Monday, July 06, 2009

"Then conquer we must when our cause it is just, and this be our motto: 'In God is our trust'

Over the weekend I was reminded of the above lyrics to the final stanza of our national anthem. Then this morning I read Leonard Verduin's assessment in The Reformers and Their Stepchildren of Constantine's conversion, his establishment of Christianity as the state religion, and his appropriation of Christianity in his military exploits. Verduin writes:
Is the Cross of Christ then a thing whereby emperors' ambitions are realized? A device that sees the political aspirations of a power-hungry ruler through to victory? Surely Constantine had grasped little or nothing of the ideas set forth in the Cross of Christ!
The coincidence of the anthem and reading Verduin led me to reflect not only on how American politicians piggy-back on cultural Christianity, but also on how churches confuse patriotism with worshiping Jesus. A friend told me this morning about an extreme example this past weekend in which the point of the sermon was to prove that George Washington was a Christian. That church is committed to biblical inerrancy; the Bible was left unopened.

Now, I doubt whether many readers here experienced anything rising to that level. But I do wonder how many of us who sung "of thee" yesterday sang to Jesus and how many sang to "my country." I wonder whether importing American patriotism into a Christian service is ever prudent. Frankly, I wonder whether it's even Christian.

Perhaps that raises a more fundmental question: What do we really gather on Sundays to do?

11 comments:

Chris said...

Agreed

SamKnisely said...

Sadly we had the singing of the flag and of the country yesterday.

I've wondered - Language barriers aside, shouldn't all of our church worship be such that Christians of all times and places may participate?

If Paul, Wesley, or a Chinese believer has to stand silent while we sing, isn't something wrong?

It's the church of the living Christ not the American Legion.

Robert said...

Could you clarify what you object to in those words from the final stanza?

I don't believe we should worship America (although I would argue that we can and should corporately express gratitude to God for the incredible blessing of our nation without crossing that line), but that phrase you quoted seems to me to be a good and much-needed reminder...that we cannot expect to be blessed or victorious as a nation unless we trust God and do justly.

Personally I like the earlier part of that final stanze the best of the entire song.

Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.

Anonymous said...

To answer the question posed in your last sentence:

We gather on Sundays to participate in corporately what we should be participating in personally throughout the week. The early church met together, ate together, fellowshipped together, discussed the Scriptures together, and cared for one another. I fear that our modern idea of church is a bit skewed. With the rise of the word "worship" and "worship leaders" we seem to have entered a period of time where people think they go to church to "worship". For the Christian, life should be worship. Church is about fellowship and edification.

With all of that said, I think much of the concern about the mixing of patriotism with the church is overblown (as I have observed the blogosphere in recent days). Some of the most passionate patriots I know are those who have immigrated to America. Appreciating and acknowledging the goodness of God to our country is a good thing to do on occasion. If that happens within the context of local church fellowship and edification than it would seem to be a positive thing in my opinion.

Paul said...

Dittos. I am grateful for our country, but also grateful that the days of the "singing flag" at church are far, far behind me. We are exiles, strangers, pilgrims. Bringing patriotism into church does not accurately reflect the gospel and is not helpful.

I have heard of Verduin's book and request that when you are done you share your thoughts on his assessment of the Anabaptists.

I have heard that he gives a slightly more accurate and fair analysis than the average Reformed view.

Ben said...

Robert,

The words of the last stanza are true at face value. Their juxtaposition is dangerous--the connection between conquering and God has been tied too closely in world political history. Trust in the true God is always good, but God is too easily and too often drawn into the military ambitions of nations and their political leaders.

But the greater issue is that singing about this-world military conquest has no place in a church, in my opinion.

Anonymous, I'd love to interact with your perspective, but you'll have to offer me some sort of name. I don't engage with anonymous comments, even on the rare occasion (such as this one) when they're sane.

d4v34x said...

Perhaps more interesting quesion(and one similar to your ultimate question) is why we would chose to sing the national anthem, (which, apart from the phrase in question, is essentially a secular song) during Sunday morning worship.

David

Ben said...

David,

Agreed, in fact I think it is essentially the same question.

Shayne McAllister said...

I think it's a good thing that "conquerors" should trust God as they conquer, as long as their cause is just. The context of the writings of the song was the War of 1812, which was possibly the most just war in American History. We repelled British invaders. Francis Scott Key was watching American defenders fight for their homes. Not all conquering is created equal. So I appreciate that American civil society has a song with those words in it.

However, I don't think that song or those lyrics belong in a church service. It's too confusing about the heart of the gospel. I'd rather not confuse a conquering America with a conquering Christ. We should be able to thank God from the pulpit or in prayer, when there isn't the poetic language of song standing in the way of clarity.

christopher said...

Constantine's "conversion" is reminiscent of the "conversion" of Simon the Sorcerer in Acts ch. 8.

Ben, when you have some time (ha ha!) you should check out D.G. Hart's "A Secular Faith: Why Christianity Favors the Separation of Church and State." It's now on our church bookstall, and well worth the read.

Your iconoclasm for the sake of the gospel is encouraging.

Ben said...

My Verduin reading is all over that point right now as well. I've enjoyed what I've read by Hart and may add that to the wish list.