SBC Calvinism & Patriotic Worship: A Final Word

Since my initial posts on the SBC’s New Calvinism & Patriotic Worship (Part 1 and Part 2), I have gotten many responses — both positive and negative — both here at From Law to Grace and at SBCVoices.  Based upon this admittedly limited response, I would conclude that one of the SBC 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),” has great potential for growing wider.

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.  At the beginning of the service, we had the Honor Guard from Holloman AFB present our nation’s colors.  I led in the pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.  The congregation sang the Star Spangled Banner and the choir sang A Tribute to Our Armed Forces where those who served in the various branches of the military stand and are recognized.  We prayed for our servicemen and women and sang some non-patriotic worship songs.  I preached on our freedoms, with the main emphasis being the freedom that we can have only in and through Jesus Christ.

While our patriotic worship service was not as much as some, it was obviously too much for some.  In fact, singing a single patriotic song, even from the 2008 Baptist Hymnal, causes some to start throwing around the “I” word — idolatrous.  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.  These same folks would likewise condemn any honoring (recognizing) of veterans, mothers, fathers, children, etc. during a worship service.  In fact, one blogger recently wrote in response to this issue:

Christians gather for worship to exalt the only God that exists for an hour or more, and often times they say the pledge of allegiance, honor soldiers, honor mothers and fathers, etc. during a time that has been designated for God alone to be honored and emphasized.  It is blatant idolatry!  So, every time you see or hear about a “patriotic worship service,” remember how foolish Aunt Bethany was… and look in the mirror.  Corporate Worship is about God’s glory alone; not anyone else’s.

According to this SBC blogger, not only are churches that choose to include ANY expressions of patriotism or times of honoring soldiers or mothers and fathers guilty of blatant idolatry, but foolishness as well.  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 reject the use of the term “idolatry” when describing other churches who include patriotic expressions in their worship.  However, since almost all opponents of patriotic worship who have commented at my blog and on SBCVoices have been unwilling to so state, I must infer that there are some (perhaps many) within SBC’s Calvinist wing whose theology — however and whenever derived — believe, either implicitly or explicitly, that any and all expressions of patriotism in corporate worship are wrong.  If I am incorrect in my inference, then please clearly state that you have no problem with churches who include patriotic elements in their corporate worship services. 

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, I would suggest to some of the more “aggressive Calvinists” that before you keep loading the ammo and shooting yourself in the foot, you better figure out if patriotic worship is really a hill on which to die.

 

12 comments for “SBC Calvinism & Patriotic Worship: A Final Word

  1. April 14, 2011 at 8:30 AM

    Howell,

    My quote has nothing to do with Reformed Theology. I’ve been against this mentality for years, before I affirmed Reformed Theology. Corporate worship must be distinct. It’s a time set aside to honor God alone. Howell, I don’t understand why you wouldn’t distinguish the honoring of God and the honoring of men or nations? Why blend them together in the same service you call “worship”? Yes, I do believe it’s idolatry because it’s a “worship service.” Even though you admit that you’re not worshipping the entire time; for, your worshipping God a moment, then honoring our nation, worshipping God a moment, then honoring our servicemen.

    • April 14, 2011 at 8:59 AM

      Jared,

      As you say, your quote has nothing to do with Reformed Theology. That’s why I wrote “Calvinist or otherwise” in relation to how one arrived at their conclusions. I obviously disagree with your conclusions and do believe that all that we do in a worship service on a Sunday morning for instance, even if we recognize or show appreciation for people and thank God for them (which is ultimately where our thanks should be directed) can be consistent with how we view worship. I understand if you think this is “idolatrous,” but using that word to describe — a blanket fashion — any church that goes afoul of what you view worship as, I believe is unhelpful. However, let me say that I truly do appreciate your honesty and directness on this issue. At least I and everyone else knows where you stand. While I may agree to disagree with you, it is refreshing that you are as candid as you are. I cannot know this for sure, but if I had to guess, there would be others at SBCVoices and elsewhere who share your beliefs about these worship practices being idolatrous, but they simply do not want to be as forthcoming. Thanks for reading and commenting. I do enjoy your posts at Voices. You write well even when I don’t always agree with some of your conclusions. Hope you have a wonderful and blessed day in the Lord.

      Howell

      • April 14, 2011 at 9:15 AM

        Howell, I appreciate your kindness.

        I would have to see your worship service or have it decribed in detail. I have a problem with honoring men during a worship service to God. However, I do NOT have a problem with honoring God through honoring men. It would have to be God-centered. I don’t know that this is possible without blurring the line, and thus committing idolatry… but, maybe it is.

        For example, my church still has a “special music” sometimes. I never clap for the individual or praise the individual during the worship service. Instead, when I get up to preach, I comment on the truth that they sung, and exalt Christ for this wonderful truth. Now, after the service, I may thank the individual and compliment him or her on an excellent job. This is what I mean by Christ-centered. I don’t know how we can honor soldiers without detracting from the worship of God.

        Maybe you should do a post that goes into exhaustive detail concerning your order of worship for patriotic services?

  2. April 14, 2011 at 8:31 AM

    BTW: I’m fine with singing “patriotic hymns” if they are Bible-Centered songs.

  3. Ron Hale
    April 14, 2011 at 9:00 PM

    Howell,
    Thanks for your post!

    “Blessed is the Nation whose God is the Lord” (PS 33:13).

    At least one Sunday a year … I want to honor the God of this blessed nation and celebrate His providence and care. I want to give honor to those who spilled their blood on battlefields and those who made it back home. I want to sing songs of highest praise to God and His blessings on this land. I want the hearts of younger people to grow strong for the love of country, families, and the kind of faith that has the courage to fight for what is right and righteous. This I have done. This I will continue to do as long as I live in a free country called the U.S. of A!

    Stand tall and straight out there in Alamogordo my Brother. You are surrounded by heroes!

    • April 15, 2011 at 10:04 AM

      Ron H.,

      I appreciate the encouraging words. I’ve got lots of folks out here in Alamogordo — military and non-military — that help me stand tall and straight! I am still somewhat perplexed as to why some in the SBC want to make this an issue. And, of course, when there is any pushback to their “suggestions” that we think about patriotic worship, they get bent out of shape. If Professor Stam and the folks at B21 wanted us to think about this issue, we have. If they want to die on the hill being against ANY expressions of patriotism in worship or honoring (recognizing and thanking God for) freedoms, veterans, mothers, fathers, graduating seniors, etc., then by all means, go for it. But, I think there will be many Southern Baptists that will not go quietly on this one. If a church wants to shun any of this in their worship, more power to them. But, don’t try to force other churches to follow suit. Hope you have a wonderful day and God bless,

      Howell

  4. Ron in Ok
    April 15, 2011 at 6:04 AM

    Our pastor is a marine (note that according to him there are no “former” marines). He is also a Calvinist. We have multiple patriotic services during the year and I’m sure it would be a shock to him that we’re idolaters. We also recognize our graduating high school seniors so I guess we’re really on the downward slope 🙂

    Maybe, just maybe over the last 30 years we’ve become so accustomed to fighting among ourselves within the SBC that some just can’t let it go.

    • April 15, 2011 at 8:14 AM

      Ron in OK,

      Thanks for sharing that. I forgot that we will also recognize our graduating seniors next month, so we are right there with you on the downgrade. Someone mentioned at SBCVoices last night that they thought it was more of the “young” in the “young, restless, and reformed” Southern Baptists that were making this an issue. That maybe right. If the Director of the Institute for Christian Worship at one of our seminaries had not sent out a letter about this (or at least had not signed it in his official capacity), I really wouldn’t have bothered writing about this. But, when I perceive a push, blantant or subtle, to remove any and all expressions of patriotism in worship something that ALL churches should do, then I will continue to push back. Thanks and God bless,

      Howell

  5. April 17, 2011 at 5:34 AM

    Brother Howell,

    If you keep going you are going to be identified with me as a “strict BI” person. 🙂 Seriously, you will find that in the blogging world labels get bantered around with no clear definition as to their meaning. Thus, one does well to define clearly what one means in the beginning. Patriotism has become synonymous with Christianity for some within the leadership circles of some SBC leaders. Being a Calvinist is not what keeps you on the outs with this issue. The issue has nothing to do with Calvinism, it has more to do with being in disagreement with the SBC Cardinals. 😉 (And I am not referencing a baseball team)

    Blessings,
    Tim

    • April 17, 2011 at 1:43 PM

      Bro. Tim,

      I beginning to think that being labeled BI might not be so bad after all! 🙂 As I am probably on the outs with the reigning SBC cardinals anyway, I might as well state what I believe. That many of the folks who happen to be against any displays of patriotism or evening honoring (in the sense of recognizing or higly esteeming them) veterans, mothers, fathers, high school graduates, etc. are also Reformed in their theology does make one wonder. That I have received the pushback that I did perhaps might be an indication that I have revealed a connection that folks did not want to have revealed.

      What all of the GCR and the subsequent changes have been about comes down to Southern Baptist Identity in particular. One of the first blog posts I wrote was in repsonse to something you wrote about the Liberty U/Ergun Caner saga. We came down on different sides of that issue. What has been amazing to me in the last 8 months is how folks who identify as Southern Baptists first — even when we disagree on minor issues — can still cooperate together for the Gospel. I’m not sure that there are any “minor” issues with some of what I call “nomina” SBs and Dr. Lemke calls “low identity SBs.” That some of the folks at Voices could not let this go without calling me and others idolators speaks volumes about where our Convention is headed. Trust you had a great Palm Sunday and hope that you and your congregation have a wonderful and blessed Easter Week! God bless,

      Howell

  6. April 18, 2011 at 3:22 PM

    This thread has many implications and should be explored further. I have had several cordial and civil exchanges with Adrian Rogers son at SBC Impact; but I think the influence Ed McAteer had on him and his participation in the climate that put Ronald Reagan in the White House of Jimmy Carter has nuances Howell Scott and the Jared Moore exchanges never imagine.
    For that here is hoping Moore and Scott with me can explore Joe Crespino’s In Search of Another Country. It promises to examine forces like the Pioneer Club of the 1960’s that through Judge Pressler and Jesse Helms morphed itself into the church/state resistance of SBC Peace Committee Member Charles Pickering’s Allied Defense Fund.
    I hope all following Scott’s thoughts here will monitor the evolution of the discussion at Baptist Heritage of http://www.baptistlife.com/forums in the thread on Billy Graham and Mercer President Underwood among others.

Leave a Reply