The line between patriotism and nationalism is a thin one. So is the line between worship and idolatry. This Sunday, at churches both in my city and across my nation, both of these lines will be crossed. I’m a proud American (really, I am!) . . . . but I have an extreme allergy to the nationalistic strain of idolatry that runs rampant throughout churches in America. So I’ve developed a short and simple diagnostic test for you to use in order to determine whether your church is primarily Christian or American:
Simply answer these 5 questions:
#1: Does your church celebrate Pentecost Sunday as enthusiastically as it celebrates Independence Day?
I’m fine with churches honoring Independence Day (although maybe they shouldn’t), but not if it is consistent with a larger pattern of ignoring the church calendar (Lent, Advent, etc) and holidays (Pentecost Sunday, etc) while prioritizing a national calendar and holidays. This liturgical rhythm speaks much louder than words when it comes to determining where a church’s true loyalties lie.
#2: The Language Test: Does your church make more references to Jesus than to the USA?
Just count. Consider substituting “Jesus” with “Holy Spirit” for an advanced test (unless you go to a Pentecostal church).
#3: The Time Test: Does your church’s service spend more time (total) singing & talking about Jesus or about the USA?
It’s not a good sign if there are two patriotic songs and two worship songs in the service. Or if the sermon is 20 minutes of homiletical attention given to the USA and 5 minutes of Jesus tacked on at the end. The time during a service which is focused on the Triune God should far outweigh the time spent focused on a nation. Again, this speaks so much louder than words.
#4: Does your church honor martyrs & missionaries as much as fallen and active soldiers?
Once again, I have no problem honoring fallen & active soldiers. I’m grateful for their service and sacrifice. But if your allegiance to the historical, global Christian community comes before that of your national commitment, it is not too much to expect a regular honoring of martyrs and missionaries. Take an unofficial “atmosphere measurement” when soldiers are honored: is there more clapping/emotion/support than when missionaries are commissioned or martyrs are remembered? Which mission makes our hearts swell more: national military activity or the global work of God?
#5: Who is the community implicit in the “we” and “our” language of your church leaders?
When your pastor talks about “our problems” or “our values” – is the “our” understood as the United States of America or the Christian community? Are they problems of American legislation or the holiness of the Church? Are they the values inherent to the American Dream or the sacrificial way of Jesus? This subtle analysis of language often reveals where our true commitments reside.
Do you agree with these tests?
Would your church pass them?
Anything else you might add to the diagnostic check-list?
3 thoughts on “5 Tests: Is Your Church Christian or American?”
I understand and enjoy what you are pointing out. It can be difficult to compare matters of culture and what it means to truly be Christian. If you look at any church, anywhere, you will find the culture is essentially the basis for what happens. Nationalism’s infiltration into the church is a reflection of a nationalistic culture. I would imagine that in other countries where although citizens may certainly love their country, they don’t have the same sort of “my country is the best (better than yours) attitude and so nationalism would probably be less prevalent in their churches. Just a theory 🙂
Thanks for the comment. I agree – In my experience this dangerous form of nationalism is far less prevalent in other places in the world. In a lot of cases their church’s are already separated from the gov’t / culture, so there’s little to no temptation at all to link and subsequently confuse the two.
I agree with your concerns, not sure about a few things on the list.
#1 is a non-issue for me (yes I’m Baptist), but other than Independence Day and I guess Memorial Day what other holidays form the larger pattern you are concerned with? I haven’t seen this to be a major problem and I grew up in some nationalistic churches.
#2 Sounds like a progressive version of determining if a band can count as a Christian 🙂
#5 is where I think you get to the crux of the matter and not just for nationalistic churches. I think it is a question that every church should ask about its language.