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What Is the Christian Flag's Origin and Meaning?

Many different groups and individuals have used flags throughout time to represent their religious beliefs or political affiliations. A flag rallies people together, sometimes to follow their allegiance unto war or death. It can be a reference point during the battle as sides advance and retreat.

Depending on which Christian group you belong to, the Christian flag may serve as that reference point. But is this a good thing?

What Is the Christian Flag?

The Christian flag is ecumenical—it can represent different churches and Christianity as a whole regardless of Christians’ historical, theological, and cultural differences. The flag was designed in the late 1800s by Charles C. Overton. He was a Sunday School teacher in Brooklyn, New York. One Sunday, with an American flag draped over his pulpit, he gave an impromptu speech to his students about what a flag symbolizing Christianity could look like. Eventually, he did make a flag. He deliberately did not file a copyright or trademark for it so all of Christendom could use the flag freely. As a result, anyone can use or manufacture it without seeking permission.

The Federal Council of Churches accepted the Christian flag in 1942, and various Christian denominations have used it, from Mennonites to Baptists to Lutherans. Some denominations have maintained their own flags, such as the Vatican flag flown by the Roman Catholic church.

Throughout the last century, the Christian Flag has become a universal symbol for Christianity, spreading worldwide largely through Christian missionaries. It can be seen flying inside or outside many Christian churches in Latin America and Africa as an emblem of their allegiance to Christ.

The Christian flag doesn’t just fly outside churches. It can be seen at conventions, conferences, church demonstrations, vacation Bible schools, and parades. It may be used for general decorative purposes in individuals’ homes. Some Christians even have mini versions, such as a bookmark version.

What Is the Christian Flag Supposed to Mean?

The Christian flag bears a similar design to the American flag. The top left corner consists of a blue square. But instead of white stars inside the top left corner, the Christian flag has a red cross. While the rest of the American flag is white with red stripes, the rest of the Christian flag is just white.

On the Christian flag, the red symbolizes the blood of Christ during his crucifixion. The blue represents the water of baptism followed by one’s new life devoted to following Christ. It can also denote the sky or heaven—the white stands for the purity of Christ and His holiness. A white flag represents surrender in traditional vexillology (the study of flags and their history). The Bible tells of God’s surrender to death (and then resurrection) to show the magnitude of his love and people’s rebellion against Him. After people commit their lives to God, He calls them to surrender to His will.

These three aspects represent the basic tenets of the faith: A holy God; Who died on the cross; To give His people new life on earth and in heaven.

Even amid its depth of meaning, the simple design of the Christian flag has made it easy to reproduce, and it has remained unchanged for over a hundred years.

The Christian Flag's Pledge of Allegiance

Allegiance, maintaining one’s loyalty and fidelity to the Christian flag, is often displayed by flying it alongside the American flag—especially in evangelical Christian schools.

Some Christians, churches, and schools recite a pledge of allegiance to the Christian flag, corresponding to the pledge of allegiance to the American flag. Both pledges are regularly recited one after the other. Often, Christian schools will have their students say both pledges each morning before the school day starts.

The Christian Flag Pledge of Allegiance:

“I pledge allegiance to the Christian flag, and to the Saviour for whose Kingdom it stands; one Saviour, crucified, risen, and coming again with life and liberty to all who believe.”

The American Flag Pledge of Allegiance:

"I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Is Pledging Allegiance to a Christian Flag Biblical?

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)

Various Christians have raised concerns about whether having a Christian flag is proper. Some may ask if the church already has a symbol of the cross, why would they need a flag?

Others worry that since people pledge allegiance to the Christian flag and not directly to God Himself, it could be interpreted that the flag becomes a sort of idol to worship. Just like Christians can make idols out of other things—the building where their church meets or the pastor who speaks from the Bible each Sunday.

“You shall not make idols for yourselves or erect an image or pillar, and you shall not set up a figured stone in your land to bow down to it, for I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 26:1)

There are also concerns about whether its use alongside other flags conflates church and state. Many Christian churches and schools hang the Christian and American flags side by side at the same heights (or with the Christian flag flying below the American flag). This can show an equal allegiance to God and country or a higher allegiance to country. However, most Christians would agree that they should have their highest devotion to God, not their country.

Flying the Christian and American flags side by side can also communicate that Christianity and America are synonymous. Some believers (and non-believers) worry this equals blurring the separation of church and state. If that happens, the Christian flag may be associated with nationalism. Many American Christians view America as a Christian nation in a special covenant relationship with God—similar to the Israelites of the Old Testament. Unfortunately, much of their talk is centered around America’s glory and greatness, not the glory of God. Furthermore, United States policy, laws, and actions don’t always align with the teachings of Jesus, the Bible, or God’s character.

Additionally, some believe a religious flag appropriates militaristic ideas. Flags often represent nation-states, international relations, and armies gathered against one another for war. Critics would argue the Christian flag depicts Christ more as a general than a suffering servant, more Julius Caesar than a sacrificial lamb. The Christian flag flying next to the American flag can portray the church as a paramilitary organization, which may present a problem. Christians debate what the Bible teaches about war—just war theory argues Christians can fight in morally just wars, while pacifism argues that Christians must always turn the other cheek.

Many serious, educated Christians devoted to following the Bible have reached different conclusions about these questions. Reaching any conclusion will require deep conversations with other Christians, including church leaders and spiritual mentors.

How Might the Christian Flag Be Misused?

“All day long they distort my words; All their thoughts are against me for evil.” (Psalm 56:5)

Christians who don’t have issues with using the Christian flag should still remember that even Christian symbols can be co-opted for deplorable means. Nationalists and supremacists can wave the Christian flag to legitimize their beliefs, which misrepresents Christianity.

Christians must remember that using a symbol for Christ isn’t enough. Someone who has a Christian fish bumper sticker yet disobeys traffic laws, has road rage, drives lazily, and behaves in a way that conflicts with Christian ideas. Christian imagery can be hijacked and given connotations not representative of Christ. Christ-like behavior must work alongside the Christian symbol.

Where to Buy a Christian Flag

Because the Christian flag is free to print and distribute, it can be found in many places online.

We searched and found the best deal on Amazon with good reviews: Buy a Christian Flag HERE

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/ duckycards 

Nate Van Noord is from Detroit, MI, a graduate of Calvin University, and has taught high school history for many years. He loves to bike, run, and play pickleball, has been to about 30 countries, and is a three time winner of NPR's Moth Detroit StorySlam competitions.

 

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