we exchange the great commission for love for America? Would we trade the pledge to the Lamb for the pledge to the flag?
These are serious questions with serious implications. You should love America and not a single person is stopping you from pledging allegiance to the flag, singing the national anthem at sporting events or a 4th of July barbeque, or celebrating freedom by voting at the ballot box. Those are good and right things.
There is a place for such things and the church is not the place for them.
When zeal for America makes us actively ignore the kingdom ethic and what the Bible we call our Holy Scripture, then it can quickly turn to idolatry and the great omission.
You may be thinking I am somehow anti-American at this point. However, I would challenge that assertion. I’m 30 years old and served 6 years in the military: that’s half my adult life given in service of our country. I moved my family from Colorado to Alaska because the government wanted me to. I drove 9 days from Colorado to Alaska (in November!) with my wife and 6-month-old daughter. I worked 14 hour mid-shifts for my country, seeing my family for a few minutes a day because when they were waking up, I was coming home to sleep, when they were eating dinner I was going to work. I went to Kuwait and Iraq, leaving my wife and 1 year old in Alaska in the middle of winter because I was told to. I was willing to die if necessary. I spent months in the middle of Iraq (including thanksgiving, Christmas, and my birthday), falling asleep to the comforting hum of machine gun fire. If I didn’t love America, I wouldn’t have done any of that, and I’m proud of my service.
But I will tell you this: my pledge of allegiance to the Lamb overrides and supersedes my pledge allegiance to the flag. And if there is one single thing that my church does that has an even slight chance of being a barrier to gospel advancement, I will root it out and happily carry it away.
If doing so makes some people uncomfortable: I am not overly worried because Jesus calls us to a cross not a tempurpedic.
I urge you if you are reading this to take a long hard look at the New Testament and ask this: can I back up my stance with Scripture? If the answer is “no”, you must conclude that it is not worth fighting for. If you are zealous about an American flag, are you also zealous for the gospel and the Great Commission? What will last? What will have transcendent value?
Love America, be patriotic, but be a kingdom citizen first and foremost. And let us remember Paul’s words: “We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God!” (2 Cor. 5:20)
Bow your knee to King Jesus, pledge allegiance to the Lamb and say, “command me”. And crucify anything that would bring disharmony or would be a barrier to the gospel. If you are zealous for America I encourage you to redirect that zeal to the kingdom because that is what will echo throughout eternity. Blessings!
Christ is All,
Pastor, Grace Baptist Church, Quinlan, Tx
1 Cor. 2:2