I have been in ministry for fourteen years now and every year I have dealt with the issue of how to treat the American civil holidays of Independence Day, Memorial Day, and Veteran’s Day in the church. I know some colleagues who do not allow any mention of America in their services so as not to confuse the civil calendar with the church. I also know some colleagues who unabashedly make these services as patriotic as possible, all the while thanking God for a country like America that would protect, defend and preserve the church.
I know there is a lot to be said for living in a country where we have true freedom of religion. All we have to do is look at what is happening in Communist countries or Islamic countries to see what life without freedom of religion is like. And yet, something is not quite right.
The Church has existed for 2000 years. America has been around for 238 years. Obviously, the Church did not need America to defend her throughout most of its history. So what if we actually have it backwards? What if it is not that America defends the Church, but that it has been the Church that has kept America?
Now I know there are some that might read that statement as a radical call for a church-run theocracy. Believe me, that is the furthest thing from my mind (for which branch of the church would be the one to call the shots, and who in that branch would be able to determine when it might get things wrong?). Any time the Church has exercised political power it ultimately eroded the life of the Church.
Rather, when we have a strong Church, that means we have strong Christians. And when we have strong Christians, we have a group of people who love their neighbors as themselves. When we have people who love neighbors as themselves, we have people who look out for one another and make sure the needs of each other are met.
This might seem like a Pollyanna-ish vision of what a strong Church would be, as many people have seen the Church as mean, hurtful, and judgmental, and one of their biggest fears is that of a strong Church. Just imagine what those hypocrites would do with real power. But that’s just the point. For the Church, real power is found in serving, not dictating. It is in self-sacrificial behavior and lifestyles, not furthering our own agendas.
Perhaps as the Church, we should take some time to reacquaint ourselves with what it means to be a follower of the one who gave himself up for the whole world. Perhaps we should remind ourselves that we are supposed to be recognized as his followers by our love for one another. Perhaps we should remember that we have been called to live a life that puts the needs of others before ourselves. If we can do this, then maybe we will convert ourselves once again.
And if our country could be filled up with people who truly live and love in this way, then perhaps our best days will still be yet to come.