If you were a Christian in Communist China or Nazi Germany on a national holiday (and had the freedom to meet), what might be different from a worship service in the United States on the Fourth of July? Would you be pledging allegiance to the Communist or Nazi flag or singing that country’s national anthem along with other hymns of the faith, like “Faith of Our Fathers” with words appropriate to the histories of those nations?
“Back in the day,” children who attended vacation Bible school often began the day pledging allegiance to the American and Christian flags, and to the Bible. Remember?
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
I pledge allegiance to the Christian flag and to the Savior for whose Kingdom it stands, one Savior, crucified, risen, and coming again, with life and liberty for all who believe.
I pledge allegiance to the Bible, God’s Holy Word, I will make it a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path and will hide its words in my heart that I might not sin against God.
Can you be loyal or devoted to both the nation where you live and to another country at the same time? I have friends who have dual citizenships in both the USA and Canada. Another family claims citizenship in both the USA and Ireland. The Apostle Paul writes that followers of Jesus are citizens of a heavenly kingdom (Philippians 3:20). Peter says we are “aliens” (KJV), “temporary residents and foreigners” here on earth (1 Pet 2:11, NLT).
Like so many other things in life, it’s often not a matter of “either or,” but of “both and.” It’s a question of priorities. Sometimes, the lines are difficult to draw, and that’s when spiritual discernment is so critical.
When it comes to patriotism, loyalty, and priorities, the Bible makes it clear that the Christian is to live under the authority of the governments God has established (Romans 13:1-2). Paul teaches that we have a responsibility to the government (vv. 5-6)—even meeting the dreaded April 15 tax obligation.
It is helpful to distinguish between patriotism and nationalism. Patriotism can be defined simply as love of country. It’s the kind of love that makes you stop and place your hand over your heart when you hear the national anthem, or, if you’re British, equally as proud whenever you hear “God Save the Queen.” Nationalism, on the other hand, takes that love of country and expands it to mean love of country at the expense of other nations.
The Brethren movement, dating back to the 18th century, includes varying views of loyalty to governments. One of the key issues for many years was whether or not to “bear arms” in defense of one’s country.
On my 18th birthday, I had to register with the selective service office to determine my eligibility for the draft, even though they were not drafting at the time. Because I was pre-registered in seminary, intending to enter the ministry, I was classified as 4-D, meaning that military service for me was deferred, pending the satisfactory completing of my ministry studies.
Even today, although military service is entirely voluntary, young men between the ages of 18 and 26 must register. Should the draft be reinstated, men who have moral or religious convictions against using weapons may register as a Conscientious Objector (CO). If he is opposed to any form of military service, he will be assigned to alternative service. Such service will be in areas of maintenance of the national health, safety, and interest, or might involve working with a religious mission. The person whose beliefs allow him to serve in the military but in a noncombatant capacity can serve in the Armed Forces but will not be assigned training or duties that include using weapons.
As someone raised in the Brethren Church, I was taught about non-resistance, which allowed for either for CO status or noncombatant status in the military. It was a surprise, then, when World War II broke out, for a young Brethren boy like me, to learn that some young men from my church were going to war, fully equipped and trained to use weapons to kill.
Convictions changed in the Fellowship and the “doctrine” of non-resistance was discarded, not by legislative action, but by practice. The 1969 Statement of Faith of the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches (now Charis Fellowship), regarding the “Christian Life,” included the clause “not engaging in carnal strife but showing a Christlike attitude toward all men.” Carnal strife was thought by many to denote war, but it likely has a broader connotation to include any physical or “worldly” attempts to settle differences, perhaps even such things as violent labor strikes.
The “Commitment to Common Identity,” which is the current position of the Charis Fellowship, includes no similar statement. So, it can likely be said that convictions regarding military service are the province of the local church and/or the individual Christian. It should be noted that this position has not been arrived at lightly or without careful study of the Scripture.
We are not often faced with such drastic decisions as to whether to go to war or not, so, perhaps we should consider the more subtle issues of loyalty and devotion. We sometimes sing about patriotic loyalty in hymns like “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” with the lyrics, “Our fathers’ God, to thee, author of liberty, to thee we sing.”
Author Stephen Mattson suggests some helpful views on this issue.
While it’s clearly possible to be both an American and a Christian, we must realize that the goals of our country’s government and those of Christ often directly contradict each other. . . . Unfortunately, Christians have been historically gullible to nationalistic “Christianity,” and often treat their faith as a civic religion where they can establish a voting bloc and create enough influence to legislate laws, gain wealth, and consolidate power rather than sacrificially serve and love others.
Separating king and country is difficult for modern American Christians to comprehend because we incorporate nationalism and patriotism into much of our religion and faith. It’s not uncommon for churches to celebrate the 4th of July, honor military personnel and veterans, adorn flags in their sanctuaries, and incorporate America into songs of worship. But for the very first followers of Jesus, these types of ideals and symbols would be alarming and even considered blasphemous.
A faith hindered by patriotism is highly selective and irrationally loyal according to partisan opinions.
Most Christians in America today are likely grateful to be living in a country where they can exercise their religious freedoms more freely than they could in many parts of the world. It appears that some of these liberties are under attack by the strongly secular and even atheistic voices becoming more and more vocal and demanding. How should we react if our religious freedoms are curtailed or even taken from us?
If the largely tax-free consideration for religious institutions were to be rescinded, would we make the necessary sacrifices to fund their ministries? If we were told we couldn’t hold Bible studies on public property or even in our homes because of residential restrictions, would we resist the laws and even protest and disobey?
What will happen when government demands which are contrary to the will of God become law? The Scriptures make it clear how we should respond in such a situation. Peter and other apostles tell us, “We must obey God rather than any human authority” (Acts 5:29). In other words, our priority (allegiance) is to God. We are loyal to God when we obey the laws and demands of those in authority over us so long as they are not contrary to our spiritually determined conscience.
When civil disobedience is demanded by the rare circumstance of choosing between the civil law and the will of God, Christians must protest. But, in doing so, they must maintain the principles of conduct that are to characterize their lives. For example, they must avoid violence, whether verbal or physical. And, if law-breaking is necessary, Christians must be willing to accept the consequences of their actions.
The disciples counted it a privilege to suffer for their faith in similar circumstances. “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41). What’s more, the Apostle Paul testified, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
Can we emulate these early Christians? We are grateful for what we enjoy as residents of our country and living as loyal citizens. But we should be even more thankful that our eternal citizenship is in heaven where we are already “seated . . . with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6). – by Jesse Deloe
 Ryan Hamm. Patriotism and Christianity, What is the difference between patriotism and nationalism? Christianity Today/ChristianBibleStudies.com.
 Stephen Mattson, When Patriotism Becomes Idolatry, Huffington Post, November 20, 2017.
This article first appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of GraceConnect magazine. Click here for more information.