Are "patriotic services" in church biblically appropriate?
On July 3rd, Dr. Russell Moore, Dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, guest-hosted The Albert Mohler Radio Program on which he interviewed Pastor Mark Dever of Capitol Hill Baptist Church and Stanley Hauerwas, Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke University Divinity School. Dr. Moore asked whether it is appropriate for a congregation to hold a patriotic service for the fourth of July. [The show may be heard HERE.] Readers of this blog may be interested in this discussion as you reflect upon this past weekend. I agree with much of what Dever says in this interview, but I want to highlight the portions of the interview in which Dr. Moore interacted with Dr. Hauerwas, as the position of Dr. Hauerwas seems more radical.
Moore: Professor Hauerwas, what would you say to someone who says, "I want to have in my congregation this Sunday a singing of songs such as 'America the Beautiful,' I want to have a representation of the flag, I want to have people who are members of the armed services being recognized," what's wrong with that?
Hauerwas: Very simply, idolatry. It's idolatrous, and that the problem with those interventions within the worship- it makes you forget that the god that is referred to in the patriotic songs, pledges, etc. is not the Christian God. Our God is not some generalized blessing on something called freedom qua freedom, our God is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- that you only are made free through obedience to the Cross. So, just to the extent that you confuse those two "Gods," you are coming very close to becoming idolatrous.
Moore: Professor Hauerwas, what would you say to someone who says, "I would feel almost as though I'm a traitor to my country to come in and say, 'this very important part of my life, which is my faith in Christ, how can I separate that out from who I am as a rooted citizen of this country?'"
Hauerwas: Ask yourself if you lived in Germany in 1934 what that would mean.
Moore: But surely you wouldn't equate the situation today in the United States of America with Germany in [the Nazi era]...
Hauerwas: How would you know? I mean, who fought in Hitler's war? Who were they? They were Lutherans and Catholics- they were Christians- they were deeply pious people. How would we know when we've been captured by the powers in a way that is leading us away from the gospel?
When people always refer to Romans 13 don't forget Romans 12: "Bless those who persecute you, and do not curse them, rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay' says the Lord, 'If your enemies are hungry, feed them.'" I mean, we have to remember that.
Moore: So part of your problem with the typical fourth of July celebration service in, say, an evangelical Christian service would be the military reference there?
Hauerwas: Well, I think one of the great problems is Christians have forgotten we have a problem with war. I don't in any means want to cast aspersion on people who are committed participants in the military. But first of all, the church has to remind people that become conscientious participators in the military, "We've got a problem with war" don't we? I mean, when does that start sinking through Christian conscience, that we have a problem with war? It's not to be celebrated. If you want to know what a good celebration would look like to honor country, it should be mourning in the face of having to have Christians kill another human being in the name of loyalty to a country. We need to mourn that.
Moore: Professor Hauerwas, what would you do, or what would you counsel someone to do, since you say that these types of patriotic services really are representing the worship of another God- what would you do if you were walking into a local church, maybe the church that you belong to, this Sunday morning, and that's exactly what you found: The Star-Spangled Banner, the Battle Hymn of the Republic, what would you counsel a Christian to do?
Hauerwas: Walk out.
Hauerwas: ... You need to remember that the fourth of July is a liturgy... [it] is a counter-liturgy to the liturgy of the church. That's the reason why it's just right to emphasize the centrality of the eucharistic celebration, which is the sacrifice that ends all sacrifices. So the very fact that often-times the fourth of July is the celebration of an alternative sacrifice to the sacrifice of the Lord's Supper: it's exactly doing a competitive liturgy to the liturgy of the church.
Some objections I have to Dr. Hauerwas' statements:
- I'm not sure that "God" as represented in all patriotic songs is necessarily different than God as worshiped by Christians. I would suspect that many of these songs were actually written by Christians, and sincerely intended to praise God.
- I agree with Dr. Moore, who pointed out later in the broadcast that it is fairly easy to discern between America today and Nazi Germany. The fact that I can blog on this subject with absolutely no concern of government persecution proves that there is an obvious difference.
- I think that Dr. Hauerwas' statements that Christians "have a problem with war" need some qualification in light of the fact that God commands war in the Old Testament and Christ is portrayed as a military conqueror in the book of Revelation.
- I believe the preaching of the Bible, not the "eucharistic celebration," needs to hold the place of "centrality" in our worship services, as the Word of God defines the meaning of the ordinances.
What I appreciated about Dr. Hauerwas' statements:
- I do think that many patriotic songs are theologically weak and are sung by many who actually give no thought to the God of the Bible, and so Dr. Hauerwas may be quite correct in warning that these are "are coming very close to becoming idolatrous."
- When churches give uncritical endorsement to a nation in their worship, I do believe that they set Christians up to become unable to discern when a government does become tyranical; hence, Dr. Hauerwas' statement about "Germany in 1934" may be appropriate, with some qualification.
- As all war is due to human sin, there is a definite since in which Christians should never take joy in war, and we should be very wary of any participation in war. All war should indeed be an occasion for mourning.
- I appreciate how Dr. Hauerwas strives for consistency in his presentation, advising Christians to "walk out" of patriotic services.
- Patriotic services may indeed become a "counter-liturgy to the liturgy of the church," placing focus on human sacrifices, taking focus off of the sacrifice of Christ, and placing focus on freedom to act as we wish, taking focus off of the freedom we have in Christ to live according to God's will.
Labels: Christian worldview