"But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ." – Philippians 3:20
Back when I was attending Westminster Theological Seminary, I spent a summer working as a youth pastor at a small Baptist Church near Pontiac, Michigan. Actually my job was two-fold: youth pastor AND church custodian. (Those were two jobs that worked in opposition to each other!)
As I was the custodian, I had some say in how things were set up, how they looked, etc. One thing that I didn't like was that at the front of the auditorium was a large U.S. flag on an upright flagpole. And so one day I moved the flag to a back room.
That was over 40 years ago so I don't recall all the particulars exactly, but in my mind, not more than a day or two went by before I was called in by the pastor. Why had I moved the flag? I gave my reasoning, but it was not acceptable. And so the flag went back to where it had been standing for many years. Looking back I believe I was wrong to have moved the flag. WHY I moved it, I will explain below. But the flag was not mine to move and, at a minimum, I should have asked for permission to move the flag.
Now don't get me wrong. If you were to drive by our house today one of the things that would stand out to you are the number of red, white and blue, banners (buntings) as well as the very nice 3'x5' U.S. flag prominently mounted at the corner of the house. Ruth and I are flag wavers. We have two children serving in the U.S. Army. We love the U.S.A. and are personally disappointed in athletes (or others) that, in our opinion, dishonor the flag.
But we make a distinction between our place and role as U.S. citizens, and our place and role as citizens of heaven. If we attend a baseball game, we sit with fellow citizens of the United States; when we attend church, we sit with fellow citizens of heaven. And heaven, we believe, is made up of people from "every tribe, and language, and people, and nation" (Revelation 5:9). There will be in heaven those who had been American citizens, but there will also be those who were citizens of China, and Ethiopia and Iceland. And just as many at Burning Hearts have voiced their desire to see our local church body be more racially and ethnically diverse (in light of how diverse heaven will be), it makes sense that in the church, if we are waving any flag at all, it should be the flag of the kingdom of God. Someone, along the way, designed a "Christian flag." I've seen that red and white flag with its cross. That may be as close as we will come to any Kingdom of God flag. I really don't know. But in the church…in our church buildings or on our church grounds…it seems like that is the flag (if any) that we should wave.
For as nationalistic as we may be in our hearts or homes, we know that the kingdom of God is much bigger than any nation. Indeed, God's kingdom is the kingdom that the prophet Daniel (Daniel chapter 2) came to see would supplant all others.
So, as you watch the Olympics this year, wave your U.S. flag, salute that flag, honor that flag and the country it represents. Three cheers for our nation's athletes! May they do well. But be reminded that in the church we wrestle against things even greater (and bigger, and meaner) than any human competitor. We wrestle against forces that stand opposed to God that know no national boundaries. That is a battle that can only be won by and with the aid of our Lord Jesus Christ. And that is a battle for the kingdom of this world, not just for the United States.