Tuesday, July 04, 2006

When Church Becomes State

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I'm sure I'd disagree with this guy on many issues of faith and politics, but he got it right in his journal entry entitled "Red, White and Blue Idolatry & Why I Walked out of Sunday Morning Service". I've often felt this same sentiment as I sat in church and watched the service turn into a 4th of July celebration. I love America with the best of them, but church exists to give worshipers an opportunity to pledge their allegiance to much more than the stars and stripes.

When churches equate nationalism with divine faith, they head down a dangerous path. Ask Nazi Germany how all that worked out. Maybe it's time that churches adopted a "Separation of state and church" clause. It's toatlly appropriate to thank God for the blessing of living in a place that embraces freedom, but it couldn't be less appropriate to dedicate a service to the blessing rather than the blesser. That's the highest form of idolatry.

21 comments:

Kreider said...

Steve, thanks for this post. It takes real courage to point out one of the idolatries of American evangelicals. I no longer attend public worship on the Sunday before 7/4 nor on Mother's Day. And I am thinking of adding Memorial Day to my boycott . . .

r! said...

I agree with Kreider. I won't be going on Mother's Day, Father's Day, or the 4th or Easter...oh, wait, I'm supposed to go that day...right?

Kreider said...

I suspect that I should take r!'s comment as humorous, but sadly, I have similar conflict on Easter. There are two reasons for this. First, in most churches, Easter is the high attendance day of the year. Perhaps there is a ministry of leaving a parking space and a pew for those who will only have the possibility to hear the good news of the resurrection on that one day. Perhaps such a person having a convenient church experience will encourage them to return. Second, I have recently had the experience of being in churches on Easter Sunday morning where the resurrection was never mentioned. (These were conservative SBC churches, not some kind of liberal, feminist, worldly . . .)If the central doctrine of the Christian faith is not mentioned on the day set aside by the church and the state to commemorate that event, perhaps it would be better to be somewhere else. For without the resurrection, there is nothing that makes the church distincly Christian, there is no gospel, no hope, no reason for being.

I know that I am an old curmudgeon and a tad cynical but perhaps idolatry is worthy of some concern. These really are "good times."

BTW, Father's Day is not a problem for those of us who take idolatry seriously because American evangelicals do not idolize fathers. I cannot remember the last time I was in a church that acknowledged the day, whereas on Mother's Day, we bow at the feet of our sainted mothers (and thus heap further pain on those without godly mothers and on those women who would love to be mothers but are barren, either because they are still single or unable to bear children).

Steve Hayes said...

Man, how good is it to read the crusty thoughts of the Old Gray Wolf (Kreider)? You gotta love it!

I've personally never been in a church on Easter Sunday where the resurrection hasn't been mentioned. Maybe overshadowed, but definitely mentioned. I would also say that I'm not sure what churches can do to make the day more convenient for guests. If tons of people are going to come on Easter Sunday, I'm not going to stand at the door and turn them away. That wouldn't be, well, Christian.

I will say, though, that Easter Sunday has become quite silly. I'm still wondering why we only dedicate one day of the year to the Easter event? The season of Easter is so rich and full of meaning that it's difficult to see that it has become a glorified high attendance day.

Baptists won't celebrate Lent or Holy Week because that would make them look more Catholic, and we can't have that now can we? Instead they choose to make Easter a one day event, replete with goofy 3-point sermons and egg hunts for the kids. The most important event in history carved down to an hour and twenty minutes. Sad. That's like trying to fit thousands of years of theology into a 3 minute song (Oh wait, that's another crime many churches commit, except the theology is wrong in most of the songs).

As far as Fathers and Mothers day in church, I agree. Again, it's nice to recognize those who are blessed and a blessing, but to do it so blatantly in this culture may not be very wise. We have a generation that has been ravaged by divorce, and yet we can't see why they might be offended by these days? Infertility is a huge issue in our culture, yet we sanction from the pulpit a harsh reminder of their pain each time we celebrate these days. I know we're supposed to rejoice with those who have been blessed, but try telling that to a lady who can't have the one thing she really wants (kids). Mother's day is a sad day for many women, how about recognizing that once in a while?

OK, I'm done. Good to have The Kreider stop by. We need to have some lunch again.

Jay said...

Purple Hayes...

Nice stuff. Very thought provoking.

ryan said...

Ok, I’m about to take a big step here – my first ever disagreement with the great Cajun Roast Beef. You might call it a beef with the beef. (Thank you. I’ll be here all week.)

First of all, I disagree with the article to which Steve refers. Certainly, patriotic displays in church can be done tastelessly. So can baptisms and sermons on money and “interpretive movement” and the list goes on. I’m not saying I wouldn’t have been a little uncomfortable or thought the service a bit cheesy or even inappropriate. (Heaven knows I’ve seen plenty of cheesy and inappropriate things done and said in church.) But I certainly wouldn’t leave the church. That is the first of several half-baked ideas that run through this post. And if I did leave the church, I wonder how the pastor would feel about it. Something tells me he wouldn’t see my leaving as a big loss.

“Pastor, I’m leaving your church because you dared to sing God Bless America in the service.”
“Well, son. Peace be with you.”

I’m guessing the author (someone named Radical Faith – I suppose his parents were very creative or he hasn’t the gumption to post his name) also lacked the courage to remain seated during the song if he was that offended by it, or to talk to the pastor, worship leader, his neighbor, anyone else about it. No, Radical Faith found his courage in retreating from the service and the church. Ah well, every member of the body has its function. I suppose Radical Faith is the feet of the church: “How lovely on the mountain are the feet of him who brings gossip about other churches.”

I think a much bigger threat to our churches than patriotism is the consumerism that Radical Faith displays when he “walks out” of the service. It’s not a movie, dude. And you don’t register your complaint by “taking your business elsewhere.”

Sorry if I’m getting offensive here. Let me turn my blistering aim at IBC’s most beloved Cajun! Steve wrote, “Maybe it's time that churches adopted a "Separation of state and church" clause.”

I’m going to chase this rabbit because this is a misunderstanding that is so pervasive in our country that it overwhelms me. The Constitution of the United States does not establish a separation of church and sate. The “separation clause” to which everyone refers is not found in the Constitution or any other document of the U.S. government. It’s found in a personal letter from Thomas Jefferson to a colleague. So, granted, we can infer that Jefferson probably favored such a separation but it didn’t exist in U.S. law until the Supreme Court deemed that Jefferson’s personal letter carried the weight of law. No, the Constitutional amendment that deals with church and state is the first – "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

The clause is more properly described when it is called the “establishment clause” because it prohibits the government from “establishing” a state religion. It does not prohibit religion from establishing anything at all – from a voting campaign to a bake sale. The First Amendment is designed to protect religion from the state, not the state from religion.

Having said that, I am NOT a card- carrying, Christian Coalition- backing, Lee Greenwood- humming, liberal- bashing, America- is- a- Christian- nation- repeating, Pat Robertson- worshiping, O’Rielly- loving, Limbaugh- apologizing, war- supporting, tax cutting, bomb dropping Neanderthal. I do think there is a healthy balance between religious freedom and national morality. And I don’t want to curtail anyone else’s freedom to practice their religion because if American was, or ever becomes, say, a Muslim nation, we in the Christian minority will certainly want the freedom to practice ours.

In fact, I’ve been getting more and more socially liberal. And I’ve been buying into some new ideas about church and how church should be culturally relevant – reclaiming its role in communities as the place where people are loved and fed and clothed and cared for, as a center of community life where people can call FEMA and apply for Section 8 housing and get a hot meal and shoot hoops. Apparently, those things are fine with Radical Faith, but asking God’s blessing on our country through song is blasphemy.

I’m out of breath. Let’s get back to bashing Steve…

“It's totally appropriate to thank God for the blessing of living in a place that embraces freedom, but it couldn't be less appropriate to dedicate a service to the blessing rather than the blesser.”

I once dedicated an entire day to thanksgiving – to blessing God for the good gifts he has given his child. I took a legal pad and tried to write down every good gift from the Father I could think of. I don’t think God was pissed at me for doing that. I don’t think he considered it idolatry. I think when we thank the Father for the good gifts he gives his children, he is pleased. I think when we beseech him to protect and redeem our nation and our families, he is honored. I don’t expect that he is upset at all the non-glorying things that go on in our services.

“Well, that one over there is sipping coffee during the most important point of the sermon! And that one is running the sound board! How could he possibly be focused on me?!”

Ok, I was hoping to have lunch with Steve and catch up this week, but I may never hear from him again. Oh well, who else can I alienate…oh! Kreider! I don’t even know this guy. So why not torch him!?

“BTW, Father's Day is not a problem for those of us who take idolatry seriously because American evangelicals do not idolize fathers. I cannot remember the last time I was in a church that acknowledged the day, whereas on Mother's Day, we bow at the feet of our sainted mothers (and thus heap further pain on those without godly mothers and on those women who would love to be mothers but are barren, either because they are still single or unable to bear children).”

That is terribly fuzzy-headed thinking. Take it to it's logical conclusion:

Let’s not look to the examples of Mary or Ruth because many in our churches don’t have Godly mothers like them. In fact, many in our churches don’t have Godly fathers either so let’s not praise examples like Billy Graham or Joseph or God the Father.

We shouldn’t read Paul’s defense of marriage lest we offend singles, nor his praise for bachelorhood lest we offend married people. In fact, we should ignore all the examples of positive role models – Paul and Moses and David and good ol’ Jesus – because many people hearing our message can’t identify with them – haven’t grown up with Godly examples.

And I know that most people understand that they came from someone’s womb, but let’s do our best to keep that a secret lest we upset those whose wombs have never borne children.
When God chooses to bless someone in our small group with a child, we’ll ignore the event. And when He chooses to bless someone with finances, we’ll ignore that too. God be praised. There’s a man in my Sunday School class named Bob who is always asking for prayer for his co-workers, but if God answers those prayers and reaps an abundant harvest at Bob’s office, we’ll keep it hush-hush so as not to upset others who haven’t led friends to Christ.

I’m getting pretty worked-up here, but don’t think this is a knee-jerk reaction. This is an issue that I have had to grapple with because of the position of some of my close friends. Admittedly, I do not personally know what long-term infertility is like. But I know what it’s like to see someone else blessed in a way that I wish I were blessed. And I think that is the crux of this issue. We can rejoice with those who rejoice as long as the rejoicing isn’t over children. Why is that? I think it may be because we (especially women) tend to see infertility as something “wrong” with us. God has poured out the blessing of children on so many people that we start to see things backwards – it’s not that children are an amazing blessing. It’s that childlessness is a terrible curse. Not “thank you for the gift, master” but “Hey, I worked in the field for eight hours and he only worked two and he got more gift than I did!”

My brother is looking for a job right now. When he gets one, I will rejoice with him, not begrudge him. To those who have to deal with the disappointment of infertility, I would say, “Those people who have children are not your enemies. They are your brothers and sisters. Rejoice with them and they will mourn with you.”

So now that I’ve ticked everyone off, let me hear from you! I’ll feel bad if I’m the only one dishing out the punishment here. :)

Steve Hayes said...

Wow, Ryan, you're just a little worked up now, aren't you? Let me just say that you make some good points. I agree that we should rejoice with those who have good things happen to them, but where should we draw the line? Should we have a service for those, like your brother, who have recently gotten jobs? Should we have roses at the doors to recognize them for their new employment? What about those in our midst who haven't been blessed in that way and are still on the job hunt? Why in the world would your brother even want that kind of attention in a church service? I'm guessing he wouldn't, but hey, if it's your Mom, let's pile it on! Because, after all, Mom's just love gifts, even if they have no place getting them at church. Didn't you say they were already blessed by having kids? Why do they need to be blessed again in the worship service for the blessing they've already recieved?

If the standard is that we are to rejoice in others blessings and hurt in others sorrows, why not have an alternate day to mourn with those who are barren? Everyone could wear black to the service and we could give out miniature tombstones at the doors. The pastor could preach a dreadful message about loss and lack of hope, and we could all go to dinner and eat worms. Sound appropriate? Maybe I'm just reacting at the FACT that we are more prone to honor one half of that passage than the other. If you want to honor blessing, you've also got to be willing to embrace pain. I'm not sure either of these should be pursued in a worship service setting. I love the thought of taking care of these folks in a small group or Sunday school class, but in a corporate worship setting it just bugs me. That's all.

OK, when it comes to the establishment clause, tell me something I don't know. I'm fully aware of the misuse of this clause, and that's why I wrote it in reverse order. "Separation of State and Church." I think it's much more appropriate for churches to be protected from the state than for the state to be protected from the church. I think that's what Jefferson and others had in mind originally. That's why I think it's silly that the church has basically become an extension of the state. In many churches the 4th of July is a holy day, not because of God, but because of country. That's just foolish. In the church that I grew up in, patriotic days were given the same kind of reverence reserved for Easter and Christmas. That's simply assinine. Again I will say that any blessing we recieve, whether it's the country we live in (which is a great blessing, make no mistake), or the shoes we wear, should be given its proper place as a blessing and not THE BLESSING. Christ is THE BLESSING, and in Him we have every spiritual blessing. Even your list of thanksgiving is rubbish without Him. So why, in God's name, do we celebrate the blessings rather than THE BLESSING on these patriotic days? Personally, I was proud of IBC on the 4th because we made no mention of the 4th of July. All Andy did was thank God for our country when he prayed in the service. Very appropriate. I'm not sure when churches cross over into "country worship" rather than God worship on these days, but I've seen it with my own eyes, and it's very disturbing. It is just what the separation clause was designed to prevent.

I went on a mission trip to Mexico once, and one of my students, while walking through a very poor bario area told me that it made her "proud to be an American" to walk through this despicable neigborhood. I told her I couldn't disagree more. It made me convinced that American's are spoiled and ridiculously selfish. Nothing to be proud of. We shared that story that night at our worship service. Afterward I was accosted by an older couple who told me I shouldn't have said that. God made us Americans and we should be proud of that fact. I wanted to vomit. It's the same feeling I get in most churches on patriotic days. I believe it reflects the same sentiment.

Now, you're absolutely right about "Radical Faith", and his decision to leave his church based on the July 4th ceremony. I have a feeling, however, that that was more of a last straw than a first strike. I don't know the guy's circumstances, but it seemed to me that if he had problems with that issue, he was probably going to have many more issues along the way. People usually don't leave churches because they had a bad service (at least I'd like to think they don't). But, if that was the only reason the guy was leaving, that's certainly not something I endorse. This is one issue we can completely agree upon.

OK, man, I'm done. My guess is that we're not as far off on these issues as it may seem. I appreciate your HSO's. Keep 'em coming.

Also, disagree with Kreider all you want. He's as grumpy as they come, and he needs to be disagree'd with. He's also a DTS Theology prof, so he can take it... and dish it out.

ryan said...

Ok. Wow. If I had known Kreider was a DTS professor, I might have gone easier on him. :) I’ve cooled down a bit so let me try to find the middle ground b/w my incendiary comments and your more readable ones.

Let me start with July 4 services because I think that’s the weakest of my arguments. I think there are two issues here:

Issue 1: Politics in Church
It’s not that I think church is the perfect place for campaign speeches. It’s just that I don’t think it should be a place that is entirely left out of the debate. I think the religious right has taken this pretty far in the last two decades, making churches a vehicle for political messages. That’s not good. We should be focused on loving God and loving others. But if in the course of loving God and others it becomes necessary or logical to support or decry a certain law or candidate then we should do that. Some examples:
 Let’s say that zoning laws keep a South Dallas church from feeding lunch to homeless people. I don’t think anyone would fault the church from fighting for the right to serve food so they could serve their neighbor.
 Black churches in the 60s supported Dr. King’s political efforts and they were right in doing so.
 Lots of churches have supported attempts to change Roe v. Wade and they’re right in doing so.

But those political issues are not – or at least should not be – the primary missions of those churches. They should be battles in a larger war.

Issue 2: National Blessing
God is not blind to the geopolitical situation on his planet. God deals in nations (see the Old Testament). Even under the new covenant, I think God is not blind to national concerns. Certainly, he values all people. His family is open to all races, nationalities, genders. But history suggests that God has blessed America. I’m not saying he favors America over other countries or that he agrees with all America’s policies or that he plays favorites. But it would take a pretty obtuse Christian to refuse that Providence has been good to the USA. All I’m saying is that it’s always appropriate to thank the Father for his gifts. We do that with red candles in our services (Thank you God for blessing your kingdom). We do it when Andy gives budget reports (Thank you God for blessing our church). We did it last Sunday when a couple gave their testimony in church (Thank you God for blessing our family). And we do it on July 4 (Thank you God for blessing our country).

Again, this is not a comparative thing. Our prayer shouldn’t be “Thank you God that we’re not Mexico.” Your friend who had that feeling was misguided. Bucking the attitude of comparison is an important part of our faith. It shows up in Jesus’ parables of the vineyard workers and the prodigal son. I love it when Aslan tells Lucy “I tell no one any story but his own.”

So that brings us to thanking God for other blessings.

I know you were being sarcastic with the tombstones at the door service for the barren thing. But yes, that’s exactly what we should do, in two ways:

First, if my brother’s job search and God’s provision were particularly remarkable then, yes, there’s a good chance we would have him up front in church and give testimony to God’s goodness. We did that last Sunday with the family I mentioned earlier. It’s a wonderful and ancient practice of the church that I’m glad IBC follows. Likewise, if everyone in the church shared somehow in the story (such as we all sharing the same blessings of US citizenship), we’re likely to thank God corporately for such blessing.

But there’s another way in which we should (and do) do the tombstones and black armbands thing. And that is by mourning with those who mourn. Of course not with a service in the auditorium with tombstones and black clothing. But with small groups of friends and loved ones who will cry and pray with those who yearn for children. That is what the church is about. We should “have church” in that way – mourning with those who mourn – just as certainly as we should “have church” and celebrate God’s blessings. Of course, the setting will be different. Those who weep won’t want a big service with a band and strobe lights. It wouldn’t be appropriate. But they want church all the same. And I’m proud that our church does just that. There are countless small groups, support groups, Bible studies, etc. where people are comfortable sharing hurts and mourning with one another at IBC. I guess the point is that I don’t see much substantive difference between a group of six brothers and sisters hugging and crying in someone’s kitchen and 500 brothers and sisters lifting their voices in an auditorium. They’re both church.

As for blessing mothers or fathers in worship services, I think your first paragraph is revealing:

Didn't you say they were already blessed by having kids? Why do they need to be blessed again in the worship service for the blessing they've already recieved?

My response would be, “Why meet out blessing? Why withhold blessing because someone has already received blessing? Are we the blessing police? Is blessing in short supply?”

I think God has called us to celebrate his blessings and cultivate hearts of gratitude and joy. God is honored when we see and celebrate the beauty of nature or the courage of young men or the love of a mother for her child or the creative spark of an artist. These are what Andy M. calls “artifacts” of a lost world where beauty and love and courage and creativity aren’t limited by sin and selfishness and envy and cowardice. We should notice them and be grateful to witness them and spotlight them and look forward to a time when all things will be redeemed.

But I suppose the best reason I can think of for honoring our parents in church is that is commanded by God. In fact, it’s one of his Big 10. “Honor your father and mother.” Certainly it’s passé to have Mother’s Day services. And certainly, this doesn’t extend to July 4 or Memorial Day. But when a church sets aside an hour to fulfill one of the Ten Commandments, I can’t really poo-poo that, no matter who’s in the room.

Steve Hayes said...

Ryan,

Thanks for being so contrary. It's very unlike you, but it's kind of fun.

I think maybe our argument isn't over whether or not to recognize blessings and pains, but how to recognize those things. My sarcastic suggestion about a "barren mother" service was only meant to display how silly it would be to mourn with others in the same way that we rejoice with others. We are called to do both, but does that mean we need to be constantly dedicating services to those things? You mentioned rejoicing or mourning with others as we hear testimonies of either blessing or pain. I have no problem with this because these kinds of stories lead us to the cross, not to the particular blessings or pains of others. Can the same be said of most patriotic church evetns? Most of the ones I've been to have placed the emphasis not on the cross, but on the country. That is what I'm reacting against. That's also what "Radical Faith" was reacting against. If you'll look at this honestly you won't find that any true Christian would have a problem with people being blessed, just with those blessings being worshipped more than the giver of the blessings. I don't care what you say, that's idolitry.

Think of the Israelites. They thanked God all the time for their land. Think of when Moses went up on the mountain and left the Israelites to melt the golden statues. What did they do? They worshipped the statues instead of melting them. The gold in these statues would have blessed them and added to their riches, but they decided the gold wasn't just a blessing, but The Blessing. I'm telling you, whether you believe me or not, that many churches in the south look at America not as a blessing, but as The Blessing. The point that Radical Faith made about the people standing for "God Bless the USA", but never once standing for a sacred hymn of the faith is exactly right. That, my friend, is idolatry.

And I doubt that God's command to honor your parents was meant to be practiced once a year at a church service. It was probably a call to live a life that is honoring to your parents. It's kind of like Easter Sunday. I doubt God is up there going "Oh great, they all came to church today to honor me. Now it doesn't matter if they honor me with their lives because, after all, they came to church on this one day. I'm so glad I made them." That doesn't mean that we can't honor God on Easter Sunday, or that we can't honor parents on Father's and Mother's day, but it does mean that there's a whole lot more to it than one Sunday a year, and it's possible to do it without having a church service to commemorate the event.

As a pastor, I find it important to honor people often. I give gifts to teachers and directors, and try my best to point out blessings and even pains when I find out about them. It's perfectly fine to do that, and I believe it's Biblical to share in the blessings and pains of my people. I have a big problem, however, when we promote the church sanctioned worship of money, or status, or nationalism, or anything else that was meant to be a blessing but now finds itself being worshiped as though it were God Himself. I don't know about you, but I don't have trouble worshipping other god's like Baal, Zeus, or Taylor Hicks. I do have a problem with worshipping god's like money, fame, and success. I even struggle sometimes with putting my wife and kids before God. Those things, though certainly blessings, have the potential to be idols. Don't think for a second that just because a church sponsors a worship service dedicated to giving or patriotism or even Mother's and Father's that there aren't people who have "idol issues" with those things. Don't forget as well that the 10 commandments have something to say about idol worship.

So, just to be clear, I have no problem with testimonies dealing with blessings or pain, as long as they are Christ centered and not blessing centered. Go ahead and apply that to patriotism, parent appreciation, and whatever else you want.

I'm out, Oh Contrary One.

ryan said...

Ok, I think our struggle has ended here becuase once we got past all my fury, this thing all comes down to the same thing most issues come down to - the heart. I can idolize America or Taylor Hicks (very funny) or Russ Ware regardless of the "programming" my church puts out. Two people can sit through the same service, one of them worshiping an idol and one of them worshipping the Father. As with so many other things in the Christian life, it's about our hearts. Our hearts. Our hearts. I think blogging is good for our hearts. :)

docsavage_ said...

I think you guys are using an inappropriate definition of what constitutes idolatry. Didn't God instruct the Israelites to celebrate Passover (oversimplifying it - their 4th of July) once a year? Matter of fact, He instituted many feasts for celebration. Many of the Protestants I know mistake celebration for idolatry. Just ask your token SBC pastor what Catholics do in celebrating the new Passover - the Eucharist - and they'll tell you its a form of idolatry. Heretics.

Kreider said...

Steve,
It gives me no great pleasure to see how right I was in my first post. It really does take courage to point out idolatry. Thanks for taking that stand. Next year on the Sunday nearest 4 July you are welcome to join me and my family as we worship the Creator unencumbered by patriotic music and flags. On 4 July itself you are welcome to join us at a fireworks display. There is a time to celebrate our country but I do not think that the church is the place at any time.

I believe that mine is a logically consistent position, but maybe not. I am not as concerned with the need to avoid the logical extension of every view I hold as I once was. (For example, Jesus taught that one who loves him must hate his family. Since he also taught that one who hates is guilty of murder, that should mean that I should murder my family. That would seem to be the logical end of the argument. One might point out that such thinking is wrong-headed and stupid. Of course it is, and my point should be obvious.)

I am not saying others have to hold the same position against idolatry that I do nor should practice what my family does. Others are free to stand in honor of the flag, sing the national anthem, recite the pledge of allegiance, etc. I choose not to be part of that. Perhaps it is because of my own spiritual immaturity; I am unable to separate the worship of God from that of America as I should when the spheres of state and church intersect in this way. Perhaps it is because of my respect for my forefathers and foremothers who were executed by those who defended the state church. In any event, I choose to take this small stand against my own tendency to idolatry.

And by the way, this has nothing to do with celebration. It is an issue of loyalty and worship. My first allegiance is to a king and a kingdom . . .

docsavage_ said...

"And by the way, this has nothing to do with celebration. It is an issue of loyalty and worship. My first allegiance is to a king and a kingdom . . . "

Nothing to do with celebration? Does that apply just to you or for all of us? I think your logic is NOT consistent because, at first, you seem to generalize idolatry in public worship (on the 4th, Mother's day, Memorial Day and sometimes Easter) as if this is an absolute truth for evangelicals, then you particularize the issue to your church and you and your family, as if the truth were relative and everyone is ok to decide for themselves.

I don't know what services and/or church you go to, but if the leadership is so weak that they forget to worship the King in those particular services, then that church propbably does not know how to celebrate anything. So maybe you are right, celebration is not the issue. All I am saying is that it should be. If the Church can't celebrate, who on this planet can?

Steve Hayes said...

Doc Savage said: "I think you guys are using an inappropriate definition of what constitutes idolatry. Didn't God instruct the Israelites to celebrate Passover (oversimplifying it - their 4th of July) once a year? Matter of fact, He instituted many feasts for celebration. Many of the Protestants I know mistake celebration for idolatry."

I think you are using a very inappropriate comparison between the celebrations that God Himself institutes and the celebrations that man institutes. Passover was a celebration of God's deliverance of His people from bondage. You could certainly argue that America has been delivered, but to even compare that to the Christian celebration of Passover, instituded by God Himself, and canonized in Holy Scripture, is ludicrous.

As a Catholic, you of all people should know the sticky place that nationalism has had throughout church history. Catholics are still paying the price for Constantine, who ruthlessly blended church and state to the tune of genocide, forced salvation and world domination. And certainly you haven't forgotten the Spanish Inquisition or the rampant corruption of the Medieval church, have you? I can only imagine that when these atrocities were pointed out that many in the church might have justified their actions based on some faulty interpretations of where the lines should be drawn between allegiance to a country and allegiance to The Lord.

Now, excuse me if I just got a bit dramatic, but I really believe that there's nothing wrong with celebrating our county's independance. I do think there's a lot wrong with worshiping it. I'm not trying to pick on the Catholic church. I agree with you on the Eucharist, but I just can't find a good reason to celebrate our nationalism in church. Our allegiance should go to Christ alone. That doesn't mean we can't pray for our country or give thanks for our country, but it does mean that celebrations of our country shouldn't be made holy and sacred. Any time celebrations of country become the primary focus of a worship service, nationalism has been made holy and has taken a position reserved for our Lord. That is idolatry.

docsavage_ said...

I think you completely missed my point. I was using God's institution of the annual celebration of Passover and other feasts to show that God Himself thinks that it is ok to celebrate His past works in and among us. I am more than willing to incorporate and extend that into 21st century practice. And I don't believe that to be nationalism. I think it ok for us to celebrate the freedom of our country, giving Him praise for it. And I don't think that is idolatry. How is this ANY different than the Hebrew celebration? Because the Hebrew celebration is in the Bible and America's isn't? I for one connect the dots from our present to the past (even back to the Passover). I don't think that our country plopped out of nowhere with no purpose or plan. I'm not getting hung up on the fact that this is America. I think the same would be true of any nation, state or government who is free to worship the same God who delivered the Hebrews. Are you saying that man is not free to institute celebrations at "worship" services because God Himself did not institute it and record it in scripture? I think the Church has more freedom than that. After all, didn't we have freedom to move the Sabbath day worship from Saturday to Sunday. I know the cited reasons, but there is a freedom that comes with the decision.

Further, I have never personally been to a service where God was not given thanks and praise for our country, mothers and the resurrection. Maybe kreider has. My point is that I would think that the exception, not the rule, especially in evangelical circles. If I'm wrong, see my previous argument about weak leadership. But when I am talking about celebrating our country, I am talking about singing songs and remembering an important date (4th, mothers day, etc.)with the idea that God is the leader of all of it. Even if that means that I celebrate a day that marks religious freedom from my Church's past (Roman Catholic). I'm ok with the past of my Church like I'm ok with my own shady past - which you personally contributed to, by the way. ha.

And look, you know me, I'm no patriotic fool to begin with - my whole beef with these posts is that everything in Protestant circles is idolatry. (Like Bobby Booshay's mother in Waterboy - "It's the devil.") Couple that with the lack of celebration that exists in churches and you have buzzkill.

I also don't like the fact that there is a tendency to call something (like these services) idolatry and then say, "but just for me - maybe not for the next guy." I wholeheartedly disagree. A service is either condoning and practicing idolatry or it isn't. Now there may be individuals who, in their own minds, commit idolatry in services or elsewhere, but I do not think that you can get from there to blaming the service. That wasn't the case with the Hebrews. There were none in attendance who could claim exemption. It was rank idolatry. The service itself was idolatry. In these posts, you guys seem to make this an individual thing, and turn around and blame the service for someone's own idol problems. There is a big difference here.

Steve Hayes said...

OK, Doc, this thing is starting to get stupid, and this will be my last post on this. I really, honestly, don't care about it enough to keep writing about it. I don't have time.

The Hebrew celebrations in Scripture were dedicated to Israel's triumph and deliverance. They were instituted by God to commemorate the covenants He made with His people. They weren't nationalistic celebrations, but God-centered celebrations that told God's story of redemption to His people for all times.

That's very different from celebrating our country's independance. You can thank God for it if you want, and I certainly do, but that's very different from instituting it as a holy and reverent day for the purpose of unting us around our country. What you may not see is that there is a big problem in evangelicalism that basically deifies anything American. Founding fathers, many of whom had terrible theology (deism), are looked at as the Godliest of men. George Bush is viewed as a man who sits at the right hand of the Father. The "Religious Right" worships God by practicing politics, and the whole thing is disgusting to me. So yes, in light of our current situation, and as is true in the case of any corporate idolatry, I think evangelicalism has a terrible leadership problem. I think the lines have been blurred to the point that people think that because they are church going Republicans, they are God's chosen people. You know exactly what I'm talking about, which makes it odd to me why you'd be arguing this point.

Now, as far as celebrations go, I think you stoic Catholics are really the pot calling the kettle black when it comes to faulting protestants for their lack of celebration. Most Catholic churches I've been in resemble a morgue, so it's funny to me that you'd present Catholocism as celebratory. Sure, I don't think you have to jump up and down and shout "Amen" to celebrate, but the sacraments aren't exactly a party. Look, I think Catholocism has some very beautiful elements, but you guys are far more formal than what I see from week to week. Maybe I'm misreading your post, but I really don't get what you're saying about celebration. My church celebrates Christ each week, and a perfect stranger would characterize my church as celebratory.

OK, I'm done here. I see patriotic celebrations in the current evangelical climate as dangerous and sometimes crossing over into idolatry. You equate them to Biblical Hebrew celebrations. I think it's obvious that they're not in the same category, and you don't. We're just going to have to agree to disagree.

Now, let's get back to important stuff. When's the Doc Savage movie coming out?

ryan said...

So many things in these last few posts I want to comment on (Bobby Boucher ranks high among them). But let me just laser in on what I think is the most astonishing tidbit in this whole series...Steve holds the Catholic view of the Eucharist?! Dude, let's talk. Start a discussion on this. Right now.

Steve Hayes said...

Man, this freaking thread is making me crazy. What I meant is that I appreciate the fact that Catholics put such a large emphasis on communion. The word Eucharist means thanksgiving (Greek), and signifies Christ's sacrifice to his disciples at the Lord's Supper.

I don't agree with the Catholic view of transubstantiation, wherein the bread becomes the actual body of Christ and the blood becomes the actual blood of Christ. I do, however, agree (along with a long line of protestant pastors) that communion brings greater unity with Christ. I think Catholics may overstate this practice, but I definitely think most protestant traditions understate it. It seems to me that we should "do this in remembrance of me" more often than once a month, or once every four to six months.

Seriously, I don't want to get into all the details of the Eucharist, but those are my thoughts on it. Is that clear enough?

ryan said...

crystal. i'm with you.

Nathan said...

i only skimmed most of these comments (dear lord, they're wordy!) :) but even so, i'm going to make a brief comment.

...i'm not sure why "idolatry" has become a focal point of the this discussion. idolizing the flag or the country or the fighter jets doesn't seem to me to be the Main Thing. the Main Thing is that nowhere does Jesus teach us to thank his Father for power, money, dominance (these things we foolishly label "blessings" when talking about the United States). have we read the Gospels? if we have, we will remember that it was precisely those with power, money, etc. whom Jesus most sternly warned.

Beatitudes, anyone?

outrageous wealth and military might are blessings? that's new to me (and Jesus!) :)

it seems to me that in the face of such a nation's "birthday", we who follow Christ and sing "God bless America" ought to be ready for such blessings as humility, generosity of spirit (and purse), and above all, love of God and neighbor. indeed, we might more suitably sing "God bless Am--someone else!"

Lord, have mercy on us.

Steve Hayes said...

Nathan,

Thanks for joining the discussion, although I will say that this one is on the tail end. I think you make some great points, and it is definitely true that many evangelicals wrongly view God's blessings as synonomous with our comfort, power and quality of life. That may explain why this is an issue of idolatry. Idolatry is attributing worth to things other than God. The evangelical community seems to me to be guilty of exactly that on patriotic days such as the 4th of July. Your points explain the core motivations behind American idolatry. I think we're looking at the very same problems for a slightly different angle. Thanks for chiming in. You're welcome here any time.