Flags in the Church Building: Good or Bad?9 min read

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!

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