A big Baptist church in Texas held a special “Freedom Sunday” service, featuring patriotic music, flag ceremonies, military presentations, a sermon celebrating America, and other nationalistic celebrations. The sort other congregations, I dare say, have planned for the 4th of July weekend.
Several observers are condemning the Baptist service for being “idolatrous.”
Conservative Methodist Mark Tooley describes the service, expresses some reservations, but defends the congregation against the charge of idolatry. He doesn’t approve of non-traditional worship in general, but he says that there is nothing wrong with churches being part of the local culture and thanking God for their country. This is his conclusion: “Nonsacred music and other non-Gospel focused celebrations by churches are best hosted outside of worship.”
I think the main problem with this sort of thing is the same problem with other kinds of “contemporary worship” that says little about Christ or the reception of His gifts. I hasten to say that not all contemporary worship does that, but this often happens when the impulse to appeal to the culture and thus sacralize it takes priority over Word and Sacrament.
Read the excerpt from Mark Tooley after the jump, along with his linked article. Do you think this service constitutes idolatry? Or are such patriotic observances fine outside the church, but not in the context of a worship service? Or would that still constitute a non-Christian “civil religion”? How could we apply the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms–which teaches that God reigns over both the spiritual and the temporal realms, but in different ways–to this issue?
From Mark Tooley, Patriotic Worship? – Juicy Ecumenism:
Worship style for Protestants is debatable. The seriousness of idolatry is not. This allegation against First Baptist by several critics cited literal American flag waving by worshippers, patriotic music, including military service songs and the National Anthem’s first stanza, that don’t mention God, an armed military honor guard presenting the colors, and asking military veterans to stand during their respective service songs.Per the singing of “God Bless America,” the Presbyterian music director sarcastically blogged: “What better anthem to begin patriotic worship than Jewish/agnostic American composer Irving Berlin’s tribute to that good ol’ unnamed, generic American pseudo-deity?” Julia Ward Howe was a Unitarian, but her “Battle Hymn of the Republic” about Christ’s return appears in the United Methodist Hymnal, among many others, and deservedly so. No doubt other hymn writers are less than personally orthodox, yet their hymns point to God with language in sync with Christian orthodoxy.
More dubious than “God Bless America” in worship are songs that were featured at First Baptist like “It’s a Grand Old Flag” and “This Is My Country,” which are stirring music for civic pageants but don’t point to God. On Sundays close to national holidays, hymns like “America (My Country Tis of Thee)” and “America the Beautiful,” which appear in several denominational hymnals, seem more appropriate thanks to their divine references. “I Vow to Thee My Country” is a beautiful English hymn describing duel loyalties to earthly kingdoms and God’s Kingdom that deserves more American usage,
Per the armed honor guard that presented the colors at First Baptist, it seems in my view likely inappropriate for worship, since it has no traditional role in Christian liturgy, although fine for military funerals or civic events held in churches. Pacifists of course object to any presence of weapons or military regalia in a sanctuary. But mainstream Christianity affirms the military, wielding the sword for legitimate government, and rightly deployed, as God-ordained.
As to recognizing veterans during worship, they are surely no less worthy than graduating students or many many others who are marking life passages, like birthdays, who often receive acknowledgement and applause in less formal Protestant worship.
And the flag waving by worshippers at First Baptist? It’s not my own preference for worship, but was it idolatrous?
Photo from Pixabay, CC0, Public Domain