Unlike many, many churches this Sunday, our congregation did not celebrate 4th of July. There are at least two obvious reasons for this decision:
a) The 4th of July is not a universal ecclesiastical practice.
b) Jesus is Lord of the church and not America.
In the last five years I have pursued the study of American history, which has led me to the conclusion that there is something unique about the American Constitution, about its founding, and about its early practices in the colonies. The very fact that there is a dispute about the godly heritage of American history proves that some series of incidents occurred in order to provide such disputations. If the evidence was minute, I seriously doubt the debate would even take place. Nevertheless, in whatever camp one falls, it is incumbent to realize that Sabbath worship is not the place for exalting the glories of a nation, its godly heritage, or its “victories” in foreign lands.
There is a fundamental displacement of ecclesiastic priorities when a congregation replaces the adoration of the Holy Trinity for the adoration of the “holy” state. Laurence Vance is correct when he summarizes the nature of these patriotic services:
Unfortunately, what this means in many cases is state worship instead of God worship. Songs will be sung in praise of the state instead of in praise to God. The flag will be saluted instead of the Bible being exalted. And let’s not forget the military. Christians in the pew will be told to ask God to bless our troops as they defend our freedoms…
This illustrates well my two points mentioned above. The first one is that the “4th of July patriotic service” is not a universal service; it does not involve the holy and apostolic church. In fact, it diminishes the glory of the church catholic by exalting the glory of the church in America. This is not the nature of Biblical history, which sees the church as a worldwide manifestation of the kingdom of our Lord Jesus.
The place for celebration and feasting on the benefits of our history is noble and should take place in its proper time and context. However, the celebration of the Lord’s Day looks to something far greater than the Constitution or George Washington. The Lord’s Day is reserved for the liturgy of the church, the proclamation of the counsel of God, and a consummative ritual called the Eucharist, where the people feast on Christ, not on hot dogs and burgers. Keeping this distinction clear will aid the church in proclaiming what the world truly needs to hear.
The only events that are clear from Scriptures and the holy church are those that have been confirmed and applied in time and history and that are grounded in the sacred testimony of Scriptures. ((Examples would be Resurrection Sunday, Advent, etc.)) Hence, the point is that any celebration not grounded in the church or the Bible is not worthy to be brought into the pulpit or the table of the Sabbath feast.
The joyless Christians who find the 4th of July more attractive than an exposition of Habakkuk robs himself of true joy. The Bible exalts the Sabbath worship to a heavenly throne, where the angels adore and cry: Holy, Holy, Holy. Every Sunday, the church triumphant exalts the eternal city on earth, the city of God and of His Christ. There is no earthly celebration that should match or replace the wonder of this heavenly feast.
The second point is rather clear as well: Jesus is Lord of the church and not America. The Lordship of Christ extends to the entire world. This does not exclude America, but it serves to point out that Christ’s reign is universal. His intention is to bring the world under His dominion and not simply one country. This pervasive idea may be due to the overly localized ecclesiology. Denominations that boast in their independent status as opposed to the inter-connectedness of the church, abuses its role to be united. It acts like the prodigal son who believes if he maintains a level of independence with his father’s funds, then he can make it. At last, the prodigal son in the end realizes that his funds are limited, his accountability is limited, and his individuality can only go so far. It is this thinking that has strayed the church from celebrating the kingdom of God universal.
American churches need to realize that boasting in anyone but Christ is foolish indeed. It is the Christian message we raise as a flag, it is the Christian Christ we raise as a God and any other challenge to this model is deemed for failure. Today I celebrate Christ in the bread and wine, on Wednesday I celebrate God’s work in this great country.