Fourth of July celebrations in church seeking to tie being America too closely to being Christian might work against Jesus' Great Commission and wrongly tell non-Christians they must become Americans, a Southern Baptist scholar has warned.
"I love patriotic music, fireworks on the National Mall, and the country they're honoring. But I confess I'm not a fan of celebrating America inside Sunday's sanctuary," wrote last week author Jonathan Leeman, an elder at Cheverly Baptist Church in Washington D.C., who is also editorial director for Christian ministry 9Marks.
"It just might work against Jesus's Great Commission," Leeman wrote in The Gospel Coalition, ahead of Sunday service and of the 4th of July, Independence Day.
The author reflected on Christian gatherings around the world, and asked readers, "should churches divide between nations, or between those who identify with Christ and those who don't?"
"Church gatherings represent nothing if not a celebration of our heavenly, not earthly, citizenship. The Lord's Table is by definition a multinational one," he argued.
"Certainly, Christians should thank God for any good that he has given through one's nation. Paul argued in the Athenian Areopagus that God himself marked the times and boundaries of the nations (Acts 17:26). He exhorts churches to intercede for our rulers, to give thanks for them, to honor them (Rom. 13:7; 1 Tim. 2:1–2)."
He said it is right to give thanks for America's blessings, but at the same time warned that "when you add that patriotic song, display that flag, or invite that politician to offer a special word to your church gathering, you risk working against the Great Commission."
Leeman noted that Christ called on people to follow Him regardless of a nation's borders, and that other countries, such as the former Soviet Union and China, have tried to stop the spread of the faith, while in America it has flourished.
"So thank God for our nation on the Sunday nearest July 4. And if your church does celebrate with patriotic songs and flags, don't grumble in your heart. Praise God for his country-sized blessings. But remember what we're communicating about the us and the them," he urged.
"We want Christian Brits and Venezuelans showing up that Sunday and discovering they are us. And we don't want to tempt their non-Christian counterparts to believe they must become Americans to be Christians," Leeman concluded.
"And, perhaps most crucially of all, we don't want non-Christian Americans to believe they are us simply because they love the flag. No, they must love the cross, and we love them most by pointing not to the flag, but to the cross."
Some megachurch pastors, such as Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church of Dallas, have emphasized in their sermons that America was founded as a Christian nation.
Jeffress said in a June 24 sermon that "America was founded predominantly, not exclusively, but predominantly by Christians, who wanted to build this foundation of Christian nation on the foundation of God's will."
"Furthermore, these men believed that the future success of our country depended upon our fidelity to the Christian beliefs ... Our future success depends on our country being faithful to those eternal truths," the pastor added.
Jeffress has been criticized by others, however, such as best-selling author and Orthodox Christian Rod Dreher, who called his "Freedom Sunday" sermon a "form of idolatry."
"... you couldn't pay me to sit there and listen to Jeffress preach that poke-in-the-eye patriotism on Sunday, and partake in his church's glorification of the war machine, under the guise of a 'salute to the armed forces,'" wrote Dreher.