There are few holidays like the Fourth of July. Tomorrow Americans across the nation will take a moment to bask in the sunlight, enjoy a barbeque sandwich and, if you come from where I grew up, enjoy a good ol’ Yankee tractor race (I almost wish I was kidding). It is a great chance for us to be thankful for the numerous positive aspects of the country in which we have all been blessed to live.
But with that gratitude comes the need for prudence. For with every great blessing there is always a danger of misplaced worship. So here are a few things for us to keep in mind as we celebrate Independence Day:
1) America is not Israel.
We live in a wonderful country; there are numerous aspects of our nation that deserve our admiration, respect and gratitude. But America is not God’s chosen nation; we are not the new Israel. We are not, as John Rolf once mistakenly noted: “a people…marked and chosen by the finger of God.”
Though our country may have a foundation of Puritanical Christian values, it is a mistake to promote ourselves as a “Christian” nation. We were never intended to be, nor are we, a theocracy. Our country is not guided by God as Israel was in the wilderness but by a human, and thus deeply flawed, government. We must pray for our leaders of all political affiliations but let us never deceive ourselves into thinking that either side is acting on the behalf of God. We must free ourselves from our nationalistic egos and pledge our primary allegiance to a global church, not a human creation.
2) We are called to love God above our country.
Nationalism is not a biblical concept. While we are told to “give to Caesar what is Caesar” this command is followed by the command to give “to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21). And what is it that belongs to God? Jesus answers that question just a few verses later: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). This doesn’t leave much that really belongs to Caesar now, does it?
This Independence Day, we must remember that it is not our country which deserves our deepest admiration but our God. The danger of patriotism is that it easily leads to misplaced worship, otherwise called idolatry. While there are many aspects of our nation worthy of our gratitude and respect, no part is worthy of our worship.
3) We should be thankful for sacrifices that have been made but ought not glorify them above the Ultimate Sacrifice.
Independence Day rings with the truth that: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Many men and women have given up so much, if not everything, in service to this nation. Such dedication and loyalty is something to be admired and respected; be sure to thank a veteran today.
But as Christians, we know that our ultimate respect and worship is reserved for him who came and “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Many times our pride in the sacrifice of American soldiers can give way to idolatry over and above our allegiance to God. We must keep our perspective centered on the cross, and our worship constantly reserved for and oriented towards Christ. This does not diminish the sacrifices made by our soldiers but keeps them in their proper perspective.
4) Association of Christ with a nation state is neither biblical nor unique.
See if you can name the source of this quote: “The aim for which we were fighting the War was the loftiest, the most overpowering, that man can conceive: it was the freedom and independence of our nation.”
What do you think? A Founding Father? Former patriot? Advocate of freedom? Startlingly, this quote actually comes from Adolf Hitler (Mein Kampf, Volume I, Chapter IV).
I recently read one American politician who stated that we must “synthesize Christianity and capitalism” because if we don’t there is the chance for “another Hitler to rise up.” Christians must be weary if not immediately suspicious of anyone who attaches Christ’s name and Church to a nationalistic endeavor or agenda; Hitler is not the only tyrant who once beckoned for the blessing of “Gott der Allmächtige (Almighty God)” in his political speeches.
Though there is much to celebrate on Independence Day, we must not believe that Christ’s agenda and America’s interests are one and the same. The message of Christ supersedes any nationalistic ties. Merging the two not only goes contrary to our testimony as Christians but has a history of both fallibility and great peril.
5) The kingdom of heaven is a family of all nations, not just America.
Independence Day offers us a wonderful opportunity to sit back, drink a cold one, down some hot dogs and celebrate the common bond we share with our fellow Americans. But we must not forget that our primary affiliation is with a different kingdom. We may all have American passports and know the words to “The Star Spangled Banner” but our ultimate citizenship, our eternal affiliation, is with God’s kingdom (Philippians 3:20). And heaven does not consist solely of American Christians but rather incorporates peoples from “every nation, tribe people and language” (Revelation 7:9).
Take time to be thankful for this blessing of this country today. Take time to thank those who have helped provide this blessing. But don’t forget to thank God for the greatest blessing: adoption into a kingdom that transcends all nations. Our true independence came not from an earthy tyrant but from sin; and Christ is our deliverer. Let us ensure our worship is properly oriented to Him as we celebrate Independence Day.
Now, go enjoy a tractor race.