The Cross and the Flag

  colson2Quick, what famous event do we commemorate on the Fourth of July?   Not sure? A little rusty on your sixth-grade civics? Well, you're in good company. One Gallup poll revealed that one out of every four Americans doesn't know that July Fourth commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence.   It's a poor patriotism that doesn't even know our national history and traditions. This Fourth of July, let’s ask what it means, in the light of Scripture, to be an American citizen.   Patriotism used to be a simple matter. Most of America's traditions were rooted in a Christian heritage. To be a good Christian seemed to be synonymous with being a good American.   And no wonder. Through most of our history as a nation, Christianity was the dominant religion. At independence, the Founding Fathers declared a national day of prayer and thanksgiving—a holiday we still celebrate.   From that time on, many states required the Christian religion to be taught in colleges, prisons, and orphanages. Up to the 1960s, many states required Bible reading and prayers in the public schools. Almost all Americans agreed that our law was rooted, as John Adams said, in a common moral and religious tradition stretching back to Moses on Mount Sinai.   In a culture like this, it was easy for a Christian to be a patriot. Maybe too easy. Vibrant biblical faith often degenerated into mere civil religion. The well-being of the country was often equated with the expansion of God's Kingdom.   In the United States, Christians have all too often vacillated between two extremes—the God-and-country, wrap-the-flag-around-the-cross mentality or on the other hand, the simply passing-through mindset.   The former was illustrated a century ago by the president of Amherst College. He said that the nation had achieved the “true American union, that sort of union which makes every patriot a Christian and every Christian a patriot.” This form of civil religion is supported by politicians who welcome it as a prop for the state, and by Christians who see it as enshrining the fulfillment of the vision of the early pilgrims.   The passing-through mindset is represented by those who believe they are simply sojourners with loyalties only in the Kingdom beyond. They believe that faith is an entirely private matter, and that they are under no obligation to the community or country in which God has placed them.   Where along this range is true Christian patriotism?   The Christian position is beautifully balanced. On one hand, we don't deify our country. Our ultimate citizenship is in heaven, and that's where our ultimate allegiance is.   But the only place for expressing that allegiance is in the concrete loyalties God calls us to here on earth—including loyalty to country. We can't love mankind in the abstract; we can only really love people in the particular, concrete relationships God has placed us in—our family, our church, our community, our nation. I deal with this in a chapter in my new book, God and Government.   So brush up on your civics, dust off your U.S. history books, and celebrate this July Fourth by thanking God that He has not only called us into His kingdom but that He's also allowed us to live in—and yes, love—this land of liberty.    
Today's BreakPoint Offer
  Chuck Colson, God and Government (formerly Kingdoms in Conflict).  
For Further Reading and Information
Steve Crabtree, “New Poll Gauges Americans’ General Knowledge Levels,” Gallup News Service, 6 July 1999.   Kathy Frankovic, “Polling on Patriotism,” CBS News, 3 July 2007. Tom Krattenmaker, “Faith Shouldn’t be Red, White and Blue,” USA Today, 1 July 2007.   Fredrica Mathewes-Green, “Give Me Patriotism or Give Me Faith,” Beliefnet, 3 July 2007. Loredana Vuoto, “Fixing the Left’s History Distortions,”, 3 July 2007. Gina Dalfonzo, “‘Here Lies the Nation,’” The Point, 28 May 2007.   Breakpoint Commentary No. 070605, “Christian Patriotism: When Is Civil Disobedience Justified?”   Breakpoint Commentary No. 960704, “Tough Love: How To Be a Patriot.” Breakpoint Commentary No.960507, “Fractured Patriotism: Have We Lost Our Civil Religion?


Chuck Colson



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