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.