Ethel Merman-esque

pa·tri·ot·ism  /ˈpeɪtriəˌtɪzəm or, especially Brit., ˈpæ-/ [pey-tree-uh-tiz-uhm or, especially Brit., pa-]
devoted love, support, and defense of one's country; national loyalty.

pa·tri·ot   /ˈpeɪtriət, -ˌɒt or, especially Brit., ˈpætriət/ [pey-tree-uht, -ot or, especially Brit., pa-tree-uht]
1. a person who loves, supports, and defends his or her country and its interests with devotion.
2. a person who regards himself or herself as a defender, esp. of individual rights, against presumed interference by the federal government.
3. ( initial capital letter ) Military . a U.S. Army antiaircraft missile with a range of 37 mi. (60 km) and a 200-lb. (90 kg) warhead, launched from a tracked vehicle with radar and computer guidance and fire control.

I bring it up because closet-anarchist pastor Bob Hyatt wants to do for the 4th of July what Santa haters have done for Christmas -- which is, marginalize Christians by portraying us as people with a tone-deaf understanding of what we actually do well who are overzealous to use the prophetic voice and underzealous to really find common ground with unbelievers in order to speak to them as human beings rather than idjits.

Bob's view, as you may have witnessed on Twitter, is that anyone who thinks patriotism is a good idea is somehow not an alien and a sojourner in the Heb 11 sense who is desiring a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Bob has frankly equated patriotism with idolatry because there are no verses in the Bible which say, "God Bless America! My Home! Sweet! Home!" in Ethel Merman-esque bravado.

Well, let's at least admit a couple of things:

ITEM: There are some people who think America is the primary end of the Christian faith. Those people have never read their Bibles.

ITEM: There are some people who think you can't be Christian unless you're a [political party, left or right] here. Those people are a different version of the first item -- just a more nuanced version.

ITEM: Some people use faith to gain political ends, but have no faith -- not even in the politics they use for their own gain. These people aren't patriots, but they say they are.

ITEM: There are no human governments on-par with God.

So if Bob is talking about any of these things, then good on him. But he is in fact talking about celebrating the 4th of July -- the declaration of independence of our nation, and the celebration of our (spotty) national history. Is that really "idolatry"?

Let's see: is it idolatry if I celebrate my wife's birthday? I would say, "no." I don't have a Bible verse for that, but the most important day in the history of the world after the resurrection of Christ as far as I am concerned in the birth of my wife, followed by the day she married me.

How about this: is it idolatry to celebrate our anniversary? I would say, "no," -- again, sans scriptural prooftext. Celebrating the fact that so far we have been, for richer and poorer, in sickness and in health, joined together by God and faithful does not supplant God, or take something away from him. It's a way to enjoy what he has done -- through human agency.

OK -- how about this one: what if I celebrate my grandparents' anniversary? That has nothing to do with me and mine directly -- and to lift up other people for doing what's right seems a little shady, yes? Maybe it's the way we sneak in and replace something about God with things on greeting cards? No? See: we can celebrate the faithfulness of others and not be Athenians worshipping an unknown god -- even if they are not perfect people.

And these are all commemorations of human accomplishment in God-ordained institutions.

So when we turn to another God-ordained institution -- i.e., government, a la Romans 13 for starters -- is it actually wrong and a form of Roman idolatry to roast some meat on the fire (especially hot dogs and italian sausage, pork products that they are), drink something cold with friends, maybe hit a soft ball or throw a frisbee, and end the night with a bang-on fireworks show because in the last 234 years we haven't yet actually given up on the hope, politically, we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Prolly not, even if I would want to pick a nit over the part I underlined there. It seems to me that being glad that we have what Paul wanted for Timothy (1 Tim 2), and grateful that we have what Paul desired in Rom 13 in our imperfect political way if not a wholly-spiritual way. We can celebrate that these things right now belong to us even if they are in some way on a decline.

Even if I can't give Bob a verse which says, "dood: I like the ones which sparkle at the end and crackle like rice crispies."

Enjoy the holiday weekend, but don't confuse what ought to happen on Sunday morning with what you're going to do on Sunday evening. Be in the Lord's house on the Lord's day with the Lord's people for worship, and have a party with your neighbors Sunday night so you can tell them about the only one who can save us from our accomplishments as well as our sins.


Scott Shaffer said...

I'm with you on this, but I admit that I'm uncomfortable with patriotic services at church. I think it is acceptable and even appropriate to show God gratitude for the blessings he has given us. However, in my opinion, patriotic church services (and I wonder if this is primarily a Baptist/Bible church thing)sound like your first ITEM. I wonder how these services appear to foreign believers who happen to attend them. Thoughts?

CGrim said...

The birthday/anniversary comparisons are perfect. It's not idolatry for us to celebrate the blessings God has given us, so long as we keep proper perspective and revere the source of those blessings, God, as supreme over the rest.

Gary said...

The contrarian in me wants to try to prooftext Ecc 7:1-2 on birthdays! But, really I agree with you and don't want to spend the energy just to be a punk about it.

David Rudd said...

I haven't been reading Bob's twitter updates, so maybe he's said more there that I'm not aware of.

In his OutofUr article, I felt like he was really targeting the temptation to make Sunday morning all about America. I read him as taking shots at the "Jesus Covered by American Flag" images in our worship services.

I think you and he are pretty much in agreement on that.

But, like I said, perhaps he's said more elsewhere. I guess I need to be more twitterpated.

Mark said...


I've written a few times on Patriotic worship service. Around the patriotic holidays hits on this post always start to pick up. It gives my thoughts on patriotic services thus far.

Like anything, patriotism can be idolatrous. Is it intrinsically so? No. If it were then anything we celebrate would fall into the same category which is ridiculous.

Unknown said...

I agree with what you are saying--and if I read the Bob Hyatt post correctly I think he would too.

In order for your analogy to completely coincide with Hyatt's article you would have to say that we dedicate an entire service to your grandparents--we sing hymns about your grandma's faithfulness and how we want to extend grandma's borders and influence. We post pictures of the life of gramps and granny, as we salute them and pledge our allegiance to them.

That may be okay at their 50th anniversary bash--full of fireworks--but it is out of place in the gathering of diverse peoples of God (with all different grandparents).

jmb said...

Both Ethel Merman and Kate Smith had loud singing voices, but "God Bless America" is associated with Smith, not Merman.

bob hyatt said...

Let's go with the Birthday analogy.
Which birthdays do you celebrate in church? :)

For a broader, more balanced perspective on what I do actually think about this, and to see my concern that we do *actually* celebrate alongside our neighbors, make sure to check out the full article on Ur.

By the way, love your concern for the Gospel and God's Word, Frank. Wish instead of labeling me a closet anarchist (whuuuh?) you'd see all of this stems from the same exact place for me.

bob hyatt said...

Okay- I read it. Good article Frank, but yeah- you're missing it with the analogies. But that's been pointed out :)

"Enjoy the holiday weekend, but don't confuse what ought to happen on Sunday morning with what you're going to do on Sunday evening. Be in the Lord's house on the Lord's day with the Lord's people for worship, and have a party with your neighbors Sunday night so you can tell them about the only one who can save us from our accomplishments as well as our sins."

You realize, that's exactly what I'm trying to say??? :)

David Regier said...

Out o' Fur.

That's what it looks like to me when I type the web address.

In that vein, it seems that the Twitter debate left the argument somewhat like a hairless Chihuahua. If the original provocative statement needs more hair, it needs to have a link to that hair from the outset.

FX Turk said...

Where did I say that we should have patriotic worship services?

Strong Tower said...

Fireworks in the worship service would indeed honor God in some churches.

Do you think airing the Patriot is acceptable worship?

How about Geico commercials?

We're having our monthly fellowship meal outside, repleat with BBQ and flies. There will be the traditional dozen versions of baked-beans and at least the sound of fire-works will follow. Hopefully no one will get food-poisoning from the potato-salad that is left in the hot sun. Then again, if someone does, the elders will have something to do during the week.

In our congregation applause is a non-tradition, verboten, so any expressions of secular appreciation are not on the docket. And typically, the only Holidays that get an honorable mention are Christmas, Easter, and Tax-day. Each is festive in a bland sort of way, except for the burning of IRS subpoenas. Now at the fellowship meals there is much conversation about forming a patriotic underground... you know... just in case.

Strong Tower said...

My daughter is selling fireworks this year. The problem is that she is working sixteen hour shifts to accommodate all the Coloradans who snake across the border so as to ferry as much pyrotechniques back to the land of peace and quiet as they can. That takes her out of the main worship service, in fact it takes her out of life in an exhaustive sense. She remains my daughter, even though.

I reject the whole explosive thing in favor of seeing my dog not have an asthmatic attack because of the pops and booms.

Fireworks are all good and fine until someone loses an eye. Just saying. If you're going to celebrate the Fourth and honor it in church, don't run with a Roman candle in your hand.

Oh, this isn't about fireworks...

never mind.

piluTLight said...

thought about racing to the border myself :)

Strong Tower said...

Well LU, you're still a kid, darn wipper snapper, yer neves can handle the dradnabbit things.

Colorado has two things I like, no make that three, the mountains, Coors, and the Rockies minus Corpas. No make that four, Colorado has four things that I like... Christmas at Larimer Square. Five, make that five, the Stanley Hotel where Stanley made the Shining starring Olive Oil. Great movie, great place, great axe. Oh, six things... Cantelope... perhaps seven, Denver and Denver has great food and entertainments. I wish Colorado would buy Frontier Days from us. And fireworks, lots of fireworks, I hope. Did I mention Poudre Valley Ice Cream?

Barbara said...

I'm with you on that, but I still cannot pledge allegiance to a flag or sing the praises of a statue. Even good, God-fearing Christians tell me, "I'm still grateful to live in a country that gives me the freedom to worship God" and there's the rub. No, it's not the country that gives you the freedom. That IS idolatry. It's the God you worship freely who gives you the freedom. Big, huge, Romans 1 kind of a difference.

I know I'm weird, but it's how I'm convicted on the matter. Just for a couple cents' worth.

Rachael Starke said...


That's precisely the reasoning that led to the writing of the Declaration of Independence - that all people are endowed by their Creator with the unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Christians are the only ones who direct their gratitude for men who gave their lives for that conviction to its Source. And every Sunday that I can freely assemble with my family in Christ, head out to eat afterword and talk freely with them about what just happened, I'm thankful for the immeasurable mercy of God that we're still able to do all that in the open. It may not always be the case.

Barbara said...

I get that, Rachel, except that I don't see those inalienable rights in Scripture. And I'm still not going to sing praises to a flag nor to a statue. I get images of a golden calf in the midst of that.

Rob Bailey said...

@Rach & Barb

Just to throw a monkey wrench into the whole deal, for fun; what about the FACT that our country exists because of disobedience to God's word that commands believers to submit themselves to their government? There is no getting around that. God uses crooked sticks, but this country is founded on rebellion.

Strong Tower said...

Yes Rob...


It was not because of rebellion to England, but to God. Indeed, this country was established for the punishment of evil doers, as all were. Even Israel. The Law was added because of transgression. It is a strange mix. Without governments we would have no protection, and without governments we would have not oppression by them, either. The lot is cast into the lap and every decision is from the Lord. Imagine being in England, a solid Calvinist of some Reformed tradition and being ordered to take up arms to quell the rebellion against the Crown. Now, wow, I'll bet that is not a perspective many ponder. God's sovereign providence is what established this country. It established England, too. England's Christian heritage far out ranks ours as the elder. The argument that America was established in rebellion to England is a moot topic. All nations were established because of rebellion. Remember, "Listen to the people. It is not you they have rejected, but Me." The rejection of God as King, the rejection of his governance and opting instead for man's rule is why we are here. You cannot forget that. At some point, evenso, a person has to decide if he will defend the widow and the fatherless, the weak and infirm, justice and the right to worship God as the Scripture teaches, or his country. Otherwise, even if he calls himself a patriot, or a servant of the crown, he is in rebellion to God.

We report, you decide.

Barbara said...


There's also the matter that we know nothing of what it means to approach a throne; common man - not the government - is sovereign, and if we don't like a law we can fight to get it changed, vote out our leaders, try to weasel our way around it, find loopholes, call it obsolete, add amendments, make it all change with the "times".

And the modern church in many ways is built on worshipping a god made in that very same image.

And we wonder how the Gospel message got so watered down. Our whole concept of government looks nothing like the God of the Scripture.