Today is July 4, the 237th anniversary of our nation’s independence and I’m so grateful that we live in a nation promising us the liberty to freely worship God. Independence Day commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which, among other things, importantly paved the way for a democracy based on the right to assemble freely for the purpose of worship.
One iconic symbol of our liberty is a bell that resides in Pennsylvania. The Liberty Bell was cast in London, of all places, and then sent to the Pennsylvania State House in 1752. I’m sure that not one person expected this 12 foot circumference bell with its 44-pound clapper to crack. But it did and that crack is part of its character.
Yet the words that are cast around the crown of that bell ring ever true today. Those words are a quote from the Old Testament book of Leviticus: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”
I’m thankful that one of the first acts of the new Continental Congress was to allocate $300,000 to buy Bibles for the people. I’m thankful that 106 of the first 108 colleges established in the United States were founded on the Christian faith. I’m thankful that Francis Scott Key was the kind of man who would become Vice President of the American Bible Society because he knew that the Word of God needed to get into the hands and into the hearts of the American people.
I believe good Christians make good citizens because we understand that our temporary allegiance to our nation comes within the framework of our ultimate allegiance to Jesus and the Kingdom of God. I believe that faith and patriotism are not opposed to one another (notice that I said patriotism and not nationalistic idolatry).
My faith does not teach me to disparage other nations or those people from other nations who are living here. To the contrary, I serve a God who calls to Himself people from every tribe, language and nation.
Also, my faith does not teach me that my highest allegiance is to my nation. No, my highest allegiance in word, spirit and behavior is to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He is King of all Kings and actually His lordship over our lives should make us into the best of citizens – or at least better ones.
But my Christian faith does teach me that every good gift comes from God, and we, as discerning believers, know a good gift when we see it. It’s not wrong to give thanks for the blessing of our nation any more than it’s idolatrous to give God thanks for the blessings of our family.
Also, my Christian faith does teach me that good citizenship is part of my faith expression. We ought to “Fear God, honor the king” (1 Peter 2:17), so we think it’s appropriate to honor the nation. We can be unashamedly patriotic and yet unapologetically Christian.
Examples abound of early church apologists defending their faith through attempts to demonstrate good citizenship. Here’s one example:
Justin Martyr (A.D. 100-165), the greatest Christian apologist (defender of the faith) of the second century, was a former pagan. In his First Apology (chap. 2), he challenged the Romans to investigate rumors of Christian misbehavior. He reiterated the teachings of Jesus regarding paying taxes, as well as noting that Christians pray for the emperor (chap. 17). Finally, he maintained that once the facts were in, the Christians would be found to be “moral, upright, and law-abiding citizens who are the empire’s ‘best allies in securing good order'” (J. David Cassell, “Defending the Cannibals,” Christian History 17, No. 1: 15).
Bottom line, I believe there is a place for Christian patriotism and I hope you reignite a little in your spirit during this July 4 holiday. We love our country – but we love our God more. We do not confuse ultimate allegiances with temporal ones. And it’s precisely that careful ordering of God and country that explains how faith and patriotism mix.