THE BIRTH OF THE CHRISTIAN FLAG 100 YEARS AGO
The featured speaker failed to arrive for the Sunday School Rally in a Coney Island Chapel in 1897, and - the Christian flag was born:
Like so many of the great and memorable things of history, a Christian flag was not contemplated or predesigned. A fortuitous happenstance gave it birth. The Sunday School was holding an old-fashioned Rally Day of the kind which was so much the custom in years past. For this occasion, a favored speaker had been engaged, but for some reason undisclosed did not show up. Superintendent Charles C. Overton, in the emergency, called upon his own gifts of innovation to fill in the time. An American flag lay there across the pulpit. Overton addressed his words to the flag and its symbolism. Then like a flash came the thought, why not also a Christian flag? His impromptu but constructive ad-libbing was to produce a verbal picture of what is today, and for the past one hundred years has been, the Christian flag.
Today the Christian flag is one of the oldest unchanged flags in the world. It was conceived at Brighton Chapel, Coney Island, New York, Sunday, September 26, 1897, and was presented in its present form the following Sunday by its originator. Call it chance, or providence, serendipity, or the plan of God. On that day, the Christian flag was born.
LIKE NO OTHER FLAG ON EARTH: THE UNIQUE CHARACTER OF THE CHRISTIAN FLAG
The Christian flag is the only free flag in the world. It is different from every other flag, religious or secular, ancient or modern. It is uncontrolled, independent, and universal. Unlike all national flags and all denominational flags of various churches, it has no earthly bonds or allegiances. Christ and Christ alone is its Master. Without limitation, it exists for all the world's people regardless of sex, race, national boundary, economic condition, affluence, or poverty, politics, slavery or freedom. It cannot be restricted by any nation or denomination. This unique, universal quality makes it like the air we breathe, belonging to all and yet owned by none. For those who want it, wherever and whenever, it is freely theirs.
All church flags are organizational symbols of specific corporate, legal, religious entities. The Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, United Methodists, Baptists, United Church of Christ, and others have flags, official or otherwise, but limited to their use and ruled by them. Not so with the Christian flag. This flag stands in its own right, shines by its own spiritual light, true, free, untrammeled, uncompromised. It belongs only to Christ and the Cross which symbol it bears.
GIVE HONOR TO THE CROSS
Why is the cross so emphatically magnified in the new Affirmation of Loyalty?
The Cross in size is the smallest component of the total flag. And yet the whole message, theological and ecclesiastical, lies in that small but eternal symbol. Without this Cross, this flag would be little more than a decorative piece of cloth. The force of this fact is climactic. If there were no Cross, there would be no post-resurrection Christ, there would be no church. All hinges upon that Cross. This syllogism lifts up and boldly states the historical and eternal fact: the Cross is at the heart of it all.
Many are the theories of the atonement of God and persons through the sacrifice of Christ upon the Cross, and many are the theological nuances meticulously spun out by the Christologists. There is one thing, however, upon which all of the interpretations of the atonement agree, namely, the indispensable centrality of the Cross. Because of that Cross, Jesus is not just another miracle worker recorded in the passing pages of Roman history. He is Christ, the Son of God, sacrificial and triumphant, the Savior of the world, the world God so loved.
So understood, the Cross of Christ on the Christian flag is the summation of it all. And to be adequate to its high purpose, the new Affirmation of Loyalty to the Christian Flag expressly includes that Cross.
THE AFFIRMATION OF LOYALTY TO THE CHRISTIAN FLAG
The Affirmation of Loyalty to the Christian Flag is a sacred commitment. Let the congregation celebrate its loyalty to the Christian flag and the Cross which it bears by extending to it appropriate recognition and honor.
The minister or lay person will proceed as follows, saying:
1. Let us stand facing the Christian flag.
2. Let us repeat the Affirmation of Loyalty in unison.
"I affirm my loyalty to the Christian Flag and to our savior whose cross it bears, one spiritual fellowship under that cross, uniting us in service and love."
3. Let each person conclude the Affirmation with a slight but positive nod to the Flag. The congregation may now sing one or more verses from a hymn of its choice, such as Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus, or other appropriate selection.
4. Let us now participate in our Christian Fellowship by holding hands in an inclusive chain from person to person and pew to pew during the concluding prayer. The minister or lay person presiding will offer here a brief appropriate prayer, marking the conclusion of this celebration of the Affirmation of Loyalty to the Christian Flag.
A SERVICE OF DEDICATION FOR ONE OR BOTH FLAGS
Quite universally, when churches install new Christian and American flags, they hold a special ceremony for this purpose during the worship service. The author has been asked on occasion for suggestions in this behalf and is glad to incorporate the following installation rituals. These brief but comprehensive rituals may be enlarged and revised as the need may require.
Dedication of the Christian Flag
The minister or lay person presiding will have the congregation rise. Together they will then proceed with the dedication celebration. A separate copy of the ritual should be in the hands of the worshippers or incorporated in the bulletin.
The Leader: Let us now dedicate this Christian flag. Truly this is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad it.
The People: The heavens declare your glory, O Lord. We bless your holy name. Your name is above every name.
The Leader: The supreme symbol of Christian faith is the Cross. Serenely it stands above the centuries bearing testimony to
the love of God for his children.
The People: God so loved people that he gave his Son in sacrifice upon the Cross to bring true life to all.
The Leader: The Christian flag bears his sacred symbol of God's love. Its folds of white are clean and pure. Its fields of blue
are truth universal and eternal. Its Cross of red tells of the shed blood of Christ and of the martyrs, then and now.
The People: Truly this is a holy flag. We will honor and cherish it in our personal hearts and in the public worship of this
The Leader: I now solemnize the dedication of this Christian flag in the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Here
shall the presence of the Christian flag and its Cross remind us that we stand on holy ground. Let us ever be worthy, faithful,
and thankful. Amen.
The congregation may here repeat the Affirmation of Loyalty to the Christian flag, or, if so desired, repeat the Apostles' Creed,
or sing an appropriate hymn.
If both the Christian and national flags are to be dedicated, the congregation will remain standing and the leader will directly
Dedication of the American Flag
The Leader: Let us now dedicate this American flag. The foundations of this republic are built on the teaching that every
person is of infinite value in the sight of God.
The People: On these shores our forebears have established, and we their children have preserved, a worthy nation. Let our
great land forever be committed to promote and preserve the holy liberties of people and their inherent right to the pursuit of the
The Leader: The symbol of our national idealism is this gracious flag of stars and stripes. Beneath its colors let us rejoice in the
greatness of our beloved nation and pray for the wisdom to use this greatness, under God, for the cherished ideals of our
The People: Here we dedicate ourselves anew to the ageless principles for which this emblem stands. Faithfully we will live
them, resolutely defend them, and courageously preserve them as our sacred trust.
The Leader: I now dedicate this American flag to stand here before us as an unfailing reminder that we are one nation under
God. May our nation be blessed forever with righteousness, freedom, and peace. Amen.
At the conclusion of this dedication, if desired, the congregation may repeat the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of the United
States of America or sing an appropriate hymn such as O God, Our Help in Ages Past and conclude with Our Fathers' God
to Thee, or other selection.
A CHRISTIAN FLAG CODE? HOW COME?
The code for honorable placement of the Christian flag arose out of crisis. A highly motivated young preacher fresh from Yale University Graduate School was serving his first full-time appointment. The year was 1938. The clouds of World War II darkened Europe and hung like a shroud over the world. American youth were being registered. It was a flag-conscious time.
In this setting, an unexpected problem arose for the young minister. To his mind the motto "Christ Above All" and the "Name Above Every Name" meant all honor at all times to Christ and the Cross. With no hesitancy he placed the new Christian flag, which had just been purchased, at his right in the chancel, and the American flag symmetrically opposite. All the laws of heraldry, the Apostles' Creed, New Testament references and social usage designated honor to the right-hand side. He had not anticipated the stir this was to cause. He was confronted by some sincere and questioning members. They showed him a pamphlet put out by a patriotic group that pictured the national emblem in the place of honor, whereas he had put the Christian flag in the place of honor. His explanations fell on deaf ears. One of the questioners holding a pamphlet then said to him, "We have the diagrams right here in print. What do you have in writing?"
There was nothing in writing to turn to concerning the correct usage of the Christian flag in 1938. Furthermore, the nation was gearing for war. Civilians were flag-sensitive and overreactive. The American and Christian flags were secretly switched during the week. What did he have in writing? At that time, nothing. All he had was a deep conviction that Christ and His Cross should never come second. (The young minister was James Pollock)
The young minister took the whole question to his annual church conference. He prepared and presented the written regulations which he felt would comprise a true Christian Code. It was immediately adopted. That was 59 years ago. Like the Christian flag itself, it has not changed.
THE LAW IN AMERICA
The Bill of Rights, Article 1, The Constitution of the United States:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
The United States Navy:
During the Service of Divine Worship led by the Fleet Chaplain, a triangular Pennant of White with a blue Latin Cross is flown at the masthead above the American flag.
The State of California:
Excerpted from Stars, Stripes and Statues, National Flag Foundation, p. 66, item 2. 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.
DISPLAY OF THE CHRISTIAN FLAG
1. When the Christian flag is on the floor level, the Christian flag is placed to the right, front, of the congregation and outside of the communion railing.
2. When the Christian flag is placed within the chancel, communion railing or choir loft, the Christian flag is placed to the right side of the altar, of the clergymen, and of the choir as they face the congregation.
3. 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.
If desired, 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 always stationed on the right of all other flags.
The Christian flag never dips to any other flag. It may properly dip to the altar Cross.
4. Use of the Christian flag in other situations:
Where a Cross is carried in a processional, the Cross leads, followed by the Christian flag.
In a single-column processional, the Christian flag precedes all other flags.
In a double-column processional, the Christian flag is on the right.
When the Christian flag is on the same flagpole with any other flag, the Christian flag receives the top position.
Where the Christian flag and another flag are on separate poles, the Christian flag is on the right as it faces the street or audience.
In placing the Christian flag staff in its supporting base, it should be adjusted so that the blue canton and Cross are turned toward the congregation.
No other symbol or flag should ever be placed above the Cross.
EDUCATING THE CONGREGATION - SUGGESTIONS
1. In the Church Worship Service:
Have a minute speaker on the Sunday nearest the September 26th One Hundredth Birthday of the Christian flag.
Let the minute person present from the pulpit a brief, positive word about the history, or uniqueness, or proper display of the Christian flag.
At least once a year, schedule a spiritual renewal celebration. The would be shared by all in stating the Affirmation of Loyalty to the Christian Flag.
A sermon on Martyrs of the Faith, with special reference to the Cross on the flag, would be appropriate.
Light a birthday candle on the One Hundredth Birthday Anniversary, a Sunday nearest the 26th of September, 1997. A member of the youth group, a family with one of the children lighting the candle, or one of the elderly members whose age might come close to paralleling the age of the flag, or a dozen other colorful procedures could be utilized.
2. In the Church School:
Celebrate the flag's anniversary with presentations of the historic birth of the flag, why it bears the Cross, the proper display of the Christian flag, and how to honor and respect it.
For hand work, make an actual Christian flag, cutting the cloth and sewing the parts together carefully and accurately. With small children, use paper, paste and scissors.
3. In the Children's Sermon:
Often exciting conversations with the children illuminate subjects which the congregation also enjoys. Let the pastor or associate devote a talk with the children about the Christian flag with a small flag for each child.
4. For the Youth:
At summer camp, erect a flagpole and let the Christian flag fly high and clear. Let this be a bold symbol of identification as a Christian youth group.
At the campfire ring, celebrate youth's dedication by sharing together the Affirmation of Loyalty to the Christian Flag.
5. In the Pastor's Confirmation Class:
Lift up the history of the Christian flag's unusual origin and why the flag bears the Cross.
Encourage love and respect for the Christian flag in the hearts of the confirmands.
From its inception in 1897 to this present day a full century later, with a proud one-hundred-year anniversary, the Christian flag has quietly and beautifully graced an ever-increasing number of church sanctuaries, religious schools, national and world conferences, and a host of additional situations. The flag means much to many people. It belongs. Instinctively it is cherished. Its
symbolism, liturgical and ecclesiastical, utters no words, yet speaks to the hearts of millions.
The way that this unique flag came into being, not by laborious, intellectual planning but by a flash of inspiration ignited by the necessity to fill in for an absent speaker; the subsequent history and authority for its primacy among flags; the new Affirmation of Loyalty to the Christian Flag as an inevitable religious development; the emphasis upon the Cross it bears; the necessity for a code of correct display; plus the desire of so many Christian people to know what this flag is all about; all of these combined have been the motivation for the creation of this one hundredth anniversary volume.
Let the Christian flag be known and honored for what it truly is. Let it be correctly displayed with boldness and pride. Let its colors, Cross and symbolism lift high an expression to the name which is forever above every name, the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.
From "Congratulations to The Christian Flag" by James Pollock