Gainesville Presbyterian Church, since its inception, has been a part of the PCA, the Presbyterian Church in America. Now there are a number of presbyterian denominations in America, and many have similar names, so sometimes it’s hard to keep them all straight. But sometimes names are important, and I think there is something hidden in the name of our denomination which I am particularly proud of. It is the little word, “in.” When the founders of the PCA were deciding what to call this new denomination in the early 1970's, they chose the word “in” to make a point. They wanted it to be clear that true Christian churches do not belong to any certain country, though they are located in a country (or in our case, a continent). Just as we are in the world but not of the world, so the church is in America but not of America. Gainesville Presbyterian Church is only American in the sense that it exists in America. Though as individuals we may be patriotic, we do not believe it is the place of a church to be patriotic toward any earthly nation. The church is open to people from any country who worship Jesus Christ. At Gainesville Presbyterian Church, we are privileged to have people from other countries in our congregation. But even if a church is composed of 100% patriotic Americans, the thing which unites them as a church is not their country but their Redeemer.
Though we love our country, it is not enough for us. Like the faithful believers of old, we “seek our homeland elsewhere” (Hebrews 11:14). We “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.” (Hebrews 11:16). The United States of America is a temporary entity; it will not last. As Christians, we have become citizens of another nation, an eternal one (Ephesians 2:19). And that citizenship is infinitely more important than American citizenship.
This is why you will never see an American flag at the front of our church. This is why you will not hear political announcements at our church. This is why when we fulfill our responsibilities to pray “for kings and those in high positions” (1Timothy 2:2), we do not just pray for the leaders of the USA.
Don’t misunderstand. We appreciate our country very much, and we thank God for it often. And we pray for our country with tears. But ultimately, the USA is not our home. One of our favorite hymns puts it this way:
Lord, Thou art Life, though I be dead;
Love’s fire Thou art, however cold I be;
Nor heaven have I, nor place to lay my head, nor home, but Thee. (Christina Rosetti)