By Tonja Talley
The children stood 225 strong. Following the pledge to the American flag, the children of the Christian Academy in Greenwood, Indiana turned to the Christian flag and with their right hands over their hearts recited, “I pledge allegiance to the Christian flag, and to the Savior for whose kingdom it stands. One Savior, crucified, risen, and coming again, with life and liberty for all who believe.”
Birth of a Flag
Americans will stand together this week to celebrate our freedom. American flags will wave at parades, concerts, and fireworks displays. The flags remind us of the sacrifices that were made to protect this country’s liberties. Throughout the centuries, the American flag has been a symbol to gather people in proclamation of war, to celebrate victory, or to provide comfort and direction.
It was during a talk on freedom and the symbolism of the American flag that the idea of a Christian flag was conceived. The date was September 26, 1897. Members of the Brighton Chapel in Coney Island, New York had gathered for a Sunday School Rally Day.
Backstage, the air was filled with chaos. The appointed speaker had not shown up. Calling on the Holy Spirit for assistance, Sunday school superintendent Charles Overton walked on stage. Draped across the pulpit was an American flag. Overton talked to the audience about the nation’s flag and its symbolism. Inspired by the flag, his impromptu talk turned into a dialogue about what a flag representing Christ would look like. The next Sunday a Christian flag was presented to the church.
The symbolism of the Christian flag has great meaning to the Christian. Its colors are shades of blue, red, and white. Its blue canton in the upper left corner, with a red Latin cross prominently displayed in the middle, adorns a white field.
The blue of the canton represents Heaven. It suggests the idea of Heaven as a place from which God reveals himself. The color blue also represents the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, who was not only heavenly in his origin but also in his very nature and ways.
The flag’s white background draws on biblical symbolism, equating white cloth with purity, holiness, and forgiveness. One of the sweetest words in any language is the word forgiven. God promises, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18).
The red-colored cross within the canton reminds the observer of the eternal freedom given by the Father through his Son, Jesus Christ. But as people everywhere know, freedom comes at a price. The red color and the cross remind Christians of the blood shed by Christ at Calvary to atone for the sins of the world.
Through his death and resurrection, Jesus Christ gained victory over sin and death. As the apostle Paul stated, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1, 2).
The Christian flag represents the kingdom of God. It is different from every other flag, religious or secular, ancient or modern. Unlike national flags and even denominational flags of various churches, the Christian flag is tied to no earthly bonds or allegiances. Christ and Christ alone is its focus. This flag is a symbol for people all around the world, regardless of sex, race, national boundary, economic condition, politics, slavery, or freedom.
Christ Above All
Flags represent something greater than ourselves. Many people display national flags to signify their allegiance to their nation. However, Christians don’t always agree that their allegiance to God should come before allegiance to a nation.
It was 1938, an anxious time for the world. Newspaper headlines brought news of Hitler’s Wehrmacht, and American youth were enlisting in the military. The cloud of World War II darkened the horizon. This era presented a problem for the Christian flag.
A young minister named James Pollack faced a congregational debate over the etiquette of displaying the Christian flag with the American flag. Pollack believed in the motto “Christ above all.” He displayed the Christian flag to his right at the front of the church sanctuary. In his book Congratulations to the Christian Flag, he recalled that a group within the congregation questioned him about the placement of the flags. They based their concern on a pamphlet about flag etiquette that stated the American flag, when appearing with other flags, should always be displayed to its right. What did Pollack have in writing? Nothing. He admits that all he had was a deep conviction that Christ and his cross should never come second.
Displaying the Flag
By the end of 1942, many Protestant churches had adopted the Christian Flag Code, guidelines Pollack himself wrote. Here are a few examples:
• When the Christian flag is placed at the front of the auditorium, it should be positioned to the right of the table, the minister, and the choir as they face the congregation.
• When the Christian flag is displayed with the American flag and/or other flags, the American flag and/or other flags may be placed symmetrically on the opposite side of the sanctuary and on the same level as the Christian flag.
• It is also proper to place the Christian and national flags side by side wherever stationed in the church, thus symbolizing both the spiritual and patriotic loyalties of the congregation.
• When the flags are placed side by side, the Christian flag is stationed on the right of all other flags. The Christian flag never dips to any other flag.
Even with the advent of the Christian Flag Code, disagreements remain. The United States Flag Code states, “No other flag or pennant should be placed above or, if on the same level, to the right of the flag of the United States of America, except during church services conducted by naval chaplains at sea, when the church pennant may be flown above the flag during church services for the personnel of the Navy” (The United States Flag: Federal Law Relating to Display and Associated Questions, www.senate.gov/reference/resources/pdf/RL30243.pdf).
Many states are taking action to clarify their flag codes. The California Flag Code states, “No flag or pennant shall be placed above, or if on the same level, to the right of, the United States flag, except flags flown during church services” (Stars, Stripes and Statues, National Flag Foundation, 1992).
If, like James Pollack, you subscribe to the motto “Christ above all,” you may wish to contact a state legislator to request information about your state’s flag code. If your state’s flag code is at variance with the Christian flag code, you may want to encourage your representative to consider a state revision. Let God’s freedom ring!
Tonja Talley is a freelance writer in Greenwood, Indiana.
Patriotism, National Symbols, and Faith
by James R. Pollack
A Call to Christian Patriotism: A Weekly Devotional Essay Series
by Howard A. Eyrich
(Focus Publishing, 2012)
Reborn on the Fourth of July: The Challenge of Faith, Patriotism & Conscience
by Logan Mehl-Laituri
(IVP Books, 2012)
Piety and Patriotism: Bicentennial Studies of the Reformed Church in America, 1776-1976
by James W. Van Hoeven
(Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976)