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preaching article The Dangerous Preaching Line Between Patriotism and Nationalism

The Dangerous Preaching Line Between Patriotism and Nationalism

based on 9 ratings
Jun 27, 2015

Since many who read this site are in the USA, I’ll take this opportunity to raise the issue of patriotism in the pulpit (4th of July weekend, etc.). Now I recognize the potential irony, since I am writing as an English man on the day when Americans celebrate one of our only military defeats in a long history! But actually I raise this issue for preachers in every culture.

Some church cultures espouse a very strong patriotism, while others seek to eliminate almost every reference to the country in which they are located. I don’t want to suggest that there is a right approach. I do suggest it is an issue worth thinking about. (I suppose I’m saying be patriotic on purpose, just like I say use PowerPoint on purpose or cross-reference only if there is a real purpose in doing so, etc.)

When the listeners are thinking about patriotic issues—such as on a holiday weekend, or a day given to remembering those who gave their lives in war, etc.—it makes no sense to pretend otherwise at church. Hopefully we would refer to a major news incident, so why not a major holiday? God does not call us to despise our nationality or be unpatriotic. Yet at the same time He does call us and give us a new citizenship. 

During the Olympics I’m definitely British, but in all of life I am Christ’s first and foremost. I am Christ’s more than I am British or English. I bring my ethnicity to the unity so wonderfully created in Christ, but I never confuse my ethnicity or nationality with my faith and identity in Christ.

It’s an issue worth thinking about. Some people think their religion is determined by their passport. We want to be careful not to encourage such thinking in any visitors to our church on a patriotic day. Some people may overly esteem their nationality, so that it is held on a par with their faith. We wouldn’t want to encourage that. 

Some people may despise their ethnicity or nationality for various reasons. Again, let’s not encourage that either. Somehow we have to be sensitive to the patriotic and the disillusioned, the elderly who fought for our freedom and those who have somehow been hurt or marginalized by that same society. We have to be sensitive to those with a clear understanding of their true citizenship, and even more to those confused about where home really is. We want to honor both the diversity in the church and the unity of the church.

I’m patriotic, probably more patriotic than many English people these days. I’m married to an American and have no problem enjoying their Independence Day (although I have a few one-liners ready if I need them!). I appreciate good-natured patriotism from any nationality (including the Scottish!). I just think we need to think through how we approach patriotism in the pulpit. What do you think?



Peter Mead is involved in the leadership team of a church plant in the UK. He serves as director of Cor Deo—an innovative mentored ministry training program—and has a wider ministry preaching and training preachers. He also blogs often at BiblicalPreaching.net and recently authored Pleased to Dwell: A Biblical Introduction to the Incarnation (Christian Focus, 2014). Follow him on Twitter

Talk about it...

Steve Badger avatar
Steve Badger
0 days ago
I've thought about the apparent nationalism of many churches in the USA for years. I distinguish between "patriotism" and "nationalism." Perhaps the former in moderation is not too bad, but I reject the latter in almost any form as un-Christlike. Other question: Is there any place for an American flag (or British flag, or any other national flag) in a church sanctuary? What if the Christian flag is also present--but the national flag has the position of honor? I marvel that Christians can be so strongly nationalistic, and wonder if i also have a "blind spot" when it comes a different issue.
Jonathan Filson avatar
Jonathan Filson
0 days ago
We have the Christian Flag and the American flag in our sanctuary but one is not elevated over the other. During our VBS we say the pledge of allegiance to both flags and the Bible. Is there harm in doing so? Paul teaches us in Romans that we are to obey/honor our authorities so I see there is nothing wrong and everything right in teaching/preaching to honor our flag and our government - even when I do not agree with them in all things.
Joe Mckeever avatar
Joe Mckeever
0 days ago
I completely agree, Peter. While observing how some of our U.S. preachers equate patriotism with Christianity, I've wondered how they would feel walking into some church in other lands and hearing pastors there do that. Thanks for the comeuppance.
David Jennys avatar
David Jennys
0 days ago
I have one question, Peter: Do you drink coffee or tea?! Preaching on or near Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Veterans Day (and now Patriot Day) can be challenging. Especially in rural churches where the "national religion" runs strong. Everyone wants to sing "America The Beautiful", "My Country 'Tis Of Thee", and "The Battle Hymn Of The Republic", etc. I like to have my congregation sing a song from The United Methodist Hymnal, called "This Is My Song." It uses the tune FINLANDIA. The song speaks of the many things a patriotic citizen may love about his/her country. Then it goes on to remind the singer that these things are also true of other people's nations. The sat verse reads: This is my prayer, O Lord of all earth's kingdoms:/Thy kingdom come; on earth they will be done./Let Christ be lifted up till all shall serve him,/and hearts united learn to live as one./O hear my prayer, thou God of all the nations;/myself I give thee; let thy will be done. My preaching on such days reflects the tone of this hymn.
Marc Phillips avatar
Marc Phillips
0 days ago
I am an American Veteran and a new Pastor. I think that it is great to recognize those that have fought and died for our freedoms, but I always acknowledge that Jesus died for everyone, not just Americans so that we can truly be free! John 8:36 says "if the Son sets you free you will be free indeed"
John Sears avatar
John Sears
0 days ago
We had a worship service that had all the patriotic songs about America (America the Beautiful, etc). I hated it. I heard lots of "America" worship and very little worship of our Lord (which is why we were gathered). I say, "Be patriotic, but don't substitute patriotism for Christianity."
John Sears avatar
John Sears
0 days ago
We had a worship service that had all the patriotic songs about America (America the Beautiful, etc). I hated it. I heard lots of "America" worship and very little worship of our Lord (which is why we were gathered). I say, "Be patriotic, but don't substitute patriotism for Christianity."
Benjamin Corey avatar
Benjamin Corey
0 days ago
I wouldn't preach from a stage that had the American flag on it. Further, it would be sinful to preach in support of something like the 4th of July, because it celebrates a day when Christians used violence in spite of a God who forbids all violence.
Ken Overturf avatar
Ken Overturf
0 days ago
I once had a worship minister plan a patriotic service that was overly nationalistic. I did my best to bring the focus back back to honoring God and the freedom we have in Christ. All was well until the worship minister stood to lead the invitation and to my great surprise the invitation song he chose was "I'm Proud to Be An American." I closed the invitation immediately. We're we asking people to come to Christ or to citizenship? Needless to say we had a long discussion concerning the service. My emphasis this past Sunday was on our true citizenship in heaven, and God's grace in allowing us to live in the U.S. as well as our responsibility as Christian citizens to make a difference in our world.
Chris Linzey avatar
Chris Linzey
0 days ago
I am a Chaplain in the United States Army Reserve and a fill-time pastor. For patriotic holidays I will sometimes preach in uniform and have an some sort of patriotic recognition BEFORE we start worship. Once the service begins our focus is on Jesus, not the country.
Chris Linzey avatar
Chris Linzey
0 days ago
I am a Chaplain in the United States Army Reserve and a fill-time pastor. For patriotic holidays I will sometimes preach in uniform and have an some sort of patriotic recognition BEFORE we start worship. Once the service begins our focus is on Jesus, not the country.
Ronald Johnson avatar
Ronald Johnson
0 days ago
We will frequently sing the National Hymn (God of our Fathers) around national holidays. I have banned the Battle Hymn of the Republic from our church, as it does not reflect a Christian theology. I've also said that only Christian music may be played during worship services. If I do address patriotism in a sermon, it is always clear that our primary allegiance is to Christ, and not to the United States, and that we, as the church, have a responsibility to be honest about both the good and evil present in our nation as it is, and as it was founded.
Chris Linzey avatar
Chris Linzey
0 days ago
I am a Chaplain in the United States Army Reserve and a fill-time pastor. For patriotic holidays I will sometimes preach in uniform and have an some sort of patriotic recognition BEFORE we start worship. Once the service begins our focus is on Jesus, not the country.
David Cox avatar
David Cox
0 days ago
I have studied American history for many years and know well the dichotomy that many preachers feel when it comes to the founding of this country...which is strange when one reads early colonial preaching. The colonial preachers were very well versed in the march of Christian Liberty through Europe over the ages. They understood the extremes of merging Christianity and the state...however, they also understood the necessity of Christianity to influence the state in order that it might, although imperfectly, reflect a government that would honor God and protect/defend the human liberties He bestowed upon people. While America is most definitely not the Kingdom of God, and Jesus certainly doesn't love the USA anymore than any other country...this country's, original visionaries saw an opportunity for America to be a place that displayed the light of Christ to the world through her principles of self-government, and what a country could be when her people loved God with all their hearts and their neighbors as themselves. My observation has been that many pastors don't have full understanding of America's founding, except what they were taught inadequately in public school, and are often guilty of placing early America's founding at odds with the Word of God. The founders were definitely against a nationalized religion, but they saw most clearly that the God of the Bible is the Sovereign of nations...and America most assuredly needed His truth. Israel was commanded by God to review their history every sabbath. I endeavor to inform my congregation of our spiritual history as a nation on national holidays and preach the principles of Christ's spiritual freedom for our souls...which then ultimately must be reflected in outward liberty/love toward our neighbors.
Bryan Thompson avatar
Bryan Thompson
0 days ago
As in all things we should be true to the scripture. Like most Americans I value the great heritage passed down by our founders, but we cannot be blind to the times when our nation has shamed itself (slavery, subjugation and unfair treatment of native Americans, etc). We should continue to celebrate what is noble about our heritage while crying out against what is evil (abortion, breakdown of the family, immorality and idolatry, etc). And I believe you are certainly correct that we should never forget our true citizenship.
Isen Oommen avatar
Isen Oommen
0 days ago
In Christian theology every possessiveness is a sin. God sent his only begotten son to save the entire world and not one country or group.Let us Love one another as Jesus loved us
Dennis Cocks avatar
Dennis Cocks
0 days ago
Ronald Johnson says..."I have banned the Battle Hymn of the Republic from our church, as it does not reflect a Christian theology." May I ask what Chistian theology you are talking about? "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord; He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of Wrath are stored; He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible Swift sword; His truth is marching on. Glory, glory! Hallelujah! Glory, glory! Hallelujah! Glory, glory! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on. I have seen Him in the watchfires of a hundred circling Camps; They have building Him an altar in the evening dews and Damps; I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring Lamps; His day is marching on. Glory, glory! Hallelujah! Glory, glory! Hallelujah! Glory, glory! Hallelujah! His day is marching on. I have read a fiery gospel, writ in burnished rows of steel; "As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall Deal; Let the hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel, Since God is marching on." Glory, glory! Hallelujah! Glory, glory! Hallelujah! Glory, glory! Hallelujah! Since God is marching on. He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call Retreat; He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgement Seat; Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubliant, My feet! Our God is marching on. Glory, glory! Hallelujah! Glory, glory! Hallelujah! Glory, glory! Hallelujah! Since God is marching on. In the beauty of the lilies, Christ was born across the Sea, With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me; As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free, While God is marching on. Glory, glory! Hallelujah! Glory, glory! Hallelujah! Glory, glory! Hallelujah! While God is marching on." I really can't understand why you think this isn't theologically correct. Please help me understand what you mean.
Jack Pickel avatar
Jack Pickel
0 days ago
There are no flags on my stage or in my church . I would never preach in "uniform" and we don't sing patriotic songs in our worship services. The mixing of Christiainity and Americanism absolutely makes me sick. A church in my community this past weekend paid Lee Greenwood thousands of dollars to come and sing his (one) hit song - PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN. What a waste of kingdom resources. Preach Jesus, gentleman, not America.
Jack Pickel avatar
Jack Pickel
0 days ago
There are no flags on my stage or in my church . I would never preach in "uniform" and we don't sing patriotic songs in our worship services. The mixing of Christiainity and Americanism absolutely makes me sick. A church in my community this past weekend paid Lee Greenwood thousands of dollars to come and sing his (one) hit song - PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN. What a waste of kingdom resources. Preach Jesus, gentleman, not America.
Vincent Aja avatar
Vincent Aja
0 days ago
I have reminded my readers in my book "Basic Principles" how King James 1 had used the national wealth to support the work of God by giving out the resources which had led to preserving the Biblical truths in what we have today as "The King James Bible," and how the Sovereign God, the Strength of Israel had followed to reward the Great Britain by given her then the one third of the world to rule. And also how the Hope of Israel has blinded the French people as they focused on Haiti because of the sugar boom, and lost Canada to the UK. And I`m still wondering about the cost of the human and the natural resources in the entire North America of which God has rewarded the UK with for the sake of history showing that nothing done for God or anything good done in His name would be a waste (Heb.6:10) . And today I`m reading the celebration... that the number of people who do not believe in God in the UK are higher than those who do believe. A.B. Bruce (1831-1899) one of the foremost English theologians has written that the USA is the fulfillment of the Biblical prophesy that whatever a man should give up for the sake of the Kingdom that the Jehovah Jacob will surely rewards the person 100 back in this world, and also with the eternal life (Mathew 19:29). The USA was discovered by an Italian Jew during one of the worst history of Christianity, and this was when people were being persecuted.... And then was the land (USA) with her vast recourses was discovered so to reward those Christians who were giving up everything back in Europe while running for their lives so they can begin a new life of FREEDOM in the New Land. I am a Nigerian although I have never been to USA, but I could not believe that almost every institution built by the missionaries just to advance the cause of human life.... Today in America it is possible to accept Yoga in every of those institutions built by the missionaries than to see the Cross, the Statue of the TEN COMMANDMENTS, or to utter a prayer.... And the worst is that very soon the people of God would be going to the prisons because they say something against the same-sex marriage. The secular law is dominating the Canon law of which plat-form that the founding fathers have "partially" built the nation. Which patriotism should come first? I`m not saying that people should not love their countries, but when the nations that have had the knowledge of the Sovereign God begin to drift away, everything that holds together will begin to fall apart. What has the Americans learned from the Europe? The Europeans that gave the human kinds the light cannot be found playing any major role in everything in our world today, and the Americans want to follow the same old step that had crashed the old Europe to a stand still. And what role is the Church playing today upon all these, this my main point IF patriotism is the real issue.
Phillip Mcdaniel avatar
Phillip Mcdaniel
0 days ago
This is a subject I tend to be outside the mainstream on. I have zero use for nationalism and find patriotism sometimes curious. It puzzles and saddens me mightily how Christians can place a symbol of this world (flag) in a place of higher prominence than a symbol of our savior and the promise of the world to come. My allegiance is to my God alone, for which I owe no apology. I have other allegiances such as to family, churches entrusted to my care, shut-ins, impoverished people, etc with patriotism falling fairly far down the list of things I find important. I long for the day when there is no nationalism/patriotism creating invisible lines on the land dividing people, I also understand the current reality of a world dominated by nation-states. However no matter how noble, spiritually lead, or scripturally accurate my understanding may be I'm very cautious to respect that which my people honor or hold as precious wether I fully agree or fully disagree. After all my mission is to serve them and reach them with the love of God, a hard task to achieve if you're busy alienating people. There are times when lines need to be drawn (I applaud the efforts of many here to separate patriotism from God's church), however the flying of a flag isn't that line. Conversely I shared a sermon with my people teaching them the christian tradition of the Just War Theory. For many it fell on deaf ears while for others they commented it gave them much to think about. One thing is for sure I don't bring politics nor my political philosophies to the pulpit. However just as my faith informs my philosophical-political worldview the opposite is also true making influence impossible to avoid. It's encouraging to know I'm not alone in seeking to apply God's truth to the subject of patriotism.
Phillip Mcdaniel avatar
Phillip Mcdaniel
0 days ago
This is a subject I tend to be outside the mainstream on. I have zero use for nationalism and find patriotism sometimes curious. It puzzles and saddens me mightily how Christians can place a symbol of this world (flag) in a place of higher prominence than a symbol of our savior and the promise of the world to come. My allegiance is to my God alone, for which I owe no apology. I have other allegiances such as to family, churches entrusted to my care, shut-ins, impoverished people, etc with patriotism falling fairly far down the list of things I find important. I long for the day when there is no nationalism/patriotism creating invisible lines on the land dividing people, I also understand the current reality of a world dominated by nation-states. However no matter how noble, spiritually lead, or scripturally accurate my under
Mckinley Day avatar
Mckinley Day
0 days ago
I'm retired military, former Trooper and new pastor and I preached about freedom at our Wednesday night service. In my church there's an Christian, American and Israeli flag displayed and I see no problem with that. The main point in my message was that as long as Christians remain on the sideline and not take a proactive stance in ensuring we keep those freedoms we currently enjoy, we do a disservice to future generation of Christians.
Kevin Kleinhenz avatar
Kevin Kleinhenz
0 days ago
Some of you sound like Jehovah Witnesses. This subject is almost like the battle over having a Christmas tree in the church foyer. If your people see a flag in the sanctuary and come to the conclusion that you are putting America over the cross thats your fault. I love this country deeply but if my love for Christ is not clearly seen as more, that is just plain sad. Believe me I am so saddened by what our country has become. Yes it has always had its flaws but it is becoming something now that is a shadow of what our founders invisioned. Who gives more benevolent help than all the other countries of the world put together? Which nation does more tha any other nation in sending the gospel to the entire world? Can we not just honor a country that God ordained and birthed to do His will? If your country has roots that are worthy of respect then respect it. If your country represents something (Freedom) that is a Biblical ideal that can be honored than honor it. I have no problem with patriotism and though there may be some who are crossing the line, down here in the south we love our country and our flag for what it is supposed to stand for "A Nation UNDER God"
Chaplain Shawn Kennedy avatar
Chaplain Shawn Kennedy
0 days ago
A Christian flag?
Chaplain Shawn Kennedy avatar
Chaplain Shawn Kennedy
0 days ago
A Christian flag?
Helio Fabio Castro avatar
Helio Fabio Castro
0 days ago
I think as a non speaker English;that this article means that we can?t mix religion and patriotic issues because if you are thinking in Christ you have to miss the earth?s issues,What we must do is to pray and asked to God help us to overcome this complex world?s corruption inward and outward to have wonderful nations making efforts to defeat the devil soul that limit us of being better human being!
Michael Farrell avatar
Michael Farrell
0 days ago
At first when I read the headline, I was thinking, "Oh oh, this may upset me"...but after reading your points (adopted in family of Christ, His Nation, and passport doesn't determine), I was like, "spot on". I'm a U.S. Marine, still serving (23 years thus far) and will soon retire and enter the Lord's service. I will always be patriotic, and this short story has helped me understand a perspetive I hadn't considered. I'm first a Christian, then an American...and I should guard myself and my speaking as not to neglect my loyalty to both...with Christ first. Good article to review and have dialogue with young preacher boys!
Lascelles James avatar
Lascelles James
0 days ago
Thanks for your thoughts Peter; The writer/s of Matthew 22:21 indicate that we should: "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's."
Lascelles James avatar
Lascelles James
0 days ago
Thanks for your thoughts Peter; The writer/s of Matthew 22:21 indicate that we should: "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's."

So, what did you think?


Thank you.