On Wednesday, SBCVoices published my post, “SBC’s New Calvinism & Patriotic Worship: Part 1.” Part 2, which is my response to Professor Stam’s original letter that was published at B21, can be read here. Since my initial posts (both here and on my blog, From Law to Grace), I have gotten many responses — both positive (here and here) and negative (here and here) . Based upon this admittedly limited response, one could begin to understand one of the SBC’s major fault lines – “majority Baptist theology” vs. “Reformed Baptist theology” – that Dr. Steve Lemke described in his recent post, “The Shot Heard ‘Round the SBC (Part B).”
I am well aware that not everyone will connect the dots that would link Professor Stam’s apparent “anti-patriotic” worship stance with his Calvinism/Reformed theology. Of course, others have. Regardless, I am somewhat perplexed by those who minimize or reject altogether any influence that a person’s theology (Calvinist or otherwise) has on their practice — in this case worship. If a person’s theology does not inform their worship practices, then what exactly does inform their worship practices? If Professor Stam’s theology — which no one denies is Calvinistic/Reformed — would lead him to believe that the regulative principle for worship is correct, why would it be such a leap in logic to believe that maybe, just maybe, his theology has resulted in his practice of shunning expressions of patriotism in corporate worship?
I am going to share perhaps more personal background than you want, but you need to know what has caused me to passionately respond to Professor Stam’s letter. Even if you do not agree with my conclusions, at least you will know the context that informed and shaped them.
I did not grow up in a military family. My maternal grandfather served in the U.S. Army-Air Corps at the end of WWII (even spending some time at the now closed Roswell Army-Air Field in New Mexico, although prior to any alleged alien sightings), but that’s about as close to the military as I have been. Until 4 1/2 years ago. That’s when I moved to Alamogordo, NM to begin serving as the Senior Pastor of Bethel Baptist Church.
A few miles west of Alamogordo lies Holloman Air Force Base and White Sands Missile Range. Throughout the 1940s-60s, Holloman was intrumental in conducting key tests for America’s space program. The first chimp in space — HAM, an acronym for Holloman Aero Medical – was trained at Holloman. Now home to the F-22 Raptors and UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or Drones) training, the men and women of Holloman continue to serve our country with honor and distinction.
Our church is comprised of many active-duty and retired military (mostly Air Force) and their families. Many of these families have loved ones who are deployed for six months or a year in Iraq and Afghanistan. None of them have the assurance of another day, much less coming home safely. They are standing on the front lines of freedom, fighting for our right to freely worship God back here in America. Any time that we can show our appreciation (i.e., honor) and thank God for their service and pray for them, we will unapologetically do it!
This past July 4th, which fell on a Sunday, our corporate worship services could be described by some as patriotic. Jared Moore, one of SBCVoice’s contributors and one who would be considered negative toward my initial posts, suggested that I post our church’s July 4th Order of Worship. Let me just say, that while I will agree to disagree with Jared on this issue and others, he has been one of the few people who has clearly and unapologetically stated his convictions regarding patriotic worship. While I obviously disagree with his use of the word “idolatrous” to describe such patriotic worship services, his clarity and candor is refreshing and truly appreciated.
In what is approximately 8 mintues at the beginning of our service, we included elements that would most definitely be considered patriotic. (For those interested, you can watch our July 4, 2010 worship service at our church’s website here). At the beginning of the service, the Honor Guard from Holloman AFB presented our nation’s colors. I led the congregation in the pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States of America followed by the singing of the Star Spangled Banner. Our combined choirs sang Procession of the Patriots as retired and active-duty military stood when their branch’s song was sung. After a time of welcome, fellowship, and greeting, the congregation sang Mighty to Save, Wonderful Grace of Jesus, and Grace Alone. Following a truly inspirational choral anthem, I Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb (with the entire congregation standing by the end), I preached from Galatians on our true freedom in Jesus Christ. We offered folks an opportunity to respond to God’s grace and call in their life as we sang Just As I Am. We then prayed and entered into our mission field, which includes Holloman Air Force Base and White Sands Missile Range.
After reading so many comments on my post and, taking time tonight to watch and reflect on that July 4th service, I couldn’t help but become emotional. Even as I write this, tears are welling up. The emotions are not just because of a wonderful worship service last July, but because of the one who was leading music during that service. Our Interim Pastor of Music and Worship, Bro. Gary, was leading and singing in that service on Indepedence Day, knowing that his 22 year-old son Garrett, a U.S. Marine, was serving on freedom’s front lines in Afghanistan. What he could not know that day was that less than six months later — on December 26, 2010, his one and only son would step on an IED and immediately step into the arms of a waiting Savior. Even for a pastor who believes in the total sovereignty of God, the best way that I knew how to minister to Bro. Gary that night was simply to be present with him in one of the darkest hours of his life.
Context matters, not just for worship, but for writing as well. Before reading Professor Stam’s letter, I suppose I was blissfully unaware of the theology (Calvinist or otherwise) that not only shuns expressions of patriotism for their own churches, but also condemns any church which would include patriotic elements in their worship services. Some would go so far as to condemn any honoring (recognizing) of veterans, mothers, fathers, children, etc. during a worship service. While it appears that many may harbor that belief, with the notable exception of SBCVoices’ own Jared Moore, no one wants to publicly state that any of the aforementioned elements are idolatrous. As I wrote in my initial post and subsequently, I do not have a problem with those individuals and churches who have chosen, for whatever reason, to shun expressions of patriotism in their corporate worship services. You will get no argument from me against expressions of local church autonomy.
However, when Christians, particularly those within the Southern Baptist Convention, start to castigate sister churches for supposed idolatrous worship practices simply because veterans are recognized, a patriotic hymn is sung (Lifeway needs to be informed immediately as they are aiding and abetting churches in their idolatry by including patriotic songs in the 2008 Baptist Hymnal) or the flag is posted in the sanctuary, then I will — as Cosmo Kramer might say — have a mighty big problem with that! Indeed, I think most Southern Baptists would have a problem with that.
I would venture to say that most Southern Baptists, who do not adhere to a “Reformed theology,” would see the use of the word “idolatry” to describe the patriotic worship that occurs in most SB churches — including Bellevue Baptist Church when Dr. Adrian Rogers was Pastor — as offensive. I would hope that most “Reformed” Southern Baptists would likewise refrain from using the term ”idolatry” to automatically brand churches as such who might include a few patriotic expressions in their worship. I have been willing to state that I have no problem with any individual or church who has concluded that “patriotic worship” is not consonate with their beliefs (whether these beliefs were derived because of Calvinism or some other theology). It would be nice to hear similarly clear statements offered to churches who do choose to include expressions of patriotism in their worship.
As an inconsistent Calvinist myself and as one who is a graduate of SBTS (1997), I would gladly join hands to cooperate with my more Calvinistic brethren within the SBC, although being called an idolator doesn’t make for easy cooperation. Lastly, before anyone keeps loading the ammo and shooting themselves in the foot, they better figure out if condemning patriotic worship in other churches is really a hill on which to die.