In keeping with my commitment to the BIFF movement, I would like to address the issue of patriotism and Christian worship – certainly a hot-button issue here at SBC Voices. A few days ago, we published an article by David Brumbelow which defended the validity of including patriotic aspects to Christian worship. Then, yesterday, Mark Lamprecht published a response to David’s article at Here I Blog. It is not my intent to grade either articles, to pick a winner or to even enter a pony in the race. What I would like to do is try to state what I see as areas of agreement – points of unity in this divisive topic.
1) We agree that our primary citizenship is in heaven and that our first loyalty is to Christ and the heavenly Kingdom.
I am a loyal American. But I am an American second and a Christian first. If we ever put our loyalty to America ahead of or even in competition with our loyalty to Christ, we are idolatrous and sinful.
Paul told the Philippians that “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 3:20). In 2 Corinthians 5:20, Paul defines our status in this world as “ambassadors for Christ” – a powerful pictures. We live in a foreign country and serve the interests of heaven in this strange land.
No Christian can put his patriotism ahead of his passion for Christ and the Kingdom.
2) We agree that God desires for us to be good citizens of our earthly home.
Romans 13:1, Titus 3:1 and 1 Peter 2:13 tell us to be subject to our earthly government. Jesus told his disciples to render to Caesar those things that belong to Caesar. We can debate what this means, but we can also agree that some level of patriotism and love for our earthly nation is acceptable for Christians.
3) We agree America has been used greatly by God, but is not special to God.
Historians debate whether America was ever truly a “Christian nation.” I have read books that make a case on both sides and am not enough of an expert on American Church history to argue the topic. I can tell you what I believe. I think that America has been a nation that at one time had a culture that saw itself as Christian and responsible to God. We have tried (sometimes successfully, often in failure) to be a righteous nation, one submitted to the will and ways of God.
Proverbs 14:34 says that righteousness exalts a nation, and I believe that we have seen some exaltation, some blessing because of our (admittedly imperfect) attempts to live in obedience to God’s laws.
On the other hand, I think we all agree that American is not Israel. We have to be very careful to claim the promises of God to Israel as promises to this nation. We hold no special place in God’s heart. He loves Tanzanians and Indonesians and Uzbekistanians (?) as much as he loves Americans.
4) We agree that God’s purpose is not primarily to restore America but to reach the world with the gospel.
Yes, I would love to see America revived as it was in the Great Awakenings or in other great periods of revival in history. Lord, make it happen here and make it happen now. But reviving America is not our chief concern. The Great Commission is. In it, we are commanded to make disciples of all nations, not just our nation.
5) We agree that it is right and good to give thanks.
Giving thanks to God is always a good thing to do. I am so thankful for living in America. I’ve never had to wonder where a meal was coming from. I’ve never had to hide from the police or from death squads roaming the streets killing and raping. I have preached 50 Sundays a year for 30 years and never once had to shrink in fear from the authorities.
It is not only right to give thanks for these blessings, it would be wrong not to.
6) We agree that our worship services should Glorify God and worship Christ – and no one or nothing else.
Need we say any more? If our worship services Sunday glorify me, I am sinful and blasphemous. If our worship services glorify America above God, we are sinful and blasphemous. If we give our people the idea that America is God’s chosen nation or that we hold a place in God’s heart, if we confuse the interests of America with the interests of the Kingdom of God, we are just as idolatrous.
I think we all agree about that.
I have a simple point in this post. We have some serious disagreements about how to implement these principles. We will probably continue to disagree and that is okay. But I wish to make the point that in spite of our disagreements, we share a large area of agreement. Honor Christ and Christ alone.
1) We disagree on how to apply these principles.
Some believe we should never say the pledge or sing the anthem or “God bless America” in church. Others believe that is okay and does not unduly honor America above Christ.
2) Can we not agree that this is an issue of conscience on which pastors and churches agree?
I have an observation, one that may undermine the neutrality of this post. We have had several discussions recently about moderate alcohol consumption and many have argued that this should be a point of personal conscience. But it seems to me that some who have argued for personal conscience on the alcohol subject seem to be denying it here. One may disagree about a glass of wine but not about the Pledge or the Anthem?
Could we not just let this be an issue in which we agree in principle (give proper thanks to God for our nation but give glory and honor to Christ alone) while allowing each church freedom to act according to their conscience and conviction on July 3? Could not one church follow one course and another church follow another course and both honor Jesus?
(NOTE: I will pray public, imprecatory prayers against anyone who makes this another alcohol-focused comment stream.)
One of the tendencies of blogging is to magnify differences. Al Mohler and his persistent critics have minuscule differences on homosexuality – their agreements are much more significant than their disagreements. I agree with Baptist Identity adherents about 95% of the time. We spend our blogging time on those points of disagreement.
My point here is simple (and maybe naive and overly optimistic). On this sharp debate about patriotism and Christian worship, I believe our agreements are way more significant than our disagreements.
Can we agree on the points of agreement?
Can we agree to disagree on the application of these points of agreement?