Rev. David O. Jones

In recent years, a situation has arisen which will become a significant issue in American churches. Church leaders will need to address what response is Biblical. A serious discussion by local church pastors and boards will take place. The issue is the symbolism inherent in the display of flags inside and outside the church building.

The manner in which we display flags speaks to the nature of our loyalties. Flags make a statement as to whom we proclaim as our Sovereign. Does our display of flags correspond to our conscious convictions or will our congregations — by an act of symbolic display — proclaim loyalty to the civil government rather than the Lord Jesus Christ?

Symbols are important. They play a major role in our lives. It is even by the display of symbols that we identify ourselves to others. There are a variety of symbols which we recognize in commerce. We know the make (and many times the model) of a vehicle by the symbol displayed on the hood, trunk or wheel cover. The BMW, VW and RR symbols each carry a distinct understanding of status or economic well-being. Women know the different symbols for fragrances, designers and cosmetics.

Our safety is governed by a knowledge of symbols. We know that a red circle with a hash mark is a symbol for “NO,” whether is overlays a left turn arrow or a “P” for parking. Symbols designate the location of telephones, restrooms, restaurants and motels.

As churchmen, we recognize a Methodist by their unique flame and cross. Episcopalians announce themselves with their church’s shield. Many Christians will have a cross or fish sticker whereas Darwinians display a fish with feet. Presbyterians and Southerners have different versions of the St. Andrew’s cross. Roman Catholics and Protestants distinguish themselves from each other with either a crucifix or a plain cross.

Flags are symbols for the domain of government in which we live. Flags represent schools, corporations and civic organization.

Flags have also from the beginning incorporated symbols within their design. The colours in a flag carry meaning. A sun, moon or star on a flag is taken from ancient and Biblical imagery to represent a nation-state. Thus the United States flag with its multiple stars represent a constellation of independent states.

The Flag Code is the result of a resolution passed in Congress in June 1942. It is the common designation of Chapter 10, Title 36 of the United States Code. This code is a guide for the handling and display of the Stars and Stripes, but it does not impose penalties for any “violation” of the Code. In fact, the Code states in section 173, that civilians individually, as a group or organization, “may not be required” to follow the rules of the Code.

The Flag Code was drawn up by representatives of the Army, Navy and sixty-six other national groups. The rules adopted closely follow the regulations of the United States armed services.

The rules for display of flags either in the front of an assembly or before a building call for the national flag to be flown or displayed on the left as you are facing the display. All other flags are to be displayed to its right or in arrangement below the national flag.

The Flag Code makes an interesting deviation in section 175, paragraph (c). There it states the exception of “during church services conduct by naval chaplains at sea, when the church pennant may be flown above the flag during church services of the personnel of the Navy.” But then the Code later makes a contrary  assertion in paragraph (k) by stating, “When displayed from a staff in a church or public auditorium, the flag of the United States of America should hold the position of superior prominence.”

A declaration of sovereignty is made by the placement of a flag. Within the Flag Code, the term used is the “position of superior prominence.” Translate that to mean the “position of sovereignty.” It is expected that within the domain of the fifty States and various territories, that all should recognize the sovereignty of the federal government by placing its flag in the “position of superior prominence.”

The best explanation of the origin of that placement follows. If the place of “superior prominence” is on the left when facing the front of an auditorium, it is thus at the right hand of the speaker. “At the right hand” should be an expression immediately familiar to us all, for it is Christ who sits at the right hand of the Father. That position is the seat of sovereignty for all of eternity.

We also use the expression “right-hand man” to indicate that person who is most important, efficient, loyal or powerful. In every sense, at the right hand is the position of sovereignty.

Christ is Sovereign in His Church. It is interesting that within the Flag Code a Navy church service can recognize the sovereignty of Christ, but no other congregation is to do the same in their worship. Did the authors of the Flag Code make a conscious distinction? I don’t know, but I do know that we should.

We know “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth” (Philippians 2:10). Jesus Christ is Sovereign over not only His Church but all of creation. We must take every opportunity to recognize Him as such.

Our citizenship is in heaven, regardless of the location of our natural birth or pledged allegiance. “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19). “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).

As Christians fulfilling a position of public service, we will take an oath of office. We will make an affirmation or oath of loyalty and fidelity as we enter the military. Many will make a pledge of allegiance to the U.S. flag. But we recognize that no oath is to supersede our allegiance to Jesus Christ. Some desire to show a sense of national pride and patriotism by personally flying the stars and stripes. That freedom is not to be denied.

The Christian flag is internationally recognized as a symbol of the Christian Church. It proclaims the sovereignty of Jesus Christ. Those who fly it thus witness to an unbelieving world that Christ is Sovereign, that Christ is Lord.

When flags are on display within the Church, the Christian flag should be displayed on the speaker’s right hand. When flags are flown before the Church building, the Christian flag should be flown on the left or on the highest standard. The Christian flag should be displayed or flown in the “position of superior prominence” within and before His Church.

Our conclusion is that the issue of symbolism in our display of flags is not un-important. It should not be summarily dismissed. Our fellow Christians, our families, and the unbelieving world need a visual reminder that we serve a risen Saviour who is Lord over all.

Pastors and leaders of local churches need to assert the Lordship of Jesus Christ over all of creation. The Church needs to take every opportunity to verbally and symbolically proclaim our loyalty to Jesus Christ.

Will we place the Christian banner where it belongs – in the position of sovereignty?