As we enter the most patriotic season in America, an annual debate rages in local churches. Should a church have an American flag on display in the sanctuary? Or, how about the church in general? Can a church be pro-God and pro-America?
Below are crafted the major points of each position. What do you think? Please feel free to comment below.
The American flag represents the nation we live in—the United States of America. Our nation was founded as a Christian nation in principle and practice. Other countries have long known and appreciated this fact. Displaying the American flag in all public places, including churches, reminds us why this country came, by God’s grace, into existence and who suffered for it. That is, because our ancestors wanted to be able to worship according to their conscience and not under the control of a state-run church.
It was this Judeo-Christian heritage that dictated much of what the Constitution entrails. Most, if not all, of the problems we face as a nation can be traced back to the fact that we’ve pulled away from our country’s original values and standards.
Perhaps this is why Psalm 60:4 says:
You have set up a banner for those who fear you.
In Old Testament times, a banner was a flag. God has given a flag to those who fear him and him alone. To “fear” isn’t some Casper-the-Ghost-type reaction, but rather to show reverence and to be in awe of someone or something—that is, God.
In the Lord’s gracious providence, He saw fit to give birth to the United States of America—a place to which people can flee from the bow, from oppression, from tyranny, from bondage, and from servitude.
Thus, to display the American flag in a church is to affirm our Christian heritage and pay homage to all of those who have sacrificed for it.
Let’s be reminded that it isn’t a small matter when a man or woman gives a part of their lives to our country. It truly is powerful to know that someone would pay the ultimate price of their life to defend what God has bestowed on us. In fact, Jesus Himself said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
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The one sacrifice of our Savior is the ultimate sacrifice, to be sure. However, such words unify the military veteran, the average citizen, and the stark pacifist in our country under this banner. And displaying the flag in a church upholds what a Christian holds true in salvation and in the nation.
We need to display the American flag in light of the truth of God’s Word, and not let anything or anyone force its removal from our land. If someone is offended by the flag in church, they have well-forgotten the prosperity that God has given us to make us the greatest nation on this earth.
In short, placing a flag on display in a church doesn’t mean the worshippers or leaders are bowing to the flag or the nation above God (such as in Nazi Germany in World War II). Church leaders should make this clear distinction. For if we do not display the flag or indulge ourselves in the freedoms that flag stands for, then what’s our faith really worth in and outside of the church (James 2:14)?
In the local church, above any celebration of our nation is the correct and true worship of the triune God. His kingdom is one that can’t be shaken, and we are to offer to Him acceptable worship with “reverence and awe” (Heb. 12:28). Shouldn’t the physical elements of the service—such as displaying an American flag—reflect this very truth?
Although displaying a flag isn’t referred to in the Bible directly, when we gather in the local church, biblically, we’re more primarily Christian than American (or whatever nation’s flag is being displayed—Gal. 3:28). A Christian has more in common with the Pacific Islander who is born again in Christ than the non-Christian who lives on the block or shares a cubicle at work. A church should be a testimony and witness for the glory of God and His Gospel, not promoting a certain nation (Eph. 3:21).
Since the first church council in Jerusalem in Acts 15, the church has understood that any tradition or custom that interferes with multi-national worship in Christ’s name must go away (Acts 15:21; 21:25). When a church gathers to worship, the congregation doesn’t gather just in a certain country, but to “Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect” (Heb. 12:22-23).
Thus, a local church shouldn’t put any needless obstacle to the worship of those visiting from other countries (whether as citizens or immigrants).
What’s more, worship in the local church shouldn’t be the source of confusion of who or what we worship. The church is meant for the “mutual upbuilding” (Rom. 14:19) and common good. So, if displaying the American flag causes believers of any nation to be confused or to stumble in worship, there should cause for concern. Christ has accomplished eternal salvation for every tribe, people, and nation—not just America (Rev. 5:9).
The critic will say, “Doesn’t removing the flag take away the sacrifice and affection we have for our country and those that gave their lives for it?” But does this justify presence in the sanctuary? Yes, Christians in America should honor those veterans who have served. They should remember and thank God for the tide-turning events that constitute the annals of American history, and use holidays to that end. These, however, have nothing with the true worship of God’s people in the church.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that schools, civic organizations and other similar venues shouldn’t display the flag. We expect—and cherish—such placement because we know the context. And let’s be clear: Being a Christian doesn’t mean you hate your country (1 Tim. 2:1-5; Rom. 13, etc.)! We just need to know how to organize our priorities and celebrate being Americans apart from displaying a flag in the sanctuary.
As with any decision in the Christian and church life, we must ask: “Is it scriptural? Is it Gospel-centered? Does it uplift man or God?” In this instance, it appears not be the case.