Why We Don’t Sing Patriotic Songs at Church
I was asked this week if we could sing a patriotic song at Village. To be honest, the question always makes me uneasy. However, I’ve not taken the time to really explain why. So here are three reasons for not singing patriotic songs at Village.
1. The Center of Worship
The most basic question we need to consider is this: why do we gather on Sunday mornings? At Village, we gather to meet with, to encounter, the triune God. He lovingly and powerfully invaded history to save us for Himself and His kingdom. We gather weekly to corporately celebrate this good news, and to regularly orient our hearts to it. In other words, we worship.
We worship by submitting our hearts and ears to His voice (Scripture). We worship by talking to Him in dependence (prayer). We worship by thinking intentionally about how our lives should change based on His revelation (application). And of course, we worship by singing.
Our worship is for God’s fame. Our worship is about God. But most of all, our worship is because of God. This is why the entire scope of our corporate gathering must be manifestly God-centered and Christ-centered (we become worshipers through Christ).
Where, then, do patriotic songs fit into this purpose? How do songs about America help us see more of God? How do songs about the flag lift up the terrible sin-bearing cost that Jesus endured for His church? By my lights, they have no place in our service.
2. Jesus’ Lordship and Worship
In the first century, the phrase “Jesus is Lord” was a dangerous one. It was a confession that had profound political implications. It subordinated Caesar to Jesus – the mighty Roman emperor to the crucified (and risen!) Jewish Messiah.
That phrase has lost none of its political relevance today; it possesses the selfsame potency. It only becomes bland and uninspiring when we forget that He truly is Lord. Lord over the Presidency. Lord over Congress. Lord over the American Dream, American foreign policy, American exceptionalism. He stands on top; everyone and everything in creation has been placed beneath His feet (Eph. 1:20ff).
Why? Because Jesus Himself redeemed us with His own life, to make us a people for God. Jesus gave Himself up for us in love to make us clean and give us new hearts. Jesus experienced our hell so that we could live in His kingdom forever.
Which makes Jesus infinitely better than any ruler, king, president, dictator or despot. So when we gather as a church, we gather to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Pet. 2:9, ESV) We join the chorus of creation in Revelation 5, declaring, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev. 5:12, ESV)
Now, here’s the rub: what we say when we gather to worship matters. What we pray matters. What we sing matters. The combination of what we say, sing and pray in a service matters, because they all communicate something about our King, and what we think about our Him.
What are we communicating about King Jesus when we introduce American patriotic songs alongside ones declaring the glories of His grace and power? What are we communicating about the incomparable gospel when we sing songs both calling down God’s blessing on our land, while at the same time, praising God for His grace and Lordship that spans the earth? What do we say when we equate the self-sacrifice of men and women (as precious as this is), with the sacrifice of God the Son?
No, our King stands alone. We must not – even inadvertently – confuse King (Jesus) and country.
3. Pride and Worship
Finally (and this is more subtle), we must think hard about how we define patriotism. In many ways, patriotism is an expression of pride. Now, pride stretches between two poles. One the one hand, it may simply mean that I’m happy for you. I’m proud of my boy, for example, when he chooses generosity over selfishness. On the other, however, it can mean that I’m better than you. This is what we call arrogance.
From my vantage point, American patriotism frequently flutters between these poles. “I’m proud to be an American” may mean either, “I’m happy to be a part of this country,” or “We are superior to the rest of the world.” Sometimes, however, I think American patriotism tends mainly toward the latter.
But how can we sing songs that exalt our country above all the others when the church is not characterized by the red, white and blue, but the deep red of God’s grace? Across the world, whenever and wherever the church gathers, it is filled with God’s people. They may be Germans, Chileans or South Koreans, but they are God’s people. There is diversity in the church – but this diversity is bound up together in Jesus, into one new body (Col. 3:11). We all come through the same door; we are all granted the same wholly undeserved salvation.
How, then, can we gather in our corner of the world and sing of American greatness at the same time as our brothers and sisters across the globe sing of their Savior? How can we embrace those loved by Jesus when we sing songs implicitly exalting our society over everyone else’s? How do we avoid the pride that defies grace?
Patriotism has its place, to be sure. We live in a remarkable country, and we should give thanks for it constantly. Our leaders need our prayers. We should, out of patriotic dedication, work to make this a better place than it ever has been. In love, we should work by all the power God supplies to show this country King Jesus.
But we must not allow patriotism to rise to the level of worship. When we gather on Sunday morning, we recognize that it is a holy gathering. As sweet as our nation is, it is not worthy to enter that place.
Patriotism has a place. But that place is not in the worship of the church.