I am an American. I am grateful to live in a nation where freedom of expression is championed and defended. Next Tuesday we will celebrate America’s 241st anniversary of becoming a nation. I, for one, am always excited to celebrate the founding of this nation. I also hope to pass this love onto my children for America, even with all of her faults.
I’m also a Christian. The Bible says we are citizens of another kingdom, the Kingdom of God. In fact, believers are called “sojourners,” “strangers,” or “aliens.” We are dual citizens, citizens of the Kingdom and citizens of this nation. However, my fear is that we tend to mix our patriotism and nationalism with our faith.
In 2012, Ed Stetzer tweeted “US pastors: If you sang more about America than about Jesus this morning, repent and remember: God loves people, not countries.” Undoubtedly, Stetzer received some pushback from his tweet. However, Stetzer writes, “Though hard to articulate in 140 characters, I believe that anytime we place country over cross in worship, we have forsaken our primary obligation as pastors– God-focused worship and gospel proclamation.” I agree with Stetzer’s concern here, if, as pastors, we forsake our duty of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ for a celebration of America, we are not pastors, but cheerleaders of America.
A popular verse that has become the theme of patriotic celebrations in churches is 2 Chronicles 7:14, which says, “If my people who are called by my Name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land.” My question is this, is this verse about the moral deficiency of America and how God can cure it if America would pray and be humble and repent? To be upfront and clear, I don’t believe this verse has anything to do with America nor with any other country. Let me offer three exegetical reasons, then offer some practical ones.
- The context.
There are two considerations when looking at the context of this passage: the immediate and the wider context. First, the immediate context is dealing with the completion of the temple and its subsequent dedication of it. Solomon was left this task of building the temple after his father David did not build it. The temple was where the sins of the people were atoned.
Second, the wider context gives us a bigger picture. In verse 18, the LORD tells Solomon, “But if you turn aside and forsake my statutes and my commandments that I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will pluck you up from my land that I have given you, and this house that I have consecrated for my name, I will cast out of my sight, and I will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples” (2 Chronicles 7:18-20). This is likely a reference to Deuteronomy 28. God gives specific blessings and curses for obedience and disobedience. If Israel keeps the commands of the Lord, then they will have blessings. However, if they choose not to obey and seek other gods, then the Lord will bring curses, including defeat, famine, etc.
Therefore, this passage is for the covenant people of Israel and not for America, which brings us to our second point.
- “My people” does not equal American Christians.
Often when 2 Chronicles 7:14 is preached, the “people” referred to in the passage are referenced as American Christians. And that is where, I think, the trouble happens. If we make this passage refer to America, we subtlety teach our congregation that the Bible is about America and its place in the world. However, “my people” is not referring to a future America, but to a present covenant people. When the LORD speaks to Solomon, the referent of “my people” is His covenant people. Russell Moore, president of the ERLC, questions “Where should we take America back to?” He responds, “Do you mean back to the era of the Founders, or back to the 1950s, or 1980s? When, exactly, in America’s blip of an existence did everything fall apart?” He continues, “To apply the verse this way is, whatever one’s political ideology, theological liberalism.”
When God tells Solomon, “if my people who are called by my name,” God is pointing back to the covenant he made with Abraham in Genesis 12. At this time, the LORD tells Abraham that “they will be his people” and he “will be their God.” So, this verse has nothing to do with America being the people of God. Moore again offers caution, “If we don’t understand the question of who we are, first and foremost, as the people of God, then we are going to miss this. If we take this text and bypass the people of God, applying it to America in general or the Bible Belt in particular, as though our citizenship as Americans or Australians or Albanians is the foundation of the “covenant” God has made with us, the problem is not just that we are misinterpreting the text; the problem is that we are missing Christ.
- The land does not equal America
This one ties into the second point. Those who equate “my people” with the American people, equate “heal your land,” as healing America. As mentioned above, this passage is about God’s covenant relationship with Israel and everything that comes with this covenant, one of which is the Promised Land. In fact, the Deuteronomic blessings and curses deal with the Promised Land. If the people of Israel obey, prosperity, joy, rest comes, but if they disobey, famine, sword, pestilence will follow. Therefore, when the LORD says he will heal their land, it is tied to the Promised Land. But there are conditions to the LORD healing their land: a humble and contrite heart. If the people of Israel will repent of their wickedness and their idolatry, then God will restore them. However, it must be noted that this is not always the case since He does send judgment on His people. While He promises He will save a remnant, this does not necessitate God saving the entire nation just because they repent.
From these three exegetical reasons, it is reasonable to conclude that 2 Chronicles 7:14 has more to do with the people of Israel than it does with the people of America. We, as Christians, must remember that we are living as “sojourners” waiting on the return of the King. Moore puts it best when he says, “We can be Americans best if we are not Americans first.”
Since I’ve already discussed the exegetical reasons why it is dangerous to apply 2 Chronicles 7:14 to American politics/God and Country services,now I want to offer some practical reasons.
- It confuses people as to what we are worshiping
One of the primary dangers of mixing 2 Chronicles 7:14 with American politics is it can confuse people as to what or whom we are ultimately worshiping. If we devote a church service to singing patriotic songs, the national anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance, and never mention Jesus, we have done nothing to expand the Kingdom of God. The only thing that we have done is have a “pep rally” for America. The Pastor then is not a preacher, but the “head cheerleader.”
Let me offer an illustration that might help you track where I am going with this. Imagine you are not from America and not a Christian. Let’s say you grew up in a predominately Muslim culture, and have never been to America. You go and study at an American university where you become good friends with a Christian. You have had multiple conversations with this person about their faith, including salvation, Jesus, etc. You also know a little bit about Jesus from a Muslim perspective, but not from a Christian perspective. One day, your friend invites you to attend church with him. You agree because this will help you learn more about this Jesus of whom he speaks. However, on this particular Sunday, you arrive to find that the whole church is decked out in American flags, you sing American songs, and the message you hear is geared toward America. You hear very little about the Jesus of the Bible; you hear more about America and how they need to get right for God to restore them. After the service, you friend asks you if you enjoyed the service, with a confused look on your face you respond, “I don’t know who you love more: America or Jesus.”
You see the danger here, at this moment, we have lost an opportunity to share the gospel with our Muslim friend, because all they know of Jesus is his connection to American prosperity.
Marty Duren says, “Sundays find followers of Jesus gathered celebrating His victory over sin, death, hell and the grave, not American victories at Iwo Jima, Normandy, and Bastogne. We gather with the promise of a Prince of Peace whose return will not only render Valley Forge, Gettysburg, New Orleans, Normandy, Guadalcanal, Da Nang, and Baghdad impossible; He will make them unneeded.”Our gatherings with fellow believers on Sunday are a microcosm of the Kingdom of God. May we be careful in blurring the line as to whom we worship.
- Our mission is blurred
Jesus tells his disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded them.”
Jesus makes it clear what his disciples are to do after He is gone: make disciples of all nations. In Acts 2, we get a glimpse of the church. The Spirit falls on 120 believers from different nations and then are sent out. The apostle Paul probably writes to some of these churches. The church’s mission is to share the good news of Jesus Christ with people all over the world. However, a God and Country service blurs this line. They implicitly imply that America is the best nation over every nation and God gives special privilege to American Christians. Thus, other Christians from different nations may assume the God loves America more than He loves their nation.
Duren says, “Followers of Jesus are like missionaries living with a green card in the country of God’s choosing.”
- The Gospel of Jesus Christ is missing
Finally, our God and Country services often miss the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the midst of our celebrating America and 2 Chronicles 7:14, we can miss the gospel of Jesus. Russell Moore again speaks to this, “Because in 2 Chronicles 7 we see a message here that is not about getting America in step with the church; it’s about getting the church out of step with America. A distinctiveness that is there with the people of God that defines them… We are defined by the cross.”
As Christians, we are not defined by our skin color, our socio-economic status, political affiliation, or nationality, but by Jesus Christ alone. When we blur this line, we lose our gospel influence and confuse people on what the gospel is.
My hope is this article is helpful in navigating through patriotic services. I am as patriotic as they come, but our patriotism needs to be separate from our worship services. We are citizens of a heavenly Kingdom, and are eagerly awaiting the consummation of this kingdom. May we be faithful citizens of this kingdom until our King returns!
 Ed Stetzer, “Rightful Revelry: Cautions Concerning Combining Patriotism and Worship,” The Exchange, Jul 4, 2012. http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2012/july/rightful-revelry-cautions-concerning-combining-patriotism.html
 Russell Moore, “2 Chronicles 7:14 isn’t about American Politics,” http://www.russellmoore.com/2016/01/14/2-chronicles-714-isnt-about-american-politics/
 Russell Moore, “Left Behind in America: Following Christ After Culture Wars,” https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/left-behind-in-america
 Marty Duren “This is my confession: I struggle with patriotic worship services.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2015/07/03/this-is-my-confession-i-struggle-with-patriotic-worship-services/?utm_term=.a0774b4a7303