Friday, July 04, 2008

Two Reasons Not to Infuse Your Sunday Services with American Patriotism

Mike McKinley writes at the 9Marks blog . . .
First, I don't want to have an American church. I want to pastor a church in America. We have members from 20 different countries. More than one in three of our members were not born in America. I don't presume that they consider the American military "our" military. I don't even presume that they think of America as "our" country. I want them to come to church and experience great unity with their brothers and sisters in Christ. Scripture makes it clear that our unity is not to be based on nationality or culture.

Second, I think in our culture the evangelical church (especially the Southern Baptists with our God and Country celebrations) is often synonymous with right-wing patriotism. So I think it doesn't serve the gospel well to make a big show of patriotism in our worship gatherings. My fear is that it will hurt the Christians ("I must be a good Christian, I am a patriot and have a yellow ribbon sticker on my car") and the non-Christians ("Being a Christian means being a good American").
For a related conversation, check out yesterday's Al Mohler Radio Program, guest hosted by Russell Moore.

And now, after clicking "publish post," I'm heading out to put my full patriotism on display at the festivities here in DC.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

Your post makes no sense. If you are saying it is wrong to say the Pledge of Allegiance and sing "God Bless America" in a church service, then don't come to our church. Our Nation has always been multi-cultural, but we recognized that we were a melting pot of Americanism. Your argument doesn't hold water.

David T. said...

We come together to worship God, not our country. Patriotic celebrations at church take away from time that should be the Lord's. We are pilgrims with our citizenship in heaven.

Greg Linscott said...

Anonymous:

Consider the following essays-

http://www.centralseminary.edu/publications/20050701Print.pdf

http://www.centralseminary.edu/publications/20050708Print.pdf

Greg said...

Hey Ben, let's say your church sings America the Beautiful tomorrow morning (Yeah, I know it won't.). Would you sing along? If not, would you remain seated, or would you stand, making it look like you're on board with what they're doing?

terpstra4 said...

Ben
I appreciate the post. In reaction to those who link their churches to a political party, do you think it is possible for the church to go overboard and fail to acknowledge God's mercy in living in a free country etc. Is there anything inherently unbiblical with the church "honoring the king?"
Tim

Ben said...

Greg (the second),

Are you asking a question you already know the answer to?

Tim,

I think it is possible to go overboard. But I think there's a substantial difference between thanking God for liberty and making political liberties the focal point of a service that masquerades as corporate worship. I think there's also a difference between honoring the king in a corporate worship service and pledging allegiance to him or singing "God Save the King" (or the Star Spangled Banner or the Battle Hymn of the Republic).

Greg Linscott said...

To terpstra4's point- I think of it in comparison, say, as the acceptability of a Christian teaching another to cook or clean house, or, say, celebrating one's (specific) parents. These are acceptable and even commendable and scripturally commanded things for Christians to do. However, they are not the reason a Church congregation gathers.

Robert said...

Move to Canada. Seriously.

If you cannot muster gratitude to God for the incredible blessing of being American, cannot see a proper way to express that gratitude in corporate worship, and cannot distinguish between that sort of expression and "worship" of a country, just pack up and move.

If the Revolutionary generation had adopted your mindset, there would be no America. John Adams said the "black-robed regiment" (American pastors) was the key to our victory. But perhaps you think that was all just a big mistake made by preachers who didn't have your grasp on the separation of church and state.

Robert said...

Oh and one more thing. Here are some of the words of the song to which you object (our national anthem)

Blessed with victory and peace
May the Heaven rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made
And preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must
When our cause it is just
And this be our motto
In God is our trust

Yep, nothing godly about that. Sure doesn't belong in church does it?

Greg Linscott said...

Robert,

Did it ever occur to you that the it was the principles taught by the "black robed regiment" of truth, valor, integrity, servitude, humility, etc etc was perhaps what Adams referred to- not a cheap sentiment of "God Bless the USA" we see today.

I have absolutely no problem thanking God for my country, fighting when necessary, and praying for my leaders (even the ones whose ideology differs radically from my own). But churches gather in the name of Christ. We are there to remember that ultimately, we anticipate and desire a better country, whose builder and maker is God.

Robert said...

Here's what John Adams actually said about the kind of preaching he meant--"It is the duty of the clergy to accommodate their discourses to the times, to preach against such sins as are most prevalent, and recommend such virtues as are most wanted.

For example, if exorbitant ambition and venality are predominant, ought they not to warn their hearers against those vices?

If public spirit is much wanted, should they not inculcate this great virtue?

If the rights and duties of Christian magistrates and subjects are disputed, should they not explain them, show their nature, ends, limitations, and restrictions, how muchsoever it may move the gall of Massachusetts?"

He wasn't talking about their promoting virtue, he was talking about their specific preaching on the social and moral issues of the day--especially those about king and country.

He surely had in mind men like John Muhlenberg, a Lutheran pastor who when asked by George Washington to raise a regiment, went to his pulpit, preached from Ecclesiastes 3...then removed his robe to reveal a colonel's uniform and led 300 men to battle.

You would no doubt condemn him. Shame on you. Your anti-American spirit reeks of ingratitude, not just to our country but to our God. You'd better be grateful that the Founding Fathers--or even the founding era pastors--can't lay hands on you. They'd straighten you out in a hurry. (But I don't think you'd enjoy the process much.)

Greg Linscott said...

Robert,

You have no substance for making any accusation of anti-Americanism. No one here has made any statements condemning support of country such as you mention with the John Adams quote and anecdote. In our day, it might be quite appropriate to address the issues of the day as Adam's contemporaries did in his- which might mean, for example, that we oppose slaughtering of innocent unborn infants or the plentiful attacks on the sacred institution of marriage.

Your example notwithstanding, however, I am quite certain that such virtuous examples of church and clergy as you raise did not include the measure of pageantry and pomp associated with most modern church celebrations. For that matter, patriotic numbers such as sung today did not exist in Adam's day. There was no "Pledge of Allegiance."

No, Robert, in that day, virtue, courage, and godliness were spoken of much differently. Perhaps one of the major differences is that America was not held up as something to be admired, as we might see today. Instead, you had leaders such as George Washington calling for national repentance and contrition, such as exemplified in his Thanksgiving Day Proclamation of 1789. I would be very comforatable with such observations (and actually prayed after such a fashion in our church today). However, I cannot endorse a veneration of flag, founding fathers, etc. in a gathering of assembled saints. You will gladly find me with hat doffed as the flag goes by at the Saturday parade. I will purposefully thank men in uniform for their service when I see them in public. But when I lead a congregation in worship, there is nothing else that shares priority or competes for admiration with my God. No man, no emblem, no country.

Robert said...

Greg, you clearly oppose support of country. That is your right, but don't pretend otherwise. That is simply dishonest.

And I think your amply demonstrated historical ignorance precludes the usefulness of any further conversation on this topic. When I prove that your assumptions are wrong by direct illustration, you simply restate them.

Continue to enjoy the freedom purchased for you without doing your part to continue it. And God forgive you for your blindness and ingratitude.

Greg Linscott said...

Robert,

If I might be so bold, your response reminds me of that of a child loudly exclaiming that a parent doesn't really love him or her because the parent won't conform to the child's limited and incomplete concept of love.

FWIW, I have supported my country in many ways over the course of my lifetime. I am the son of a Vietnam Veteran with 16+ years in the US Navy and grandson of a WWII Vet. I voluntarily enlisted in the US Air Force out of high school with the intention of potentially making a career out of it (but was released for medical reasons). I vote, and actively encourage others to do the same. I have often volunteered my time in various election matters. I take the time to contact my government leaders and assure them of my prayers (and more than just the most prominent ones).

The fact that I will not hold a patriotic celebration in my church service leading you to conclude that I oppose support of country seems about as preposterous to me as concluding that I must hate my mother because I refuse to have her name ensconced in a flowery heart tattooed across my chest.

Ben said...

Robert,

I see no reason to believe that a conversation about the issues will be in any way profitable, so let me simply make a couple comments.

First, it seems from your profile and your blog that you earn some portion of your living from evangelical engagement in the political sphere, so I take no offense at the tone of your comments. Though I disagree with your arguments and your personal attacks, I understand why you feel so strongly about the issue. Second, I trust that God will providentially use your engagement to advance his eternal, international (or better, supra-national) kingdom where believers find their primary citizenship.

Anonymous said...

Robert, I'm saddened by the tone of your posts and (what I perceive to be) personal attacks against these men. I know it's the tone that's probably required and "amen"-ed by the audience you write for, but I just wish it wasn't necessary. I don't mean to be a jerk here, honestly, but that's the kind of writing tone that turns off the lost.

Forgive me if my own post sounds harsh. I'm trying to avoid the log-eye thing, but probably unsuccessfully :)

I will pray for your wife.

-a fellow believer

greglong said...

Robert,

I, too, wish you could make your points without the harsh rhetoric.

It is possible to love your country without feeling the need to make it the focus and center of a regularly-scheduled church worship service.

Ben said...

Anonymous fellow believer,

I appreciate your sentiments, up to the point where you say you'll pray for Robert's wife. I think that's unhelpful in a way similar to some of Robert's approach

greglong said...

Ben, I think anonymous fellow believer says he (or she) will pray for Robert's wife because Robert's blog says his wife is undergoing chemotherapy.

James Kime said...

Robert, is it possible for a church to celebrate living in this country without doing it during an actual church service?

Ben said...

Oh, thanks Greg. My mistake. I didn't catch that and obviously misinterpreted the post.

Anonymous,

Please forgive me for my misdirected comment.

Robert said...

I am sorry that people perceive my tone to be overly harsh. I disagree as I feel some topics merit that level of rebuke, but of course your mileage may vary. I was going to leave the original post alone, until I read the accusation in the comments that equated patriotic observance with "worship" of our country. I don't much care for the tone of that, and thus my original statements.

What followed was an escalating exercise in Internet comment futility. I posted a historical fact (I teach college history)...it's application was disputed. I cited specifics to support my point...they were ignored. I should know better, but then arguing with a person who thinks citing his grandfather's military service proves he supports his country indicates the pointlessness of using logic and fact to win the argument. That's why I said I was going to leave it alone.

Three points, and this time I'm really done (I've been Baptist all my life, so I'm used to preachers "finishing" more than once): 1) If this attitude against patriotic expression in church had been prevelant in the Revolutionary era, there would be no America. Those preachers felt it fully appropriate to specifically address (not simply virtue or whatever) but king and country issues. And as I've already cited--and Adams is far from the only source, just the first one on the list--the Founding Fathers credited the founding era pastors with much of the success of their efforts. This is really indisputable. You can argue those pastors were wrong in what they did, (or I guess that the Founders were giving credit where it wasn't due) but there's simply no historical basis for arguing that patriotic pulpit expression wasn't what they did.

2) While I have in the past written for organizations like the Presidential Prayer Team that intersect with religion and politics, I do not currently do so, and my objection has nothing to do with protecting my financial interests. (Which is a pretty interesting accusation from people who object to having their motives characterized, but whatever.)

3) It is my 20 year old daughter, not my wife who has cancer, but we would certainly appreciate your prayers for her. The chemo is working on the cancer, but it's also having a huge impact on her overall health as well.

Greg Linscott said...

Robert,

Unlike some others, I think we might be getting somewhere. Let me ask you- would you allow military recruiters to set up booths in your church foyer, assuming you were a pastor? Would you feel comfortable allowing them to speak during announcements? Or would you consider that inappropriate.

I do not disagree with the examples you cited- with pastors speaking to issues of their day in the application of expositional sermons, as well as prayers for government officials and on behalf of national sins. However, I don't think you've successfully demonstrated how such examples justify hymns to country, color guards, pledges of allegiance, and so on. What I have observed in your responses is that you have simply assumed that such demonstrations by God's people in their corporate worship gatherings are legitimate and to oppose them is to oppose the United States of America.

BTW- As far as the military service of my grandfather (and father), I see that as factoring in because of our continued support and involvement in veteran's affairs and so forth (including the way our family honored the service of he and his comrades at my grandfather's funeral).

Robert said...

I'm not quite sure why you think we're getting somewhere, but I'll give this one more shot. (Baptist heritage again.) You continue to mischaracterize the sermons of the founding era. They were not application of exposition--they were direct and topical. Jonathan Witherspoon preached one such on May 17, 1776 from Psalm 76:10. I've included the link to the entire thing...and more than 30 other Revolutionary War era sermons, but here are a few of his key points:

It would be a criminal inattention not to observe the singular interposition of Providence hitherto, in behalf of the American colonies. How many discoveries have been made of the designs of enemies in Britain and among ourselves, in a manner as unexpected to us as to them, and in such season as to prevent their effect? What surprising success has attended our encounters in almost every instance? Has not the boasted discipline of regular and veteran soldiers been turned into confusion and dismay, before the new and maiden courage of freemen, in defence of their property and right? In what great mercy has blood been spared on the side of this injured country?

Some have observed that true religion, and in her train, dominion, riches, literature, and arts, have taken their course in a slow and gradual manner, from east to west, since the earth was settled after the flood, and from thence forebode the future glory of America. I leave this as a matter rather of conjecture than certainty, but observe, that if your cause is just, if your principles are pure, and if your conduct is prudent, you need not fear the multitude of opposing hosts.

You are all my witnesses, that this is the first time of my introducing any political subject into the pulpit. At this season however, it is not only lawful but necessary, and I willingly embrace the opportunity of declaring my opinion without any hesitation, that the cause in which America is now in arms, is the cause of justice, of liberty, and of human nature.


http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=816&chapter=69270&layout=html&Itemid=27

That would be fully at home at any God and Country service this past weekend. And that sermon does not stand in isolation. Those men preached fervently and repeatedly about the role and responsibility of believers in supporting the nation (Witherspoon even included a passage on supporting the war effort by being thrifty!)

As for your question regarding recruiting at church, under normal circumstances, no. But during time of war, I'd be with Muhlenberg. Not to put words in your mouth, but given your position, you have to oppose what he did don't you?

Brandon said...

I don't say this to create strife or stir up anything, but it seems that more statesmen and clergy from history are being quoted and referenced more than God and His Word. I haven't really gotten from Robert's side the Biblical argument which supports his side. This isn't a challenge, just an observation.

Greg Linscott said...

"Not to put words in your mouth, but given your position, you have to oppose what he did don't you?"

Robert,

Not necessarily. I do think, as I have stated before, that there is room for application of expositional preaching that would involve specifics such as defense of home and country- so I would certainly have room for your cited example in my approach and philosophy.

Again, what I am talking about (and you seem to gloss over in your responses to me) is the pageantry- pledges, hymns and anthems to country, color guards, etc in church worship services. In fact, FWIW, I would generally see no good reason for a church to have the national flag (of any country) on its building's platform. Again, Christians gather under different colors, if you will- Peter calls us a "holy nation" (1 Peter 2:9).

Robert, as strongly as you have spoken on this, do you understand the difference between Muhlenberg's principled and admirable actions compared with modern-day patriotic pep rallies typical in evangelical/Fundamentalist congregations? I, for one, sincerely doubt that someone like Muhlenberg, with such a formal Lutheran liturgy, would be approving of such celebrations himself.