by Ronald W. Kirk
The Banner of the Cross and Flag of Our Union
Anniversary Meeting of the American Sunday School Union in Boston, May 27, 1852.
Let the Banner of the Cross go forth side by side with the Flag of our Union wherever it is carried; let the Spirit of the Lord be invoked to accompany the Spirit of Liberty in its triumphant march; let the Bible be everywhere on the same shelf with the Constitution; let there be no region so remote, no valley so secluded, no wilderness so solitary or so desolate, that men shall be able to escape from the visible presence of Religion, as manifested in the observance of the Lord’s Day, and in that most attractive and fascinating of all its forms,—the religious instruction of young children; let this be accomplished, and, depend upon it, the people of this country will have much less to fear for the stability of their institutions, and Congresses and Cabinets will have much less to do to preserve the Union. There will then, too, be no longer any doubt that we are “a power on earth;” a power for every purpose of promoting either the welfare of men, or the glory of God. 1
Robert Charles Winthrop, seventh generation descendant of founding Puritan governor John Winthrop and one-time Speaker of the House of Representatives and United States Senator2, reveals his understanding of this truth: The flag or ensign of a people or nation declares the character and ideals of that people in symbolic form. The hammer and sickle of the USSR obviously stood for pure materialism and the absolute authority of the state. The Encyclopedia Britannica says that early flags were “almost purely of a religious character.” For example, for centuries the English ensign was the red cross of St. George. Over time that flag would evolve to its present form. “The national flag of the British Empire is the union Jack in which are combined in union the crosses of St. George, St. Andrew and St. Patrick.”
The American Flag
Certain details of the American flag’s design intent are apparently lost to history. Nonetheless, some concrete things are known. For example, in 1777, Congress resolved, “that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the Union between thirteen stars, white in a blue field.” 3
We may reasonably speculate upon other things. For example, stars have long represented man’s desire for heaven and to reflect heaven’s ways. As illustrated by Joseph’s dream, stars represent human luminaries (Genesis 37:9-10). Given the religious ancient significance of flags, we may with some confidence take Old Glory’s stripes as a reflection of the cross of Christ, or of his scourging taken on our behalf. The individual stars and stripes in union and relationship one to another, echo America’s unique and profound understanding of the equal ultimacy of the individual and the community as the universal reflection of God’s Holy Trinity in creation—perfect individuality and perfect love. Neither the national power swallows up the states, nor do the states abandon their responsibility to each other in the form of the Union.
The American Colors are held significant in the history of heraldry and flags, but the authorities seem to fails us when attributing the older meanings to those colors. It should be obvious that colors, as we have noted regarding flags in general, have long had a religious significance. For example, God commanded the use of red, white, and blue in the garments of the priests of God (Ex. 28, where linen represents white.) The priests, called cohen—mediators—in the Scriptures, are those who represent God to men and men to God. These colors in national flags thus symbolically declare the Lordship of God, and represent a venerable heritage before Him. Blue is a long-held symbol for truth and loyalty. White is purity and wholeness—holiness. The Bible takes light as understanding of God on His terms. The white stars on a dark blue background suggest the light of God shining out of the darkness of mankind’s sin and rebellion. Traditional modern interpretations hold that red, stands for courage, warfare, and sacrifice. We might go further. Red as a religious symbol in the Christian heritage must surely represent the blood of Christ and the new covenant (Matt. 26:28).
What the Scriptures Say
The Scriptures often refer to banners or ensigns as representing a cause or viewpoint. Consider, for example David’s metaphorical application of the banner as a sign of God’s strength and of victory for the godly in Psalm 60.
Psalm 60–To the chief Musician upon Shushaneduth, Michtam of David, to teach
60:1 O God, You have cast us off; You have broken us down; You have been displeased; Oh, restore us again!
2 You have made the earth tremble; You have broken it; Heal its breaches, for it is shaking.
3 You have shown Your people hard things; You have made us drink the wine of confusion.
4 You have given a banner to those who fear You, That it may be displayed because of the truth. Selah
5 That Your beloved may be delivered, Save with Your right hand, and hear me.
6 God has spoken in His holiness: “I will rejoice; I will divide Shechem And measure out the Valley of Succoth.
7 Gilead is Mine, and Manasseh is Mine; Ephraim also is the helmet for My head; Judah is My lawgiver.
8 Moab is My washpot; Over Edom I will cast My shoe; Philistia, shout in triumph because of Me.”
9 Who will bring me into the strong city? Who will lead me to Edom?
10 Is it not You, O God, who cast us off? And You, O God, who did not go out with our armies?
11 Give us help from trouble, For vain is the help of man.
12 Through God we will do valiantly, For it is He who shall tread down our enemies.4
The great prophet Isaiah declares the person of Jesus Christ to be our very standard and banner, our King and our Lord. He represents everything good:
And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious (Isaiah 11:10).
The soon to be released title from Nordskog Publishing The Book that Made America: How the Bible Formed Our Nation, by Jerry Newcombe of Coral Ridge Ministries powerfully establishes the Christian foundations of the United States. In this light, we are not ashamed to declare with Robert Winthrop a proper fellowship between the American flag and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Star Spangled Banner
Finally, let us consider the closing stanza of our National Anthem “The Star Spangled Banner” and keep it in our hearts in these difficult days:
O, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation;
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the heav’n-rescued land
Praise the Pow’r that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause. it is just;
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust!”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave!
- Addresses and Speeches on Various Occasions, by Robert C. Winthrop, Vols. I & II, Boston, 1852, in Verna M. Hall, The Christian History of the American Revolution : Consider and Ponder (San Francisco : Foundation for American Christian Education, 1976), p. 21.
- “Robert Charles Winthrop,” Encyclopedia Britannica 11th Edition (New York: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1910), Vol. XXVII, p. 736, and “Robert Charles Winthrop,” Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Charles_Winthrop).
- “Flag,” Ibid., Vol. IX, p. 455-460.
- Cited Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.