Pastor, Can We Sing Patriotic Songs in Church?

Jesus Liberty BellA friend of mine recently had a parishioner ask him if they could sing patriotic songs in the Divine Service this Fourth of July weekend. Of course he said no, like the good and faithful pastor he is.

But the Bible doesn’t say not to do that.

Yeah, well the Bible doesn’t say we shouldn’t mud wrestle in the sanctuary, either.

Hearing questions like that always makes me sad because they indicate that a good number of people have no idea why we go to church.

So why do we?

Divine Service IV lays it out simply and beautifully:

Since we are gathered to hear God’s Word, call upon Him in prayer and praise, and receive the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in the fellowship of this altar…

NRA JesusIf you’re unsure whether or not something would be appropriate during the Divine Service, whether it’s singing patriotic songs, “Happy Birthday”, or replacing the liturgy with x, y, or z, just compare that with what DS IV says about why we come to church.

1) Does it proclaim God’s Word or aid in its proclamation?

2) Is Christ the content of the prayer or praise?

3) Is it the Body and Blood of Christ?

If the answer is no, then it doesn’t belong in the Divine Service.

Jesus & flagWhat’s more, we ought not give priority to the secular calendar (since it’s not about Christ). This past Sunday was the Sixth Sunday after Trinity, not ‘Murica Sunday. While it may be meet, right, and salutary to include prayers for our nation or sing hymns like “Grant Our Nation Repentance, Lord” (okay, I made that up, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea), we ought not turn the Divine Service into celebrations of the Fourth of July, Groundhog Day, or Fox News Sunday.

Patriotic songs are great. So are llamas. Neither one belong in the Divine Service. There’s hardly anything more sacred than the intimate union of a man and his wife, but we know that shouldn’t take place on the altar in the Divine Service.

Why not? It’s beautiful, it makes me feel really good, and the Bible doesn’t say not to do that.

To paraphrase Solomon, there’s a time and a place for everything. The Divine Service is the place where we hear God’s Word, receive His gifts, and respond in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. If it isn’t about Christ, it doesn’t belong in the Divine Service, even if it makes you feel really good.


Pastor, Can We Sing Patriotic Songs in Church? — 50 Comments

  1. I totally agree with this letter. Feel good things slowly creep into our Liturgy and the rest of the worship service., it turns into “happy, healthy, wealthy”.

    During Holy Communion yesterday, “patriotic” songs were sung…felt SO out of place!!

  2. I had a Lutheran pastor who declined even The Battle Hymn of the Republic. I reviewed the text/lyrics and it sounds so Christian, so apocalyptic. What are the offending verses? I have an idea but thought I would ask a pro.

  3. We sang God bless Our Native Land (sung to the tune of “My country tis of thee”) in closing, which I would call patriotic in that we ask God for mercy and blessing. I don’t have a problem with that one, but I can see how other ones could be troublesome.

  4. It’s regrettable that this article’s artwork detracts from its excellent content.
    I never thought I’d see such images on this site.

  5. @J. Dean #5

    My husband, a Canadian, refused to play God Bless Our Native Land as it is the National Anthem of the United Kingdom. HM Elizabeth II is his Queen.

  6. If we we are commanded to pray for our rulers and do pray for our rulers, why should we not sing prayers for our country? Why is it considered confessional to ignore the fact that we live in the United States? The Bible tells us to seek the peace of the city. Are we just trying to be contrarians and outdo one another in being naysayers? Is the LSB mistaken in including patriotic hymns?

  7. People ask WHY don’t we have more people in our church…joining our congregation,…or worse, LEAVING our congregation? All we have to do is read this, and we’ll get a whole lot of reasons. I have, for more than 40 years, told my congregation, “If you don’t walk out of here with a smile on your face, you’ve just wasted an hour of your, and God’s, time.” Why would anyone do something they didn’t enjoy?

  8. Patiotic hymns during communion — heaven help us! BUT, a hearty Amen to the comment of Richard Lewer. Maybe Pastor Anderson needs to familiarize himself with the words of some of our patriotic hymns. Please tell me what’s wrong with —

    “God, bless America,Land that I love/ stand beside her, and guide her/ thru the night with the light from above/ etc., (OMG, it was written by a Jewish guy?) or

    God Bless our native land/firm may she ever stand/ thru storm & strife/ when the wild tempests rage/ruler of wind & wave/ do Thou our country save/by Thy great might

    Yes, whether in church or out. we worship God, not America.

    But as Jeremiah told the exiles (29:7) “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

    And if you’re not grateful to God for letting you be an exile in America, even with all it’s faults, well…

  9. We routinely pray for the health and healing of ailing members of the congregation during DS.

    1) Does it proclaim God’s Word or aid in its proclamation?
    2) Is Christ the content of the prayer or praise?
    3) Is it the Body and Blood of Christ?

  10. @MsMarcyB #7

    Any Canadian should know that “God Bless our Native Land” is to the tune of “God Save the Queen,” so he should have no problem with it.

  11. “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” is another issue. Among other things, its glorifies John Brown. Also some bad theology.
    Strangely enough, almost all patriotic songs cannot be sung in public school because they talk about God.
    God Bless America, America, America the Beautiful, and the 4th. stanza of the Star Spangled Banner (which is strangely hidden and never sung.

    Is the author really saying that to be liturgically correct there can be no parts of the service that are not specifically mentioned in one of the readings for the day? That would eliminate a lot of things that need to be talked about regularly.

  12. #6 from Ken,
    The point of the pictures is to show absurdity of those erring Christians who conflate faith in Christ as Lord and Savior with Christ as good ol American patriot. Christ didn’t come to save nations, nor did He promise that the freedoms we enjoy is what we should exalt to the point of worship.

  13. There are any number of patriotic songs which are actually prayers to God for our nation. Something we do every Sunday in our collective prayers. So I would say it depends on the song. Don’t Throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  14. @Pr. Duane Bamsch #12

    Thank you, I am much better informed. So the Civil War was to this woman a microcosm of Armageddon against the South. Knowing the history and context of this intentionally disguised “piece of work” blows its purport out of the water.

  15. @Patricia #19

    An example from Psalm 122:

    Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!
    “May they be secure who love you!
    Peace be within your walls
    and security within your towers!”

  16. IF we can not sing patriotic songs then do NOT ask us to pray for the stupid leaders

  17. @Harold Turner #22

    Especially in the current kakistocracy we need to pray for those handful of elected and appointed representatives that God will enable them to bring to justice the bulk of our elected and appointed representatives (and their supporters) who have worked to destroy our country and given aid and comfort to the enemy.

    Or since God knows the coordinates of Washington, D.C., there is this request.

  18. I just read of a Public Poll that asked the question of what you hope for in the election and Hillary got 42%, Trump 34%
    and that a meteor hit the earth 13%

  19. Great article, Pastor Andersen. Thank you. Your thoughtful look at patriotic music in church reminded me of the sainted Pastor Klemet Preus’ book, “The Fire and the Staff.” To me, your analysis is spot on and the concept is tantamount to singing “Love me tender” at a wedding or “You can’t always get what you want” at a funeral. There’s a time and a place for everything……….

  20. Here’s my approach to this (since there seems to be many who disagree). We DO pray for our nation, leaders, and government and regularly. We are asking God to bless, protect, and guide, but most importantly, to save by the Gospel the people in our nation. I see that as reflecting our theology on the Divine Service; we pray similarly in the Lord’s Prayer.

    So if a patriotic hymn ends up in the service, lightening ans fire won’t fall from the sky, but the same principles apply as for any hymn selection. We also ought not revise the service so that it’s more about patriotism and less about Christ. We’re not gathering to receive the gifts of the government or president after all, so why would we take focus off of what Christ has for us in order to, what, worship the nation??

    Still I don’t seed an issue with doing a closing hymn with patriotic thoughts, so long as the focus of the hour isn’t patriotism. And by the way, it was also the 7TH Sunday after Pentecost…just thought I’d mention that.

  21. Of all the hymns in the “Nation and National Songs” section in LSB, I would opt for “Before You, Lord, We Bow,” which sets forth Christ and Him crucified; something that the other more generic, patriotic songs do not bring forth.

  22. Dear BJS,
    This smacks of pietism run amock.

    We proclaimed the Word, we ate at the Altar, we confessed and were absolved, and we sang some patriotic hymns from our hymnal, and another was a solo by this pastor…worship was proper in my mind. This at Faith Westchester.

    And we have a flag displayed, yes, outside of the sanctuary proper.

    And Richard, some impreccatory prayers were said, among the other prayers.

  23. @Rev. Vernon Heim #9
    Vernon Heim….there are several times I have left a service without a smile on my face because of being convicted by the message and needing to reflect on all that was said and shown to me. Leaving a service with tickled ears does not make for a healthy church. I believe it’s not about the numbers….it’s about reaching out to the unsaved and preaching to the body of believers with Gods Word of Truth and Singing songs of Worship and Praises to our Heavenly Father.

  24. @Jessica Fayville #30
    Dear Jessica,
    Then you Pastor did a bad service to you, “where was the Gospel?” Yes, we ALL are convicted by the Law, then we are SAVED by the Gospel Message of Salvation at the cross. Also, and I hope you partake of the Lord’s Supper every week, with that in your mouth and body, sins forgiven, faith strengthened, you go out a (perhaps not happy), but content that the Lord has provided greatly.

    And you go out and share it with your fellow man.

  25. @Pastor Prentice #29: “some impreccatory prayers were said, among the other prayers.”

    Great! Keep at it. Especially after the news from Washington today.

    To paraphrase Lily Tomlin: “No matter how many imprecatory prayers I pray; it’s never enough to keep up.” 🙁

  26. @Carl Vehse #32
    Now be up front, where do you fall in with all this? Is it OK, to sing a few good hymns that exhort the Lord to watch over this great nation?

    Yes, within the Divine Service, where all the gifts I have as a pastor were dispensed. Yes, the hymns were NOT the hymn of the day, which in my case was related to the Gospel reading.

    Oh wait, not my gifts of course, but what the Lord has for those that come in worship. He does the work, I am only a humble servant and involved in Office of the Keys work.

  27. Dear BJS,
    Hmmmm, the more I think about it, one of my favorite hymns, I think we should refrain, “A Mighty Fortress”, tons of patriotic overtones on this one. Some called it the Battle Hymn of the Reformation.
    Now, perhaps it was not sung in the Divine Service in Luther’s day, we sing it now.
    BTW – I will still stand and sing the above hymn, as oft as possible.

  28. There are 2 or 3 hymns in the section entitled “The Nation” in TLH that are very much about repentance and forgiveness of sins and “drive from out our coasts the sins that put to shame” etc. Also, how about using LSB 659 “Lord of Our Life”?

  29. @Rev. Vernon Heim #9

    Eat your broccoli, Pastor Heim! (Or whatever vegetable you did not enjoy as a child, which your mother made you eat. The analogy obtains, too, since the Divine Service is the gathering of God’s family at the Dinner Table, right?)

  30. @Pastor Prentice #34

    Upshot: If the *content* of the hymn does not square with the Scriptures (e.g., Battle Hymn, America the Beautiful–despite the perfectly godly “God shed His grace on thee”), or has nothing to do with Christ and Him crucified (the national anthem, which, so far as I’ve ever considered, has no “false doctrine” because it isn’t about “doctrine”), then *don’t sing it in the Divine Service*. Let the state be the state and the Church, the Church.

    A Mighty Fortress, “battle hymn” though it may be, is obviously a wonderful hymn for the Divine Service, according to the above criteria.

  31. @Pastor Prentice #33: “Is it OK, to sing a few good hymns that exhort the Lord to watch over this great nation?”

    The people who put together The Lutheran Hymnal (1941), thought that hymns to God about our nation were appropriate, and under the Section, “The Nation,” they included these ten hymns:

    “Before the Lord We Bow”, Francis Scott Key,TLH 575.

    “Judge Eternal, Throned in Splendor”, Henry Scott Holland, TLH 576.

    “God Bless Our Native Land”, Attr. to Charles Timothy Brooks, then altered by John Sullivan Dwight , TLH 577. Polack notes it was a free translation of a patriotic song for Saxony, rewritten by the German song-writer Siegfried August Mahlmann (1771-1826) and published in G.W. Fink’s Musikalischer Hausschatz, etc.:

    1. Gott segne Sachsenland,
    Wo fest die Treue stand
    In Sturm und Nacht!
    Ew’ge Gerechtigkeit,
    Hoch überm Meer der Zeit,
    Die jedem Sturm gebeut
    Schütz uns mit Macht!

    2. Blühe, du Rautenkranz
    In schöner Tage Glanz
    Freudig empor!
    Heil, Friedrich August, dir!
    Heil, guter König, dir!
    Dich, Vater, preisen wir
    Liebend im Chor!

    3. Was treue Herzen flehn
    Steigt zu des Himmels Höh’n
    Aus Nacht zum Licht.
    Der unsre Liebe sah,
    Der unsre Tränen sah,
    Er ist uns huldreich,
    Verlässt uns nicht.

    It looks like the second verse is not included in the 2-verse TLH Version.

    “Lord, While for All Mankind We Pray”, John R. Wreford, TLH 578.

    “Almighty Lord, before Thy Throne”, Anne Steele, TLH 579.

    “To Thee, Our God, We Fly”, William W. How, TLH 580.

    “All Ye Who on This Earth do Dwell”, Paul Gerhardt, TLH 581, written in celebration of the Peace of Westphalia, which brought an end to the Thirty Years’ War.

    “God, Lord of Sabaoth, Thou Who Ordainest”, Henry F. Chorley, TLH 582. The hymn was written for use in time of war.

    “Great King of Nations, Hear Our Prayer”, John H. Gurney, TLH 583.

    “Swell the Anthem, Raise the Song”, Nathan Strong, TLH 584. Published for national thanksgiving in 1799.

    The information comes from The Handbook to the Lutheran Hymnal (W.G. Polack, CPH, St. Louis, 1942).

    I like the familiar melodies of 577, 581 (Nun danket all’), and 584 (St. George).

  32. I think some of us have far too narrow an understanding of the proclamation of God’s Word (criterion #1, above). The faithful proclamation of God’s Word isn’t limited to a verbatim restating (God forbid) of the day’s pericopes (as someone above has suggested). Hymns ought to proclaim God’s Word; if they don’t, why are we singing them? Likewise, the sermon ought to be a proclamation of God’s Word, even though it isn’t a verbatim recitation of the texts. Prayers, like the creed, ought to be informed by, based on, and use the language of Scripture. In that way, everything that happens in the service, whether it’s God speaking to us or us responding to Him, could be considered a proclamation of His Word.

    Now God’s Word, as many have pointed out, exhort us to pray for the nations. Good! The hymns can serve that purpose, too. I wouldn’t describe those as “patriotic” songs since there are a ton of straight up secular patriotic songs out there, or even worse, patriotic songs that put forth American civil religion as if it were compatible with Christianity. ACR (ceremonial deism) is idolatry; see my post here for more on that. But if you have hymns that are consistent with the purpose of the Divine Service and want to call them patriotic, by all means, sing them. The important thing is that they are consistent with the purpose of our gathering together. I’m not saying (as some have wrongly assumed) that any mention of the state or national concerns is unfaithful.

    What I’m advocating here is that we not confuse the Two Kingdoms. There is overlap, to be sure, but we need to be careful to not let the concerns of the state (or llamas or whatever) to replace the Gospel in the sanctuary, even for a second.

    I’m not against Christ-centered prayers and hymns for the nation; I wouldn’t even object to thanking God for llamas in the appropriate context. But we ought not say the pledge of allegiance or sing a hymn where the nation, and not Christ, is the focus, when we’re gathered together for Word & Sacrament.

  33. Broccoli? Get real, if you can. What are you talking about? Smoking some bad stuff? Some of my friends recommended this site. Please remove me. Total waste of time.

  34. @Vern heim #40

    Broccoli? Get real, if you can. What are you talking about? Smoking some bad stuff? Some of my friends recommended this site. Please remove me. Total waste of time.

    This isn’t the best thread by which to judge this blog. But re read the comment before you leave.
    All the Pastor meant was that some might leave the service with something serious to think about, even if Gospel is also a joy.

  35. The Battle Hymn of the Republic is actually a Civil war song. “” The “Battle Hymn” theme has nothing to do with Christianity or God. It is a political-patriotic song about the destruction of the South, written in religious terminology. It is a clever product. Howe deliberately created the idea that the North was doing God’s work. She paints a picture of a vengeful God destroying His enemies—the South, and elevating the North’s cause to that of a “holy war.” Howe successfully portrayed the South and its people as evil and the enemy of God”.

    It is a catchy tune and seemingly Christain Lyrics, but the theology behind these words in the contex of why they were written really stinks.

  36. @Pastor Eric Andersen #39

    @Rev. David R. Mueller #37

    What put the final nail in the coffin for me was witnessing Christians and members of another religion standing together to sing songs such as “God Bless America, America the Beautiful, etc.” That sent chills down my spine. It really does come down to the American Civil Religion, as Pr. Andersen has said.

  37. Three thoughts to add to this discussion:
    1. The hymnal is not only meant for the Divine Service. If you want to sing patriotic songs, there is nothing stopping you from singing them at home or elsewhere.
    2. Generally, a specific theme should be detectable in each Sunday’s Divine Service, drawn from the Gospel reading of the day. Patriotic hymns rarely–if ever–would fit on the day the nation is celebrating.
    3. Patriotism is a very strong emotion, and giving voice to it in song on the day the nation is celebrating it strengthens it. The odds are good for many of the people in our congregations that those songs would upstage the message they are being given in the Divine Service.

  38. When I enter those church doors, I understand I am to leave my nationality right there. I am free to pray for my country, to pray for wisdom of its leaders. I am free to pray for mercy for the inhabitants. I am free to thank God for his blessings He has so graciously given to our country, and the men and women that have served us. What the divine service should not do is pick songs that send a message that Jesus is an American. We should keep in mind the message we are sending across the world when we choose such hymns as The Battle Hymn of The Republic, as if America as a government entity has God’s special favor, just as this hymn seems to suggest God was with the Union (rather than the Confederates). This may be easier for me because I have two managers who are German. And if they ever decide to enter those blessed church doors, I pray they can see only repentance and forgiveness through Christ Jesus.

  39. I hope everyone takes some time out of their “long weekend” to attend a civil or military ceremony on Memorial Day Monday in addition to church on Sunday. There is plenty of time this weekend for Christian worship and national remembrance without conflating the two. And plenty of time also for fun and games!

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