Weekly Worship Thought – Patriotic Music

photo-1428515634197-76c85896cf1fThis weekend is the Memorial Day holiday. Every once in a while someone will ask why we don’t sing patriotic songs in worship around Memorial Day, or Independence Day, or other national holidays. I am aware that there are many churches that will sing “God Bless America” or “O Beautiful for Spacious Skies” during worship around a holiday. In my thinking, that makes about as much sense as going to a Post Office and singing “How Great Thou Art” or “Amazing Grace.” Churches don’t owe their allegiance to a government. People of faith, while being citizens of a nation/state, are citizens of a spiritual country, a far off land. Sometimes (most times?) the priorities and engagements of a government can be in complete opposition to the principles of God’s kingdom as taught by Jesus. In some churches, the nationality of the members is so diverse that it wouldn’t make sense to lift up the patriotic music of any one group. Shouldn’t hospitality be shown to residents of every country, not just “ours.” God calls us to a higher citizenship.

Fourth of July – Mark 9:33-35

Every third week or so, I get to teach the lesson at our Day School at Faith Lutheran. It’s a lot of fun to attempt to teach 80 preschoolers about Jesus. It makes it easier knowing my 2 kids are out there. I just write like I’m talking to them. Here is the “Fourth of July” chapel talk I gave the kids yesterday:

Who knows what holiday is tomorrow?

That’s right tomorrow is the Fourth of July, which is a holiday in our country – the United States of America. Sometimes we also call the Fourth of July “Independence Day” because it is the day that our country decided to be its own nation.

Tomorrow is a holiday for most people. Your parents probably don’t have to work. You might get to have some fun tomorrow, maybe see some fireworks, or have a BBQ with hotdogs.

Our country is a very special country. We have lots of things that other countries don’t have. We can freely go to parks, and swimming pools. We can go to school and learn. We can go to doctors when we get sick and they can help us feel better. And your parents get to pick the people who lead our country.

But every country is special! There are lots of countries all over the world. And they are all made up of different people. Some countries have people with dark colored skin, and some countries have people with light colored skin. Sometimes people have medium colored skin too. And God loves all countries the same! God made all the people in the world, and he loves them all equally. God does not love some countries more than others. God cares about all the people of the world. And we should too.

One time Jesus’ disciples were having an argument. One disciple said, “I’m the best.” Another disciple said, “No, I’m the best.” And the other disciple said, “You are not! I am.” Jesus heard them arguing and said, “Why are you arguing?”

The disciples’ faces turned red, they looked down at the ground. No one said anything, because they knew it was wrong to argue about being the best.

Jesus stopped, sat down, and invited the disciples to sit down with him. He wanted to teach them about being the best. He picked up a child onto his lap. Jesus said, “If you want to be the greatest, then you have to serve and help everyone else.” Jesus told them, “This little child believes in God and can serve others. It doesn’t matter how big or strong or smart or fast you are. Anyone can serve and help others if he or she tries. Then you are truly great.”

Let us pray:

Dear Jesus – thank you for America – and for all the countries of the world – help us to serve others – in everything we do. – Amen.


Thoughts on Patriotic Music in Worship

from Bob Kauflin

In brief, since God’s kingdom is not of this world (Jn. 18:36), we don’t feel any obligation to draw attention to, highlight, or celebrate civil holidays as part of our Sunday gatherings. There are a number of reasons. Our country doesn’t set the agenda and priorities for the meetings of the church – God’s Word does. Also, one country’s celebration may confront another country’s values. For instance you won’t find many Christians in Britain excited about Independence Day. Finally, we gather on Sundays to remember the covenant God has made with us, celebrate the redemption He has provided through His Son, and to encourage one another to live lives worthy of the Gospel. The values celebrated by a particular public holiday may not always line up with those goals.

from Jordan Fowler

However, every year I receive complaints that we didn’t sing any “America songs” in our worship service around July 4th. I’ll take the complaints yet still won’t slot them, why?

  1. America didn’t die on the cross for my sins.
  2. Nationalism does not equal being a better Christian. Anytime nationalism and Christianity have gotten too close, it is never nationalism that suffers but always Christianity (ex. Nazi nationalism couched in Christian terms, Constantine’s Christianity, Three Self Patriotic Movement in China). We are called to value our country, serve our country, pray for our country and honor its rulers and laws, but our primary citizenship and allegiance is to a greater King and greater kingdom.
  3. We have people from many nationalities at NorthWood and while they greatly appreciate the blessings of America, many of them have no connection to a song glorifying America when they are from Vietnam, Chile, or Taiwan.
  4. In worship, the unifying principle is the centrality of Christ and the cross, making “Jew” and “Greek” one. If God is the God of the nations, would your congregation sing an Iraqi patriotic song on Iraqi independence day? The Iraqi Christian is more my brother than the non-believing American, no?

from Harry Boonstra

I’m not sure that I am willing to concede that not having patriotic songs in a hymnal is a “failure.” If one of the hallmarks of the Christian church is its inclusiveness and universality, then patriotic songs about America, Canada, or any other country do not seem particularly appropriate in public worship. Whenever we do sing “O Beautiful for Spacious Skies,” I find myself hoping there are no French or Mongolian visitors in the congregation.Secondly, patriotic songs often glorify the country or its history, gloss over its faults, and assume that one country receives special perks from God. It seems that me that one can express (national) gratitude to God in more humble ways.