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Patriotism and the Church: Is It Too Much to Ask Churches to Be Careful?

church patriotism

I recently wrote an article for Influence Magazine on patriotism and the church and wanted to add a few more thoughts.

As we celebrated Independence Day in the United States over the summer, I saw a lot of churches discussing America, God, and the Church, and how they fit together in the context of worship services. I want to challenge us towards a greater understanding of God’s kingdom in times of national celebration.

Patriotism and the Church: The Stats and the Concern

According to a LifeWay Research study, almost 90% of Protestant churches did something in their worship services to celebrate July 4th.

There is a statistic that brings an interesting fact to consider how and why the church is involved to such a large degree. Here it is:

53% of Protestant pastors say “our congregation sometimes seems to love America more than God.”

Now, when I point out the dangers of mixing patriotism and worship, some people are just deeply offended. Well, I’m deeply offended too—by this statistic. And, you should be as well.

When 53% of pastors agree that sometimes their congregations love America more than God, that should be sounding alarm bells. That is what is compelling me to write.

Patriotism and the Church: Idolatry Is the Real Issue

To be blunt: anything that replaces a love of God is idolatry, and this needs to be addressed. It is our job as pastors to point people to Jesus and highlight idolatry in our lives, in our churches, and in our culture.

And, our hearts are idol factories, according to Calvin, so we are drawn to them.

I go on to explain why this statistic shouldn’t actually surprise us, in some ways:

As recently as 60 years ago, the church was the community center, the pastor was the representative of the community, and the church building was the largest public gathering hall in town…And [these things] made it instrumental in the forming of the American culture we understand today…America, God, and the church coalesced together in a symbiotic relationship.

America is perceived to be a Christian nation less because of the founding fathers’ intentional objectives, and more because of the passive role of the local church in shaping American culture.

This is a history that is both nuanced and fascinating to me, and we go more into detail in the full article at Influence Magazine. And it is this history that has conflated the worship of God and the worship of America. If your church has a regular habit of celebrating and singing about America and its greatness in the world, the line between God’s sovereignty over creation and America’s sovereignty as a creation will become blurry.

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Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is a professor and dean at Wheaton College where he also serves as Executive Director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, has earned two master’s degrees and two doctorates, and has written hundreds of articles and a dozen books. He is Regional Director for Lausanne North America, is the editor-in-chief of Outreach Magazine, and leads the Stetzer ChurchLeaders podcast. Ed is frequently cited in, interviewed by, and writes for news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He is the Founding Editor of The Gospel Project, a curriculum used by more than 1.7 million individuals each week for bible story. His national radio show, Ed Stetzer Live, airs Saturdays on Moody Radio and affiliates. He serves as interim teaching pastor of Calvary Church in New York City and serves as teaching pastor at Highpoint Church.