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Monday, May 29, 2006

Patriotism or Idolatry?

Thanks to the good folks at Purgatorio for this. I hope they won't mind that I borrow the pic.

For the sake of full disclosure. I am a pastor of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS). This is not a picture from my church, however.

But I have to ask the question: What is Patriotic Worship? Someone please tell me.

Is it a Christian worship service with a special prayer or two for our nation, a chorus of God Bless Our Native Land, and a memorial for those who've given their lives in the armed forces? That could reasonably be done.

But it is a serious problem when pious well-meaning Christians begin to confuse the two kingdoms, the kingdom of power and the kingdom of grace. We treat the flag with equal reverence (or more) as a cross. The sayings of the founding fathers become sacred texts. We start to think it is the role of the civil government to preach the gospel. Or the gospel of Jesus Christ is subtley, incrementally exchanged for the good news of being an American.

Some well-meaning, pious American Christians who believe that God has a special plan for America, almost as if the US is the new Israel, God's chosen. This is a serious and potentially dangerous error.

I have said it before and things like this make me want to emphasize it all the more. There is no place for an American flag in God's sanctuary. When you come into God's house, you leave all other allegiances at the door. God is not an American. Nations rise and fall. This nation will rise and fall. The church is for all people, all nations. God shows no favoritism and is no respecter of persons.

Does patriotic worship mean that non-American Christians would be unable to fully participate? Will Jesus Christ predominate? Or some other savior and some other type of salvation?

Actually, if they are going to have "Patriotic Worship" then I'm glad they put it on the sign. That way I'd know to avoid it like the plague.

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Carl Vehse said...

Ahhh, would that be the church sign of Zion Lutheran Church in Hopkins, Minnesota?

Web site:
Senior Pastor: Randall Neal

BTW, if you avoided the May 28th worship "like the plague", you missed Christian Ventriloquist and Puppet Team, Rodney, Marian and Friends, from Sacramento, California, were advertised to be at Zion's 8:30am worship service (the Traditional Service - "It emphasizes our Reformation heritage and traditional Lutheran hymnody").

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Hi Carl,
I don't know where the sign is from. I just saw it on a different blog.

I am in no position to criticize the specifics of what the church in Hopkins does.

As I said in my blog post, if what they are doing is adding prayers for our nation and memorializing the Christian dead, then I have no problem.

It's quite possible my objection is just over the confusing use of the word "patriotic."

I used that as a jumping off point to comment on something I witness happening in many American protestant circles, a sanctifying of the our American heritage which I find troubling.

And by the way, I applaud them having a service that "emphasizes our Reformation heritage and traditional Lutheran hymnody."

Carl Vehse said...

One can see the Zion Lutheran Church sign pictured in your post in both pictures on Zion's Directions web page. In the lower picture, the stone-supported sign is behind the portable sign.

Although I don't understand how a ventriloquism act emphasizes our Reformation heritage and traditional Lutheran hymnody, according to the Church Illuminator the May 28th Memorial Sunday Worship at 11:00 a.m. in the Park was to be outdoor patriotic service honoring all Americans who have or are serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. It was held especially to honor those who have given their lives for American freedom. The service was followed by the Orphan Grain Train Fish Boil at noon.

marc said...

Yes Carl,
It is Zion in Hopkins. But like Scott, I wasn't intending to take shots a the church, but the idea of blending Patriotic with Worship.

I couldn't agree more with you on your post. As you may know, this type of syncretism is a sore spot for me and the reason PURGATORIO got started in the first place.

Darrell said...

I have said it before and things like this make me want to emphasize it all the more. There is no place for an American flag in God's sanctuary. When you come into God's house, you leave all other allegiances at the door.

I'll be honest, this issue never really crossed my mind until the first mention you made of it here at your blog. I'd been in a few Protestant churches in the past where there was an American flag in the sanctuary, but I just never gave it a second thought. Now I find myself in total agreement with you about this issue. I'm afraid now that the presence of the American Flag(a symbol I love very much, by the way) really might amount to a fundamental change in just Who (or what) it is exactly that we think we're worshiping in the sanctuary.

Wendy and I are members of a faith sharing and study group and we recently spent some time discussing Acts 10:34-35: Then Peter proceeded to speak and said, "In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him. I think that ties in here. Of course, Peter was talking about specifically about taking the Gospel to the Gentiles, but I still see a connection.

You keep me on my toes, Pastor Scott. You keep me thinking, pondering, praying. God bless ya, dude! :)

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Thanks. I think you are exactly right about the Acts 10 connection.

Like you, I have a tremendous amount of respect for the American flag. I am a very patriotic American. I love this country and the highest values it represents.

But it's not good to so blend and merge our Americanism with our Christianity.

Symbols are very powerful communicators of meaning. The flag is a symbol. A good symbol, in itself. But quite out of place in a church chancel.

It irks me that so many Protestants want to strip out all Christian symbols and art, paitings, statues, etc. for fear of looking "Romish." But they sure don't mind having the American flag up front and center.

It's kind of like churches that do not observe Advent or Epiphany or the Ascension but would never dream of missing the high liturgical festivals of Mother's Day and 4th of July.d

Anonymous said...

Serving in the NYC area:

When I arrived in my congo. 4 years ago they had developed the practice since 9/11 of singing a patriotic song before the service began. These were not from the patriotic section of the hymnal. They seemed to think that anything that mentioned God was worthy of singing in church. My (gag!) favorite was "Let There Be Peace on Earth and Let it Begin with Me...with God as our Father brothers all are wee....)

Nothing like singing the National Anthem before the service begins...I felt like shouting Play Ball! for the invocation. :-)

Needless to say, I put it to death. But I lost an organist over it. Which was for the best.


Darrell said...

It irks me that so many Protestants want to strip out all Christian symbols and art, paitings, statues, etc. for fear of looking "Romish."

I gotcha. I totally know where you're coming from on that.

Forgive me for having a bit of fun:

As a Catholic, I am officially authorized to announce to the other members of my Christian family (in other words, Protestants) that the RCC doesn't hold the copyright on things like making the sign of the cross, displaying crucifixes, statues, paintings and murals, liturgical music (as opposed to this stuff), etc. Feel free to add any or all of these things to your practice. You might be surprised at how much they help your focus and your devotion to our Lord and Savior. That's kinda why we use them in the first place.

I promise you that if you make the sign of the cross, no Catholic will swoop down on you, grap you up and say "Ha ha! You screwed up! Now you're Catholic! I'm taking you to Rome to be branded with the Fisherman's ring!"

And I'll tell you something else... but this part is top secret, so don't let it get out, OK? Ready? Here it is: We Roman Catholics don't hold the copyright on Mary, either. That's right! Our Protestant brothers and sisters are free to look to the mother of Christ for inspiration and for a beautiful Christian example any time they want to! In fact... and get this, this is gonna knock your socks off.. you can even pray the Rosary (and find that it's an amazingly rewarding meditative experience) without waking up the next morning tied to a pew in St. Peter's Basilica! Shhhhhh! Don't let that cat out of the bag!

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