Love and Loyalty: A Meditation on the Fourth

The other day I tweeted this, and it drew more than the usual number of comments, and I thought I needed to develop it. Here is the tweet.

“Feel uncomfortable at a patriotic worship service? Don’t feel superior if you would also feel uncomfortable at a Fourth of July parade.”

The comments were mostly generated on Facebook, and I later added this to the discussion.

“My point is that many think they are uncomfortable at a patriotic worship service for high and noble theological reasons, when the actual reason is that they are just unpatriotic. I think we should flat out prohibit patriotic worship services, and then go down to the Fourth of July celebration to eat as many hot dogs as we can.”

In discussing this kind of thing, the issues get complicated fast, and so I thought I would try to do a little bit toward untangling them. If you want some additional thoughts, Toby Sumpter has some helpful ones here.

This whole thing is a complicated hierarchical issue, with layers and subtexts, and keep in mind the fact that these thoughts are simply preliminary.

A number of years ago, when George Bush Sr. launched Desert Storm, a dear saint who was leading our singing at the time called an audible and had us sing one of the patriotic hymns that was in our hymnal. The hymnal then was Great Hymns of the Faith, which we used to call Pretty Good Hymns of the Faith. Anyway, he had us sing that song, which caused some consternation in our congregation, as it should have. That was not the time or place for it.

But why? The simple (and simplistic) answer is that it was wrongheaded because it intruded “things American” into “the things of God.” No, the problem was that it did so in the wrong way, not that it did so.

Every time I get into the pulpit, I am bringing something thoroughly American into the worship service. I preach in American English, and I think in American categories. We do have some internationals in our midst, who are of course most welcome, but not enough to change the fundamental cultural “set” of the congregation. The whole thing is as American as all get out.

So why not wave the flag then? The answer is that to do so would be liturgically inept.

The whole worship service is human, but there are plenty of perfectly human and lawful activities that don’t belong there. Let’s start with taking showers, and move on to watching football on television, and so on. So while everything we do in a good worship service is entirely human, not everything that is human belongs there.

Lovemaking is lawful, and yet — despite that look on some worship leaders’ faces — it has no place in worship. A kindergartener’s birthday party is absolutely fine, but the celebratory atmosphere of that kind of party ought not be reproduced in a worship service, particularly not the party hats. A high pep rally before the big game is a lot of fun, and whooping it up while stomping on the bleachers only adds to the experience. But none of these activities are remotely similar to what a worship service should be like. They produce (lawful) affections that are not the affections that a worship service ought to produce. Worship is different. Worship of God is set apart from the rest of our lives. Worship is to be holy.

This is why we should not intrude a patriotic song or segment in a worship service. The issue is not whether the thing is lawful or good. The issue has to do with whether that particular sentiment belongs there. Is this what we came here to do? We are in the presence of the Most High God, and to take another example, we did not come here in order to sing Happy Birthday to somebody during the sharing time. That’s not what this event is. It does not matter if it really is the person’s birthday, or if we all really like him.

So let’s say I were to go to a veteran’s parade and watch elderly men who were young once, and who fought valiantly in destroyers at Midway, or in jungles at Guadalcanal, with mothers and wives and daughters and sons praying for them constantly. I experience a particular feeling of gratitude, that I ought to feel, but which I do not want to feel in a worship service. Why? Because it is not the same thing as worship. One time Nancy and I were in an airport when a company of soldiers came through and got a running ovation all through the terminal. It was appropriate honor, and you would have had to have been a block of ideological word not to feel the sheer goodness of it, but I would rather die than to put something like that in a worship service.

There happens to be an American flag on the wall where we worship, but that is only because we meet in a rented gym. When we have our own building, there will not be an American flag anywhere in it. It will be full of Americans though.

When we do it this way, foreigners can feel most welcome. They do not resent the fact that we approach worship the distinctive way we do because, after all, it was their decision to get on the plane to come here. No one to blame but themselves. But they appreciate the fact that there is no element of the service that excludes them by definition. They can say amen to everything.

So my concerns are liturgical. There are some very American elements in our worship service that do not conflict with the worship we are required offer up. We regularly pray for the president, for the Congress, and for the Supreme Court, praying for our rulers as Scripture instructs. We also include prayers for members of our congregation and community that are in the service. None of this upends the affections that we are supposed to be cultivating in worship (Heb. 12:28), and none of it contradicts the Pentecostal nature of the church around the world. When I am in another country, I expect them to pray for their scoundrels in high office, and I can enter in with that most universal word — amen.

Now let me bring it back to my initial point. There are some who would object to any patriotic elements in a service — and I would happen to agree with them on that point — but they are mistaken in thinking their concerns theological. If they were fully honest with themselves, they would actually discover they are hipsters who are embarrassed by any kind of natural affection that is not ironic, detached, and attempting to be cool. They feel suffocated by any kind of Norman Rockwellery. They think they are above something they are actually beneath. They think we ought not sing Happy Birthday to that guy in the worship service, and they think they have their principles on, but really they just don’t like him, and didn’t want to get him a present.

So set off a pile of fireworks tonight, shouting epithets about the House of Hanover. But by Sunday morning there should be no trace of what you have been up to, except perhaps, depending on how many you set off, a slight whiff of gunpowder.

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David Douglas
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David Douglas

Doug,

Great article. I shared it on FB and have some feedback for your web guru.

I get a huge picture with just the “og” of Mablog plus a lot of white space. The title and intro text are fine, though. He should be shooting for just small thumbnail sketch or logo. At the moment, the mark is being missed.

Andrew Kelly
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Andrew Kelly

Lovemaking is lawful, and yet — despite that look on some worship leaders’ faces — it has no place in worship. Worth the price of admission right there! The sexualization of Christ is a big part of why the Church is hemorrhaging men to secular atheism and to Islam. But moving down your post, I personally cannot think of one thing that today’s American soldiers are fighting for that makes them worthy of a running ovation. Every one of our foreign causes is unjust and tyrannical on the face of it, at least as far as this cowboy is able… Read more »

jigawatt
Guest
jigawatt

The whole worship service is human, but there are plenty of perfectly human and lawful activities that don’t belong there. Let’s start with taking showers

Must … resist … paedobaptism … jab

Andrew Lohr
Member

@ jigawatt: Noah had a shower, the world had a bath; Israel (including children) had a shower (Ps 77:17, 20), Egypt (grown men) had a bath; the Church at Pentecost had a shower of fire, Death and Hell at the judgment day will have a bath of it…must flee from immersion, eh?

Scott Diesing
Guest
Scott Diesing

While agreeing with Doug’s main point, I’m going to also agree with Andrew’s aside. I’ve lost my patriotism and my automatic respect for men and women in the military along with it. I was raised in a blue collar family with dad, uncles, and cousins in the military. As a brand new Christian during the Reagan era I learned to love America as new feelings were awoken. I temporarily lost the cynicism I learned from the 60’s. I’m not an elitist, I can’t understand professional philosophers, and I’ve outgrown any desire to be hip. Some day I may outgrow my… Read more »

antexw
Member

Super cool article on liturgical concerns when their definition is biblically regulative/governed;
thanks, Doug.

Zachary Skrip
Member

Little disappointed. If this were typical Wilson fare, the title would have been: “A Slight Whiff of Gunpowder”. :-) Thanks for the clear thinking and the appropriate rebuff.

melody
Member
melody

Despite the ridiculous number of “…scoundrels in high office” here (and there have always been), I think it is important to remember that a great many of our military are still there because they believe in the same ideals as our nation’s founders and are willing to fight to preserve them. Obama will not be in office forever (we can hope) and if Godly people will “…humble themselves and pray…” God will still hear from heaven and heal our land.

J
Guest
J

@ Andrew and Scott – What neither of you understand is the relationship between knowledge and honor. Knowledge of what is going on with our military and the honor of their service are not to be directly linked in the way you make it out to be. You would be very hard pressed to find a war in our past that didn’t have some sketchy motives behind it at the upper levels of decision makers in this country and whether you know about those motives or not should have no effect on what you feel toward a group of people… Read more »

sean carlson
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sean carlson

Good thoughts, tho the final one on those opposing having base motives struck me as a straw man argument. Seems like an outworking of what’s Caesar’s is his, & what’s God’s is something else.

Jane
Member

Sean, I read that paragraph as being aimed at the ones about whom it is true, not that every person who objects to patriotism or Happy Birthday having those motives. I think he’s warning us not to confuse being a sourpuss with being high-minded, not that no one ever holds those views for the right reasons.

Tom
Guest
Tom

Great point melody I was blessed to be raised in a Christian school where we pledged alliance to both the Christian and the American flag. I learned there that they are not mutually exclusive, although that is what our kids are being taught today. It is on Christ the solid rock I stand, it also happens to be what the nation was founded on. I don’t care whether or not it passes muster with the teachers union. Considering the scoundrels we have in office today, it is a testament to our founding fathers that the checks and balances are still… Read more »

Scott Diesing
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Scott Diesing

Wow J, that is embarrassingly condescending. But despite the lack of tact, you did bring up some interesting points. First, the idea that an understanding of the total depravity of man applied to my own nation may make me unpatriotic. I have to admit, I’m guilty. I don’t especially love the fact that I’m unpatriotic. And I do appreciate all kinds of courage. But that is where I’m at. Like I say, I’ve “lost that loving feeling”. Second is the idea that we should honor the military for the same reason that we are to honor the civil magistrate. I’m… Read more »

Andrew Kelly
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Andrew Kelly

J said: I don’t say you are ungrateful because I believe what they are fighting for is worthy. I say you are ungrateful because you, like a spoiled child, don’t see the bigger picture of what each service person is doing. Whether our country’s foreign endeavors are just or unjust are up for debate, but that doesn’t change the blessing of a standing military. It is not entirely clear what you are trying to argue here, but it sounds as if you are saying that an individual is worthy of honor simply because he sacrifices himself, regardless of whether he… Read more »

Roy
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Roy

I’ll submit that anyone appreciating the benefits and security that most in America enjoy, yet dismissing the intrinsic value of our standing military, are deluded at best….but, more likely, the referenced spoiled child. And a hypocrite to boot.

Mark B.
Guest
Mark B.

I appreciate anyone who makes a godly sacrifice for others, most of the men and women in our military have zero input as to who and where they will have to fight. The issue that seems to be forgotten is that our God is sovereign over all things and one of his most severe judgments upon a nation is to raise up wicked men and women to rule over them. When you add the judgements of homosexuality, abortion, and a culture that loves death and immorality, it is easy to see we are not a nation on a hill but… Read more »

Andrew Kelly
Guest
Andrew Kelly

Calling someone spoiled because they don’t think a standing military is the fount of freedom and security is like calling someone spoiled because they don’t think Obamacare is the fount of good healthcare. It just shows where your misplaced trust is.

Jess R. Monnette
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Jess R. Monnette

Post a comment

J
Guest
J

@ Andrew and Scott, Thanks for the feed back guys. Hopefully I can clear up any misunderstandings with what I said and continue the argument where we disagree. Since Scott’s reply came first I’ll take that one first. Scott you said “First, the idea that an understanding of the total depravity of man applied to my own nation may make me unpatriotic. I have to admit, I’m guilty. I don’t especially love the fact that I’m unpatriotic. And I do appreciate all kinds of courage. But that is where I’m at. Like I say, I’ve “lost that loving feeling”. Thanks… Read more »

Scott Diesing
Guest
Scott Diesing

A few more comment J. The military is not the sword. That may be where you are confused. The guy that maintains the lethal injection machine is the sword. I don’t need to know details about military intelligence to see that the wars America is involved in are not wars of defense. I’m pretty much referring to every war since the war of 1812. I don’t watch TV. I don’t get out much. You’ll have to take me at my word. I don’t care if you get a thrill when you see men and women wearing the USA uniform. More… Read more »

J
Guest
J

@ Scott, I can feel the lack of interest in your post to continue our dialogue, so I will only give one more reply to you and if you would like to have the last word in reply (or not) thats fine with me. I’ll respond to any direct questions you have but as far as furthering my argument goes I will refrain after this. The governing authorities that Paul was speaking of when he said the “sword” were absolutely the military. Just because our country decided to throw up a wall between the military and the police (aka Posse… Read more »

Scott Diesing
Guest
Scott Diesing

J, That is interesting about Posse Comitatus. Good food for thought. And I would agree that in Paul’s day the standing Roman army would certainly be associated with the executioner’s sword. (Not so much in my mind today, but that is another story.) Yes I read books. Yes that is where I get my ideas about the wars the USA has fought in. But you were making a big deal about having some top secret information which I base my ideas on. And I’m saying it is pretty obvious without knowing any esoteric facts. Pick a war and explain how… Read more »

Dan Glover
Guest

Really appreciated this post and heartily agree. I would want to add that along with the fireworks and hot dogs and gratitude on the 4th (or in my case, the 1st – Canada Day), we ought to have a sense of the heights from which our nation(s) have fallen and a repentant/prayerful hope that our nations might one day recover their Christian ethos. My Canada Day celebrations were a mix of thankfulness to God for his grace to our land historically and for the freedoms we currently enjoy, gratefulness to the veterans who sacrificed so much to maintain our freedom… Read more »

KC
Guest

Mr. Wilson and those who have already commented — I read the article. Then I read some of the comments feed and scanned the rest. I am most closely akin to Scott and Andrew. But for all of you–especially Mr. Wilson–I have a few questions: Do you not see that patriotic devotion to America has been given an automatic pass through much of the discussion? It’s like the first and second seeds in the NFL Playoffs getting a bye in the first round. They get to go straight to the second round, letting the lower seeds duke it out to… Read more »

Roy
Guest
Roy

@KC: I have no doubt you read the posts of Scott and Andrew, for you continue their line of thought. Unfortunately, what you continue is an imaginary argument against something that wasn’t being argued in the first place. The very definition of a straw man. Watch out, your bias is showing. Even the multiple, cute, GCE references provide a glimpse of your intent. But hey, what do I know. My imagination was colonized by the powers long before I started thinking about these things.

Scott Diesing
Guest
Scott Diesing

In my first reply, I agreed with Doug’s main point and admitted that the question of patriotism in general was an aside. So I can’t be accused of creating a straw man. It is indeed a separate question. But its an interesting one. Should we be patriotic at all? Or better yet, is being unpatriotic a defect in one’s character? And even more interesting, should we have an automatic respect for the military? All these questions can be asked about our actions and our hearts. To be clear, Doug’s point in this article is that if you are offended by… Read more »

Scott Diesing
Guest
Scott Diesing

Another thing that has happened is my children have mostly grown up and left the house. My youngest son is going to community college, living at home, studying criminal justice, and intends to be an Austin police officer. My daughter is still in high school (wants to be a pediatric nurse). But my two older sons are out of the house.

I think I still had some lingering patriotism when the house was full of young children. Not sure why. Maybe there is a natural urge to pass on the manly virtues to the next generation.

RFB
Guest
RFB

Scott,

Unless it is a typo, if you were born in 1961, by 1970 you would not have yet become ten years old.

KC
Guest

Oh, I’m sorry, Roy. Did I give you the impression that I was trying to veil my “bias” or “intent”? I didn’t mean to give that impression at all. Let me be clear, then: I am most definitely NOT in favor of the kind of love for America that is in view with the use of the term “patriotism” on this whole web page. I AM, however, in favor of the kind of patriotism referred to in Hebrews 11:8-15 and Philippians 3:20-21. I am NOT in favor of pledging allegiance to any flag. But I AM in favor of pledging… Read more »

KC
Guest

BTW, Roy, Scott, Andrew, or anybody else–
If you care to see any more of my “biases,” you can find many of them here.

KC
Guest

Oooooops!… I mean here: https://talmid1021.wordpress.com/

jffrbttr
Member
jffrbttr

In response to Andrew Kelly, who wrote “But moving down your post, I personally cannot think of one thing that today’s American soldiers are fighting for that makes them worthy of a running ovation. Every one of our foreign causes is unjust and tyrannical on the face of it, at least as far as this cowboy is able to see.” These young men and women have made personal sacrifices for a lot of reasons, but one of the reasons is because they are willing to go into harm’s way, literally into the gunsights of people who like to kill Americans,… Read more »

Andrew Kelly
Guest
Andrew Kelly

Jeffry, Your approach assumes that the military is actually protecting us from an outside threat. I submit that the assumption is false. Killing foreigners on their own soil on the other side of the world does not make us safer here at home. We are blessed with many liberties, but in my view, those liberties are not secured by our military. If anything, our military actions make the rest of the world angry at this American institution that waltzes around the world like it owns the joint. Sure, those in uniform make various sacrifices, but it does not follow that… Read more »

KC
Guest

Andrew —
I have taught Logic for many years. Long enough to know that formal Logic is not enough to arrive at Truth, but it is important.
Let me say this, then: Your Logic is very good here. It is both valid and sound. The reasoning that you are seeing through (that of Jeffry and folks like him) is quite flawed.
Well done!
— KC