Flags in the Church Building: Good or Bad?

It is not uncommon to enter a church building in America and find two flags on the platform, an American flag and a Christian flag.

This practice is obviously not found in Scripture, but the long-standing tradition is deeply entrenched in American churches, especially those of the “traditional, Bible-believing, fundamental Baptist churches” that are part of the fabric of my church background.

Why do we have these flags, and what purpose do they serve?

Well, let’s take a look!

Church Traditions Series:
1. Your Church Might Be Like the Pharisees
2. Easter Costumes: An Expensive Church Tradition
3. Should We Keep Printing Church Bulletins?
4. Let’s Talk about Money: Tithes and Offerings
5. Flags in the Church Building: Good or Bad? (this article)

Origin of the Tradition

The practice of displaying both the Christian flag and the American flag in churches is rooted in a desire to honour both the Christian faith and the nation of America. The Christian flag represents the Christian faith and serves as a symbol of unity among believers, while the American flag symbolizes patriotism and loyalty to the United States.

The American flag gained popularity particularly during times of national celebration or crisis. During the Civil War, for example, churches in both the North and the South displayed the American flag as a symbol of unity or allegiance to their respective causes. Following the Civil War, the American flag continued to be displayed in churches as a symbol of patriotism and national identity.

The early 20th century saw a surge in patriotism in the United States, particularly during and after World War I. This period also witnessed the rise of the American Legion, a veterans’ organization that encouraged the display of the flag in public places, including churches.

This article by The Gospel Coalition offers some interesting perspectives on the inclusion of the American flag in churches in the past, but I don’t know all of the factors surrounding the specific instances that they mention: The Church and the American Flag.

The Christian flag was designed in the late 19th century by Charles C. Overton, a Sunday school superintendent in New York City, and adopted in 1907. Overton wanted a flag that churches could recognize and unite under as a symbol of Christianity.

Controversy Surrounding the Flags

The controversy over having flags in a church auditorium revolves around the perception of mixing religious and national symbols, potential conflicts with the worship of God, and concerns about prioritizing national identity over spiritual unity.

Some of the main points of controversy include:

  1. Idolatry Concerns
    Some people argue that displaying national flags in a church setting could lead to idolatry, where patriotism may overshadow devotion to God. They fear that the presence of flags could distract worshippers from focusing on spiritual matters and inadvertently elevate national pride above Christian values.
  2. Separation of Church and State:
    Others raise concerns about the separation of church and state, suggesting that the display of national flags in places of worship blurs the line between religious and political spheres. They argue that churches should remain neutral in matters of politics and nationalism to avoid potential conflicts and maintain their spiritual mission.
  3. Inclusivity and Diversity
    Critics also point out that displaying national flags may alienate or exclude worshippers from different cultural backgrounds or nationalities. They argue that churches should strive to be inclusive spaces where people of all backgrounds feel welcome and valued, and that prominently displaying a specific national flag may send a message of exclusivity.
  4. Focus on True Worship
    Some argue that the presence of national flags in a church auditorium may detract from the primary purpose of worship, which is to honor and glorify God. They believe that churches should prioritize spiritual unity and focus on worshipping God rather than promoting nationalistic symbols.

Despite these controversies, proponents of displaying flags in churches argue that it can serve as a reminder to pray for the nation, honor those who have served in the military, and recognize the church’s role within the broader community.

They maintain that displaying national flags can be done in a way that is respectful and appropriate, without compromising the spiritual integrity of the church.

In 2021, Christianity Today published an article that I found to be particularly insightful regarding the inclusion of flags in a church building. They interviewed church leaders from 11 countries outside the USA to see what their opinions were on including national flags in their congregational buildings: Do Flags Belong in Churches? Pastors Around the World Weigh In.

My Perspective

When I look at the flags on the platform, I want to know why they are there. Does the church even know why they are there, or are they simply there because “that’s what churches do”?

Because there is no biblical basis for having a national flag or a Christian flag on the platform, every church that has them needs to discuss the purpose for them.

I have heard pastors talk about the Catholic Church and how they have all these icons and symbols that become idolatrous because they are empty. But how are flags any different?

To argue from the other side, the Bible is full of symbols and tangible memorials, especially within the Jewish nation (Genesis 28:21-22; Joshua 4:21-22; 1 Samuel 7:12).

The cross itself is an ancient symbol of horrific death that we now accept universally as a symbol of eternal life.

So I think it is okay to display flags as symbols. The next question then becomes, what exactly do they symbolize?

If the Christian flag simply symbolizes Christianity, I think it is unnecessary. We already have enough of those symbols, right?

The body of Christ itself symbolizes Christianity, assuming the church functions that way God intends. Why do we need a flag when we are living, breathing symbols?

As I already mentioned, we also have the cross that we proudly don on our church buildings and around our necks. Do we also need a flag that does nothing more than display that same cross?

Finally, we have the Bible, God’s Holy Word. Most churches have printed Bibles readily available. We don’t need a flag to represent Christianity when we have a book that tells us everything we need to know about Christianity.

So, in my personal opinion, the Christian flag is an unnecessary redundancy.

“But we need something to stand opposite our national flag.”

Not really, and maybe no one would actually say that. But let’s focus on that other flag now.

What is the purpose of the national flag? Does it represent the Christian heritage of your country? Perhaps it is there to honour your country’s military? Maybe it is there to represent your primary Gospel audience?

If your church is going to have a national flag in your church’s building, I think it needs to have a specific purpose, and everyone needs to know why it is there. Likewise, we don’t affix a cross to the wall without a reason.

Tradition isn’t a good reason for a non-biblical symbol to have a prominent spot in a church building.

If you have a national flag there to represent the Christian heritage of your country, you need to stop living in the past. Is your country a Christian country today? If not, don’t disgrace your building with a non-Christian symbol.

Is it there to honour your country’s military? Okay, that’s notable, but what about your country’s government? What about your country’s missionaries? What about your country’s farmers? What are you doing to honour them?

Yes, you should honour your country’s military (if they are fighting for biblical causes), but is the church building the place to do that, and should you be doing it to the exclusion of all those others who you ought to honour?

If you have your country’s flag there to remind your people that you exist to bring the Gospel to your neighbors, that makes the most sense to me. But if that is the case, I think it makes more sense to have the most local flag possible (like your state flag).

The problem is that most churches with flags in their buildings do not think about why those flags are there, and it’s because they do it for tradition’s sake.

In America, churches that wish to keep their American flag on the platform probably cite patriotism as their reason, and that is not a biblical reason.

Too often Americans confuse patriotism with Christianity. Of course, they would reject such a concept, but their actions say otherwise.

Patriotism is not inherently good or bad. But when patriotism supersedes our love for God and for others, it becomes harmful.

God has done many great and amazing things in America, and I am thankful for my country. But I have met many people who love their country more than they love God and more than they love people, and that is an unhealthy perspective.

So if you have a flag for patriotic reasons, I think it can become a distraction in your church building.

Unless a country is a theocracy with God as its supreme authority, that country will always have major problems. Thus, patriotism should always have its caveats, but devotion to God should never have its caveats.

Based on that reasoning, I would be hesitant for churches in America or anywhere else in the world to have national flags in their buildings. We don’t want to promote confusion.


Many churches in America and even around the world have a tradition of having flags in their buildings. Some of them have sound reasons, but I am guessing that most do it only because it is tradition.

Whether or not that tradition is a good one depends on each church’s reason for displaying flags. My opinion is that every church needs to know what their purpose is for displaying their flags and whether that purpose is a biblical one.

Personally, as a pastor in a church in America, I think the American and Christian flags on the platform are more confusing than they are helpful and should thus be removed.

If you choose to remove your flags, this does not make you un-patriotic or un-Christian.

Some of you agree with me, and some of you disagree. Please share your thoughts below and let me know where you stand!

Let’s Talk about Money: Tithes and Offerings

Money touches almost every area of our lives, does it not?

It brings ideas to life, and it kills other dreams. It puts men in power, and it ruins men in power.

Christians talk about all the evils of money, but most of us secretly wish we had more of it.

Some people live their whole lives doing nothing but trying to get more money. This is true both of the rich and the poor.

Many churches have an unhealthy view of money because they don’t have a biblical view of money. Unfortunately, this usually comes from the individuals in churches having unbiblical views of money.

As we continue our discussions on church traditions, we have to talk about money. But rather than take the time to exhaust the subject, we will simply discuss tithes and offerings and their role in the modern church.

Church Traditions Series:
1. Your Church Might Be Like the Pharisees
2. Easter Costumes: An Expensive Church Tradition
3. Should We Keep Printing Church Bulletins?
4. Let’s Talk about Money: Tithes and Offerings (this article)

Church Offering PlateThe Present

I grew up as a member of a church that emphasized the importance of tithing. We also encouraged our people to give above and beyond the tithe so that we could bless one another within our local church and bless others outside of our local church.

We talked about money on a regular basis because the Bible talks about money on several occasions. Every month we took a special offering to provide for needs within our church, every summer we took special offerings to send kids to camp and on summer missions trips, every Christmas we took special offerings for our pastors and for our missionaries, and this was on top of a missions budget that I believe was 25% of our overall annual budget.

The offering plates were passed at ever Sunday morning and Sunday evening service, we provided salaries and benefits for our pastors, and we had bi-monthly business meetings during which financial reports were given.

While in college, I was part of a church that was also financially healthy, but something that we did differently there was that we always took the offering at the end of the service and only on Sunday morning.

I did my seminary internship with a church plant that never passed offering plates. Instead, we had a box that everyone placed their money into.

Today, I am a pastor in a church where we take the offering once a week on Sunday morning by passing the plates prior to the sermon.

It seems that offering plates are still one of the most common ways to collect money from the church, but various forms of digital giving are also starting to supplement that practice.

Furthermore, churches that still pass offering plates seem to have their own traditions surrounding their collection. They usually have the offering at the same time during the service each week, whether that’s at the beginning, the end, or in the middle. During the offering they either have “special music,” or they show announcements, or they sing a congregational song, or they do something similar.

But for the most part, every church has their own way of doing it, and they do it the same way every week, and if they decide to change that, people will worry that the offering was forgotten (and perhaps even that it will cause a setback in their church’s finances).

In my church, when I do the order of service, I like to mix things up every time, and over a half-dozen times I will have people get my attention during the service and say, “What about the offering?” My answer is always the same, “It’s still coming.”

So how did we get to where we are today, and what does the Bible say about tithes and offerings?

The Past

The tithe, as described in the Bible, refers to the practice of giving a tenth of one’s income or produce to support the work of the religious community, primarily the priesthood or the Levites in Israel.

In the Old Testament, the tithe was established as a religious obligation under the Mosaic Law. The specific frequency of tithing varied depending on the purpose of the tithe and the agricultural cycle. Here are the main instances of tithing as outlined in the Old Testament:

  1. Annual Tithe
    The Israelites were required to give 10% of their agricultural produce, including crops, fruits, and livestock, on an annual basis. This tithe was to support the Levites, who served as priests and did not receive land inheritance like the other tribes of Israel. The Levites, in turn, were supposed to give 10% of what they received to the Lord (Numbers 18:21-32).
  2. Festival Tithe
    In addition to the annual tithe, the Israelites were instructed to set aside a portion of their produce to celebrate the feasts and festivals prescribed by the Mosaic Law. This 10% was used to provide for the communal meals and sacrifices during these special occasions; thus, they pooled their resources for their own shared enjoyment (Deuteronomy 14:22-27).
  3. Triennial Tithe
    Every third year, the Israelites were required to give a tithe for the benefit of the poor, widows, orphans, and foreigners living among them. This tithe served as a form of social welfare and charity to care for the vulnerable members of society (Deuteronomy 14:28-29).

In a sense, the tithes were comparable to income tax and averaged out to about 23.3% every year. These tithes played a crucial role in supporting the religious and social institutions of Israel and ensuring the well-being of the community as a whole.

How often do we preach the importance of giving 23.3% to your church? Or how often do we tell people not to complain about a 20% income tax?

Do the math. Look at the context. Is this the way the tithe is taught in your church?

Sheaves of WheatThe principle of tithing was also associated with blessings and curses. In Malachi 3:8-12, the prophet Malachi rebukes the Israelites for withholding their tithes and urges them to bring the full tithe into the storehouse, promising blessings and abundance for those who obey and curses for those who disobey.

In the New Testament, Jesus told people both to pay their taxes and to give to God (Matthew 22:21; Mark 12:17; and Luke 20:25). He also commended the widow who gave all she had, contrasting her sacrificial giving with the comfortable giving of others (Mark 12:41-44).

The New Testament also records collections that were taken up by churches for various purposes, reflecting the needs and circumstances of the early Christian communities. Here are some key contexts in which these collections were mentioned:

  1. Support for the Jerusalem Church
    One significant collection mentioned in the New Testament was taken up by Paul among the Gentile churches for the relief of the impoverished believers in Jerusalem. This collection aimed to express the unity and mutual support among the diverse members of the body of Christ, as well as to alleviate the hardships faced by the Jerusalem church due to persecution and economic challenges (1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8-9; Romans 15:25-27).
  2. Support for Paul’s Ministry
    Some collections were voluntarily taken to support the apostolic ministry of Paul and his companions as they traveled and preached the gospel. These offerings provided for their basic needs, such as food, lodging, and transportation, enabling them to focus on their mission of spreading the message of Christ (Philippians 4:10-20; 2 Corinthians 11:8-9).
  3. Benevolence and Assistance
    Collections were also used to provide assistance to needy members within the local church community. These offerings were distributed to individuals or families facing financial hardship, illness, or other crises, reflecting the principle of caring for one another within the body of believers (Acts 4:32-35; Acts 6:1-6; Galatians 6:10).

The collections taken up by churches in the New Testament show us practical expressions of Christian charity, solidarity, and stewardship. They reflect the values of generosity, mutual care, and sacrificial giving that characterized the early Christian community, as well as their commitment to advancing the kingdom of God and meeting the needs of others.

To clarify, even though tithing is often seen as a spiritual discipline and an expression of gratitude and obedience to God, these collections in the New Testament were never called tithes.

Nor does the New Testament prescribe a specific percentage for giving. Rather, believers are encouraged to give generously, cheerfully, and sacrificially to meet the needs of others (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).

The Future

Many Christians adhere to the principle of giving 10% as a guideline for their giving, while others give according to their means or as the Holy Spirit leads them.

Either way, we must acknowledge two things. First, the tithe is not a command for the church. Second, God expects us to give according to how he has blessed us so that we can care for the needs of one another and meet spiritual needs while tending to physical needs.

Here are key principles that can guide our giving as the body of Christ:

  1. Worshipful Giving
    Giving should be viewed as an act of worship and devotion to God. It is an expression of gratitude for God’s blessings and an acknowledgment of His ownership of all things. Therefore, giving should be done with a joyful and thankful heart, as an integral part of worship and praise to God (2 Corinthians 9:7).
  2. Support for Ministry and Mission
    Following the example set by the churches in the New Testament, we can give to support ministry and mission endeavors, both locally and globally. This can include funding the work of pastors, missionaries, and evangelists, as well as supporting church planting, discipleship programs, and outreach initiatives aimed at spreading the gospel and advancing God’s kingdom (Philippians 4:15-18; 2 Corinthians 8:1-5).
  3. Compassionate Giving
    The church should also engage in compassionate giving to meet the practical needs of individuals and families within the church community and beyond. This includes providing assistance to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, and those facing crises or emergencies. Compassionate giving reflects the love and compassion of Christ and demonstrates empathy with those in need (Acts 4:32-35; Galatians 6:10; James 2:15-17).
  4. Generosity and Sacrificial Giving
    The church should cultivate a culture of generosity and sacrificial giving among its members, encouraging them to give generously and sacrificially according to their means. This involves a willingness to give beyond one’s comfort zone, sacrificially sharing resources and blessings with others, and trusting God to provide for our needs (2 Corinthians 8:1-4; Mark 12:41-44; Luke 21:1-4).

Giving to God and to others is a good tradition and one with biblical foundations. The means by which churches collect those gifts varies, and I would advocate for a move away from the offering plates.

No, there is nothing wrong with the tradition of passing offering plates (or baskets or buckets or bags). Within some settings like camps or conferences, this might always be the most conducive way to collect offerings.

But in local churches, there is something unique about an offering box or online giving. It allows people to give privately and avoids judgment by ushers who take note of those who never put something in the offering plate.

The absence of offering plates helps us believe the pastor when he says that the church’s focus isn’t money.

Perhaps most importantly, it keeps visitors from feeling obligated to give as the plate passes by.

But if the church focuses on fostering healthy, caring, redemptive relationships within the body, I believe the congregation will respond by giving generously and sacrificially, even if the offering plates are never seen again.

I have seen it in my own church with some individuals who will give money directly to me for the youth ministry or for my family’s missions trips. They do it because they love us and they believe in what we are doing, not because I put a plate in front of them.


The tithe is not commanded for the church, but the church’s giving should reflect the values of worship, mission, compassion, and generosity, aligning with the teachings of Jesus Christ and examples of the New Testament Christians.

By giving faithfully and generously, we fulfill our role as stewards of God’s resources, and we get to be a channel of blessing to others, ultimately bringing glory to God and advancing His purposes on earth.

How we give and how we collect offerings in a church should also reflect biblical principles, namely those of giving cheerfully, intentionally, and with the purpose of helping others.

Passing an offering plate can definitely accomplish these purposes, but in today’s western culture, I would advocate for moving away from this tradition and toward a different means of collection.

What does your church do for collecting offerings, and do you think it’s currently the best way to do it?