Many American hymnals include a section for patriotic songs like “God Bless America” and “My Country Tis of Thee.” I remember learning and singing these songs in elementary school music classes, taught by my grandma. She and my grandpa were Christian patriots who loved their God and the country where he’d placed them. My grandpa served in the Marine Corps during World War II and always showed honor and respect for our national leaders and military servants.

But I saw a heavenly gaze in his eyes as he drew near to leaving this world. I saw this same longing in my grandma’s eyes as she approached her final breath. Although they were patriots here, they knew that this country, this world, was not their home. Their citizenship was in heaven, and they looked forward to arriving in the place Christ had prepared for them.

Like many others, the church of my grandparents often sung patriotic hymns and integrated civic themes and symbols into their Christian worshiping life. This is only appropriate insofar as the liturgy does not distract from the reality that our ultimate loyalty should be to God alone.

Unfortunately some of the patriotic hymns of the American church contain dangerous teachings, using eschatological language that portrays the United States as the promised New Jerusalem, such as this couplet from “America The Beautiful”:

Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!

We must not idolize our nation or forget the multinational character of the body of Christ. He has ransomed his church from every nation, tribe, and tongue. Rather than boast in our national pride, let us boast in Christ alone.

We should pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who live in other nations—-even enemy states—-as we remember Christians throughout history and even today who have stood against political regimes in order to be faithful to the gospel.

Finally, we should properly honor the men and women who have been killed in service to our country by keeping their service in perspective. We can commemorate their sacrifices made on our behalf without regarding their service as having “paid the ultimate price.” The sacrifice of Jesus Christ alone has saved us from sin and death.

Not Our Final Home

Worship gatherings give us the opportunity to remember that, like our father Abraham and the patriarchs of old, this world is not our final destination (Hebrews 11:8-10; 13-16). We are a chosen race purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ. We are citizens of a heavenly country who owe our highest allegiance to God, whose authority is unrivaled.

As you’re planning your worship services in light of the civic calendar, remember that citizenship is a good and important calling—-we do not leave our patriotic affections or citizen responsibilities at the door when we gather for worship. But we must ensure our celebrations do not include superficial sentimentality or unintended heresies.

We honor our nation in a godly manner by working for Christ’s kingdom here on earth. We pray for God’s grace to enable us to love our country well by doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly before the Lord (Micah 6:8). And we remember that we belong to a heavenly city whose Builder and Architect is God.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come (Hebrews 13:14).