Letter from a Minister about Patriotism in Corporate Worship

Note about the Guest Blog: B21 has produced in full a letter sent from the Music Minister at Clifton Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky to thousands of other church muscians on why this minster’s congregation has chosen not to emphasize patriotism in their corporate worship. B21 believes there is much wisdom in this minister’s words and we hope that this letter will be helpful for us and our readers as we all consider patriotism in corporate worship.

Guest Blogger: Chip Stam, the author of the letter, is also the Director for the Institute of Worship at Southern Seminary.


[This went out to several thousand church musicians. This version is current as of April 5, 2007.]


Dear Pastors and Church Musicians:


I want to comment on Memorial Day and July 4th and how they overlap with the life of church music and faithful Christian worship.


I am a very patriotic American. I cry when the planes fly over the football stadium and when we sing “America the Beautiful.” I pay my taxes with enthusiasm and, to my knowledge, have never missed an opportunity to vote in state and national elections. I would guess that the vast majority of the U. S. citizens in our congregation are also extremely patriotic.


HOWEVER, as a local congregation, we choose NOT to use these national celebrations as an emphasis in our worship services. Here are our reasons:


1.             It is just too easy to confuse what it means to follow Christ with what it means to be a loyal U.S. citizen. Especially when hard-hitting emotional presentations are made with flags and uniforms and pledges, it is too easy to get mixed up about where our allegiance should be. However, we ARE quick to pray for our country and for our leaders and we are quick to thank God for the freedom of worship that we enjoy. We are also faithful to pray for believers in other countries who do not enjoy the freedom to worship Christ openly.


2.             We have many internationals in our congregations, many of whom are experiencing American culture for the first time, and some of whom are considering the Christian faith for the first time. We do not want to have the bold gospel of the Cross somehow confused in their minds with Uncle Sam and a particular form of government or foreign policy.


3.             When a mood of patriotic celebration is present, it seems to be about two clicks away from partisan politics. While we strongly encourage citizens to vote, we are amazingly silent concerning how exactly Christians should vote. If anything, we want believers who are committed to different views on social programs and public policies to be ONE IN CHRIST. There are some fine Scriptures that support this position.



I realize that there are many Christ-centered churches that pull out all the stops (and flags) for these civic celebrations. My intent here is to share with colleagues in ministry how we have worked through some of these issues in a way that seems consonant with our understanding of the Lord’s will for our congregation. May God’s richest blessings be on you and your congregations—and on our country.



Respectfully submitted,


Carl Stam

Director, Institute for Christian Worship

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary


Minister of Music & Worship

Clifton Baptist Church, Louisville, Kentucky


Comments 0

  1. I agree in spirit with the author. I would question whether or not we can, or should, be one in Christ with those who favor social policies in contradiction to the Word (i.e. abortion, homosexual marriage, etc.). But overall, his point is well received.

  2. Post

    Thanks for the comment, I do think he is addressing the appearance that we give off sometimes to people that to be a good christian equals being a good patriot and republican… which we know is ridiculous. The confusion here though is great, as I think often times many in our pews, though they may never articulate it this way, are more concerned with being good americans/republicans than Christians. Just see the kind of things that get them fired up.

    So though we would hopefully agree that we should address these issues like you mentioned from a biblical perspective, which may lean to one party more than another, there are some policy issues, etc that are not clear cut in the scriptures and there we must be extremely careful to avoid painting ourselves as being part of one political party. And hopefully we would agree that someone can be wrong on one of these issues and still be in Christ. We all have sins that hurt the unity of the Body, but that is why the gospel is so amazing.

  3. Good Article. Being in several churches however and one being in Fayetteville, NC, it would be a challenge to older members beacuse tradition often blinds the mind from scriture or explanation.

  4. Surely church context matters. I serve a mostly older congregation with many, many military veterans. Our worship on patriotic holiday weekends has never led to any kind of real confusion regarding the love of God and the love of country. Rather, we often point to the willingness of these veterans to sacrifice their lives in order to save us from the enemy as an outstanding illustration of the far greater sacrifice of Jesus to deliver us from a far greater Enemy. If we use them carefully, I believe patriotic hymns, in certain contexts, can indeed edify the Body and glorify the Lord.

    1. Post

      We agree that some contexts will look different than others. What we want to call for with this piece is simply for pastors and churches to wrestle with this bc in the past we have not at all and it’s lead to a confusion where being a Christian is almost synonymous with being a red-blooded patriot who loves America, goes to church and votes republican.

      This kind of confusion might actually be higher in a context that is more full of veterans. That’s something that each pastor and worship pastor will have to wrestle with and decide on their own.

      We are grateful for brave men and women who have served our country. We definitely want to find appropriate ways to thank and honor them. What a blessing to have so many in your church!

    2. I wholeheartedly agree with Rick Patrick. I’ve never been confused when singing patriotic, or had trouble differentiating between my love for god and my love for our great country.

  5. Pingback: SBC’s New Calvinism & Patriotic Worship: Part 2 | From Law to Grace

  6. Nathan,

    I agree that there is potential for confusion, but just because that potential exists doesn’t necessarily mean we have to eliminate all expressions of patriotism in our corporate worship services, IMO. I can’t speak for anyone else’s context, but in the church I pastor, I have never run across any of our military — active or retired — who were confused as you set forth. I think many folks who are not active church-goers are more prone to embrace a “civic religion.”

    You mentioned to Rick that you wanted to find ways to appropriately thank and honor our military and veterans. Do you think that churches that choose to honor (not worship) armed forces members, veterans, mothers, fathers, etc. during a corporate worship service are automatically unBiblical or somehow sinning simply because these times of recognition are included in a Sunday morning worship experience? I have had that line of argument used in response to Part 1 of my post. I thought it might be helpful to get some clarification on where you and others stand on this issue. Thanks and God bless,


  7. Howell,

    Thanks for interacting, I don’t want to belabor the points here. I guess we have been in different contexts because I have met many people that confuse being a good American with being a good christian and I think it is a big problem, thus in my contexts I would not play patriotic songs in my corporate worship time. I would only want to play songs that lift up Christ and His gospel. To answer your question, I do not think honoring those mentioned in corporate worship is either unbiblical or a sin automatically. There is potential there for idolatry to be strengthened though. The potential for this idolatry was the reason we posted this letter, not because we are trying to say that anyone who does this is unbiblical or sinning, but merely to consider the letter as we think through this topic.

  8. Nathan,

    Than you for posting this again brother. I appreciate the reminder as it is something that we struggle with in our congregation. Some of the most godly men and women are also the most patriotic and do not understand the difference between the two.

    It always grieves me to see folks in tears over the flag and lukewarm over the cross.

    In Christ,


  9. Great letter!

    Your relationship with God has nothing to do with your relationship with your Country, or wherever you happen to be sitting.

    What about Pastors who bring politics in church? I’ve seen Sermons turn into political Q & A more than once.

    T. Piercefield

  10. I agree that we should be focused on the worship of the living God instead of glorifying our flag or our nation. I am a retired Air Force colonel and served my country in the Air Force for 23 years. I have great reverence and respect for our nation and our flag, but I have always been uncomfortable with military tributes around Memorial and Veterans Days and the 4th of July. As a music minister, I focus on worship and not on national pride and recognition. I can bend enough at least to recognize the veterans in our congregation on the Sundays nearest to Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

  11. Nathan,

    Thanks for the response and clarification. I do believe context is important in this situation. There is no question that some can go “overboard” in honoring our freedoms on the Sunday closest to July 4 or our veterans or even Mothers on Mothers Day. Anything or anyone that is worshipped apart from the Lord Jesus Christ would be idolatrous (and, in my neck of the woods, that includes a lot of Dallas Cowboys fans during football season 🙂 )

    I do think that we can honor folks in a way that gives thanks to God and ultimately worships Him. That some are uncomfortable in doing that at all and have chosen not to I can respect. I appreciate that you at least don’t automatically label these times of honoring veterans or mothers or our country as sin or unbiblical like others do who have shared with me. Thanks again and God bless,


  12. It was the conservative Pharisees and liberal Saduccees that both united to crucify Christ to maintain their authority under the political Roman Empire. When Pilate read the charge of Jesus to the Jews, he said “Shall I crucify your king”? They replied, “We have no king but Caesar!” thus intimidating Pilate that he was “no friend of Caesar” should he spare Jesus! The same goes today, a certain Political Correctness must be added to the Church lest it be impugned as “no friend of America”! Hence we see American flags on church courtyards and adjacent to pulpits, to gain the pleasing of men while despising the fear of God! “The fear of man bringeth a snare”, Solomon wrote most wisely.

    Therefore there is just case for cynical suspicion when Patriotic Worship is incorporated into churches, even as Jesus warned the disciples:

    “Beware of the leaven (hidden pretense, hypocrisy) of the Pharisees, and of Herod”–a politically-correct coalition and co-mingling of church and state as a kind of self righteousness, a hypocrisy and self-righteousness which America wreaks of.

    This has always proved dangerous in church history, especially when one looks at the fruits of Constantine’s making Christianity (with combined pagan festivals renamed) into the “official religion” of the so-called Holy Roman Empire, which gradually began to persecute real Christians under the Papacy despite upholding some orthodox doctrines, until the Reformation. The Anti-Christ has always involved a *Political and Religious unholy alliance* and combination that has persecuted and killed Christians, from the time of Jesus throughout Fox’s Book of Martyrs, and more that is to come.

    Worship of the true God and Jesus Christ cannot be combined with the veneration or worship of State or Caesar without incurring the righteous wrath of a Jealous God who prohibited a worship of State under the 1st commandment. Worship does not belong to Caesar, or the American State, and is therefore sinful blasphemy if done in churches.

    To this State worship the three Hebrew dissenters under Babylonian captivity, would not bow, even when cast into a fiery furnace, whenever the patriotic music was cued-up! Note again the purpose of mixing patriotic and religious worship under that King and Empire, whose emblem was an Eagle (and which the king resembled later in his madness!).

    The guest blogger and seminary professor would also do well to recognize also as far as music that Christians in the New Testament sang Psalms and did not make use of any musical instruments (which were only under the Ceremonial Old Covenant), and that afterward church fathers, Reformers, and Calvinists also recognized this as “Judaizing” practice, as abominable as continuing circumcision, avoiding certain foods, tithing mint and cumin, as any means of practicing righteousness. *Sensual worship is attractive to natural men*, as predominant in paganism, *but is not of faith* (which makes melody in the heart), which is not sensual in nature by definition (i.e. “having believed, but not seen”). Since the introduction of musical instruments to churches a Trojan Horse of worship errors, entertainment, sensationalism, and worldliness have infiltrated and “seduced many from the simplicity of faith in Christ”. Presbyterian churches in Scotland to this day sing only Psalms and without any musical instruments, as do also many Primitive Baptists. (This is a subject worth exploring honestly).

    Further, to compare the military service of American veterans to the work of Jesus Christ (as a commenter did) is pure blasphemy and American Phariseeism, a form of self righteous and flag-waving political-correctness that seeks a wrongful spiritual analogy. “What is in estimation among men is abomination before God”! Most of America’s wars have proven to be unjust wars, wars of provocation and choice, wars as “an arsenal of Democracy” (FDR, Humanist philosophy), or to “make the world safe for Democracy” (W Wilson; i.e. Democratic Jihad), more than wars of necessary self defense (contrary to the 6th commandment; unjust wars are rash mass-murder for various motivations). Christians ought to be more discerning than to puppet the indoctrination of the government-school system, confusing American wars as wars for righteousness, especially when the United Nations (global Democratic Humanist government) was erected on U.S. soil with full sanction of the “powers that be”, who fulfill Psalm 2 in their enmity against God and Christ.

    To the contrary of America militant, “Jesus Christ was separate from sinners, holy, harmless (yet did not teach pacifism), and undefiled”, whose atoning blood was thus pure and holy as an umblemished sacrifice before God in satisfaction for sins of God’s elect. Even Pilate’s wife called him “that Just Man!”

    The conclusion is this, that both the political and religious worship “traditions of men” (which carry the weight of political-correctness for authority, but without the Word of God) in the churches continues to blind the masses of so-called Evangelicalism, and hold us in Babylonian Captivity of a “Christian America” brand, that those with eyes to see, and ears to hear, can plainly detect.

  13. It seems to me that this sounds the same as taking God out of the government, money, constitution, the pledge of Allegiance etc etc. In my opinion, It goes hand in hand and none of us who are in our 50’s 60’s 70’s etc have ever had a problem with distinguishing honoring our Lord and honoring our FREEDOM to worship. I disagree with the decision and have missed it very much in the church in which I’m a member. I was even thinking this past Sunday of no longer attending there for this very reason. So Sad…

  14. Post

    Thank you for sharing your opinion, though I disagree with most of it… I have interacted above with most of my thoughts on this. There is a difference between being thankful for freedom and incorporating patriotic elements in worship. And saying “none” of you who are in your 50-70s have ever had a problem I think is an absolute statement that cannot be made.

    The biggest issue I have with your comment is the last sentence. I think that choosing to leave a church over an issue like taking out patriotic songs and aspects of a worship service so that the church can focus instead on worshiping Jesus is the wrong reason to leave a church. If this church is faithful to the gospel and is choosing to focus their worship on the person and place where our true and ultimate citizenship lie, which is to Christ and His Kingdom, not America than to leave over taking out patriotic elements could be a sign that patriotism has become an idolatry.

    Those are my thoughts, I understand disagreements over the patriotic elements in corporate worship. I just believe there are times when the patriotism in our church bodies spills over into idolatry and this post was meant to just raise this possible issue. It doesnt at all mean that being thankful for freedom of worship and for our country is a bad thing. It was simply a post put out there to see if it is possible that at times we go to far.

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  16. Pingback: Trading in Our Patriotic Hymns for Songs of Lament | Via Emmaus

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