Sunday, February 27, 2005

"Every Knee Shall Bow" Whom?

Since it isn't a "church service," is it insignificant?
Photo from Journey Films/RNS via the Texas Baptist Standard Posted by Hello

These bishops are honoring their leader and their military.
Photo from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Posted by Hello

This should be disturbing. I find the photo below equally disturbing.

"Honoring the U.S. Military"
at Porter Memorial Baptist Church,
Lexington, Kentucky Posted by Hello

I find in the hour of trial that the Sermon on the Mount is tosh, and that I am not a Christian. I apologise for all the unpatriotic nonsense I have been preaching all the years. Have the goodness to give me a revolver and a commission in a regiment which has for its chaplain a priest of the god Mars: my God.
- George Bernard Shaw

There are endless differences between the Nazi State and the U.S. Government and its leaders. I am not comparing the United States with Nazi Germany in any way. I am not saying that putting up the American flag is the same as saluting Hitler. (If accused of this, I'll ignore it.) I am comparing the attitudes and theology of the Christians. I find the apparent political theology of the Christians in the first photographs to be the same as that held by the Christians in the third photograph.

In the face of growing religious nationalism and the increasing collusion of the German Church with the German State, the Confessing Churches of Germany issued the Barmen Declaration in 1933.


We reject the false doctrine that the Church could and should recognize as a source of its proclamation, beyond and besides this one Word of God, yet other events, powers, historic figures and truths as God's revelation (paragraph 1).
. . .
‘Fear God. Honor the Emperor.’ 1 Pet. 2:17. Scripture tells us that by divine appointment the State, in this still unredeemed world in which also the Church is situated, has the task of maintaining justice and peace, so far as human discernment and human ability make this possible, by means of the threat and use of force. The Church acknowledges with gratitude and reverence toward God the benefit of this, his appointment. It draws attention to God's Dominion [Reich], God's commandment and justice, and with these the responsibility of those who rule and those who are ruled. It trusts and obeys the power of the Word, by which God upholds all things. We reject the false doctrine that beyond its special commission the State should and could become the sole and total order of human life and so fulfill the vocation of the Church as well. We reject the false doctrine that beyond its special commission the Church should and could take on the nature, tasks and dignity which belong to the State and thus become itself an organ of the State.

My thesis: For Christians, patriotism is bad, and bad for us. It is idolatry. For elaboration, see Friday's post, below.

Comments on this post are closed. Go here if you wish to add something.


Anonymous said...

Ahhhh my first blog post. I feel so trendy. =)

After reading all of the posts and comments of the last few days, I admit that I am somewhat confused as to why so many of you think that the gathering at Porter was so innocuous. I am deeply disturbed by it and by the prevailing willingness to mitigate its seriousness with clever and ambiguous language. First, calling it a "men's night out" instead of a church service means nothing. Church happens whenever Christians come together and Christians do everything that they do as Christians, not as patriots some days and members of Christ on others. Second, let me draw careful attention to the fact that this church service, this gathering of God's people in a building supposedly specifically designated for his worship, was openly sponsored by the State as indicated in the program. (Not that I think that it would make much difference if this gathering took place in a High School gymnasium, but I think it adds emphasis to my point that it took place in a designated church building.)

There are definitely appropriate ways for Christians to relate to the State and Kyle mentioned some of them in his previous post so I see no need to say them again, but the Body of Christ cannot indiscriminately celebrate the institutions and governments of man. The "men's night out" was nothing more than a flagrant, blind affirmation of the mechanics of the State, NOT an attempt to reach out to the families of those in the armed services nor was it an attempt to carefully critique and pray for the actions of the State. This may have been intended, but there are better ways to do so then draping a gigantic flag over the cross. Looking at this, is it clear where our salvation comes from? If the people of Porter are unwilling to draw the line here, where will it be drawn I wonder?

I think we should all be cautious in how we approach the State as Christians. As Alan pointed out, I believe the hearts of the members of Porter were in the right place, but they ought to spend some time reflecting on their actions and make changes where necessary. Christians, we're playing with fire when we do such things, and we can and will get burned if we lose our critical eye in an attempt to placate the State.

Not here anymore said...

So, is it wrong, then, for a Christian to be a part of the US military?

Kyle said...

It may well be. What does one do when the orders one receives from the State conflict with one's loyalty to Christ and his Church?

If anyone ever effectively suspended the Sermon on the Mount, they forgot to send me notice.

In the first three hundred years after God raised up Jesus, conversion required resigning one's commission in the Roman military. It was only later that this requirement was relaxed (for good reasons, or not?), and Christians who killed someone in service of the newly Christian State was required to abstain from Holy Communion for 3 years.

H.M. said...

I've been reading your blog for awhile, but I can't remember if I've made a comment before. This one is short. I don't know if I agree with all that you write, but I give you props.... man, you are definitely worth reading. This last series of posts has given me some "thought steak" that I am still chewing on. Peace to you sir and keep provoking us.

Not here anymore said...

My dad is a Christian. He is also in the US Army...has been since age allowed. He loves his country and his God. For him, the two don't conflict. Although, one is much more necessary than the other. Obviously, Kingdom love trumps love of country when the situation calls for a choice between the two.

I'm not understanding where a line is drawn. I'm hearing most of you say that it's wrong for the Church to be patriotic; to show its support for the military as a Body. But it "may well be" wrong or you "can't say it's wrong" for a Christian (a part of the Body) to go well beyond patriotism and enlist in the military?

I agree with Jesse Pack when he said, "...Christians do everything that they do as Christians, not as patriots some days and members of Christ on others."

Please explain.

Kyle said...

Everyone, thanks for commenting.

Arlen, thanks for coming by and saying "hey."

Isaiah, consider yourself ignored. ;0)

Allison, even if I could draw the line for other people, it would probably be irresponsible for me to do so. Of late, Isaiah's been talking about the necessity of letting folks struggle with things and coming to the answer without simply being told. I wouldn't be quick to tell someone, "no, you can't join the US military because you'd be an idolater, replacing Christ with the State." I'd say the same things I have, and help my friend to sort out where to draw the line.

What Porter did is more brazenly unthinking than anyone's decision to join the military, which it what makes their sin so egregious.

Though I could be argued into another position, I would draw the line well before enlistment. I think that if one integrates one's life into the strong right arm of the State, sooner or later, one will be called upon to betray allegiance to Christ and his Church. For that reason, I could not commend military service to any Christian. To continue Jesse's point, I ask if it is right to join part of the Body of Christ to a limb of the State. I'll say no.

One of the problems with this is that the culture (religious or otherwise) is often very wrong in telling us what our duties to Christ and to the State are. Of course a savvy state will try to keep the two sets as separate as possible. But I think that it's an "either/or" question far more often that what is commonly assumed.

Not here anymore said...

I'm not asking you to draw the line for me or for anyone else. I was asking a general question to understand where each person in this discussion would draw that line for themselves. For me, I don't think there really is a line.

I, personally, see NO difference in what Porter did and a Christian who joins the military. Both are intentional acts of the Body. Both are intentional acts of patriotism. Both show love for one's country. Why do you think one is more deplorable than the other?

"I think that if one integrates one's life into the strong right arm of the State, sooner or later, one will be called upon to betray allegiance to Christ and his Church." Is this not true by simply living as a Christian? We betray allegiance to Christ and his Church by loving other things instead of our addiction to self...etc...How can patriotism be confronted so audaciously?

Love for one's country and gratefulness for one's physical freedom doesn't mean that one's love for Christ and his Church is disregarded. I don't think that's what Porter intended. I don't think that's what they've done.

I find many problems with this supposed line.

Kyle said...

For the sake of argument, then, let joining the military and "showing patriotism" both be deplorable acts. My argument is unchanged and unchallenged.

It sounds like you're arguing that just because "We betray allegiance to Christ and his Church" regularly in other ways, we therefore shouldn't focus on this. You know very well that I write about all kinds of idolatry, all the time. :0)

As I've said, regardless of what Porter did or didn't do, or meant to do, or anything else, patriotism is wrong. I don't think being more or less patriotic is meaningful.

I've explained why I don't believe someone can be a patriot and a Christian. Anyone else is welcome to challenge my specific reasons and explain how someone can be a patriot and a Christian.

Anybody? For my part, I'll get off the defensive and let my words stand as they are.

+ Alan said...

This line didn't originate here for sure. It's been around for a while - in and out of church history since the beginning.

For me, one who at one time raised his hand and took the oath to State and Constitution (feeling squirrelly the whole time), it was and is a matter of conscience. As I thought about what I was swearing to as I took that oath, I allowed my thoughts to spread out and fully consider what I might be asked to do and what part of myself I was giving over. It became unacceptable to me, the more I thought, prayed and read, and I had to get out - before I went to boot camp actually, but when asked if I was a "conscientious objector" I said "yes, I guess I am." And so I am.

I object to me, as a Christian, whose whole life is God's, giving my allegience to anyone or anything else - not in that way. I think there is a place for States to keep control on earth because, for the most part, there is no control in people themselves. I do not, though, see the State as the conduit through which the Kingdom will come. That would be the Church - His People.

To me it's a matter of focus. I won't judge Porter, as I said before, I don't know them. I will also not judge the eternal state of anyone who is in goverment of military, even if they are Christian. This is not an eternal end issue. It is an issue of life-focus and trust. I don't see a compatibility in Christians being entangled (irony ahead) in "civilian affairs" - we have other things to do. "Will they go to heaven?" That's God's business, but if they have once become His Children, I believe so, flag draped over their coffin or not, but again, this would not be the issue. It's about here and now and where our focus lies. And it's not a vine & branches thing - we have several opinions on these subjects but for the most part I think we all understand the focus thing.

I'm sure there are quite a few people, more than not, in this country, at this time, who don't understand this point of view. It's not popular. Hell, it's not even known. A good read through some early church documents, some Anabaptist writings, both early and late, and others might help at leas the understanding quotient. PEACE to all in this house.

Not here anymore said...

Kyle - my "challenge of your specific reasoning": I am a Christian AND a patriot. I love my God and his Church. My allegiance is FIRST and FOREMOST to him and second to his Body. I love my country. I am thankful for people like my dad who lay their lives down for my continued physical freedom. I will support those who defend me in whatever way I can. I will always be grateful. My affections and allegiance are not divided. I know which Love is most important. Maybe this IS a "matter of conscience" like Alan suggests. Because it doesn't seem to me - after reading everyone's comments and examining my own - that there is a definite right or wrong, black or white stance to take on this issue.

My intention is not to put you on the defensive. I see a little of where you're coming from...I simply disagree.

Alan - thanks for your comment...especially the second paragraph block. I'm thankful that you personalized what you said. That, to me, gives much more weight to what you say.

I agree: there is no way to "judge the eternal state" of any individual, whether in regards to this subject or otherwise.

I'm not sure I agree that this is an issue of "life-focus and trust". And I'm not sure it would do any good to belabor that point...But I am very much capable of placing complete reliance and trust in, and focus on Jesus Christ AND loving my country and those who defend it. I don't see that as a difficulty. I don't see that as a "conflict of interests".

Again, I agree that this may very well be a "matter of conscience". And if there is argument to this being a "matter of conscience", I must quote Will Ferrell from a most hilarious SNL skit, "...then how come's my conscience is so clean?"

Attitude of last comment: sarcasm, not smartass-ism.

Kathy L. said...

I'm another first-time poster. Unfortunately, my thoughts keep coming back to this discussion generated by the "Mens Ministry" military night at Porter Baptist Church.

After reading the comments, I come away with the impression that some folks are setting up a hypothetical loyalty test between an American Body of Christ and the US military. I'm glad the photos from the Holocauust museum were added, because it steers the discussion in the right direction. But the photos tend to elicit a visceral reaction from me and maybe others, instead of thoughtful consideration. I have a more recent example for us to think about.

My father was an officer in the Navy during WW2 in the Pacific theater. (I recently discovered that his ship ferried remaining Japanese military from Shanghai back to Japan immediately after the war was over.) After the war, my father went to seminary, was ordained, and shortly after I was born, felt called to the mission field of Japan. (Gen. MacArthur had asked for 10,000 missionaries, but that's a whole 'nother branch of this tree we could explore. McArthur got about 2,200, my folks being among them.) My parents were missionaries in Japan from 1951 to 1973. My father died there suddenly, at age 49, and before he died, he is quoted as saying "I won't leave Japan (retire). My body will become Japanese soil."

During the Vietnam war, he would argue with his young daughter. He felt that if a Christian were to serve in the military and have to kill people, that God would hold the guilt for those killings against the leaders of the state, not the individual Christian soldier. That was how he justified a Christian's participation in what many thought was an unjust war.

But, his focus was on evangelism. He lived his life to persuade the Japanese to become Christians. The Vietnam war was a tremendous stumbling block to his potential converts. I remember my Dad having to jump through incredible hoops to explain to people that yes, of course you can be a Christian without agreeing with American policy in Southeast Asia. In the minds of the Japanese people, America was seen as a "Christian" nation, and therefore if one were to become a Christian, one would necessarily have to agree with American policies and ideologies.

I think it helps a great deal to take a step back and look at the Body of Christ as much greater than what exists in America. If you had to explain to someone who knew nothing at all about Christ, what the general idea of Christianity was, what would you say? How would you explain it? Could you explain it away from the American cultural context? How would you explain Porter Baptist's "ministry"? There are people all over the world who are struggling every day to make Christ real for people in other cultures. Would you want these potential Christians to pop in to Porter Baptist Church during "Men's Ministry" night?

Christians do need to be careful to avoid being a stumbling block, and what happened at Porter Baptist is a big stumbling block. I think it is perfectly possible for a person to be in the military and be a believing, practicing Christian. Military chaplains in particular are asked to tread the thinnest of lines between loyalty to God and loyalty to country. That is not the issue here. As I see it, the issue is that the necessary, yea fundamental, distinction between the Kingdom of God and any other kingdom has become incredibly blurred. There may be times when perhaps armies do indeed advance the Kingdom of God, maybe more in the breach, and I'm hard pressed to think of a great example, but this train of thought veers over into the concept of a "just war." Porter Baptist wasn't talking about a just war, they were being a stumbling block. There are many other ways we can and should honor and support our military service people. Confusing that honor with "church" could be a fatal mistake.

Not here anymore said...

I am now gracefully bowing out of this discussion.

Kel, thanks for your comment, nonetheless. Some parts were helpful.

I don't really feel as though anything is being accomplished by my involvement.

rose said...

Patriot-One who loves, supports, and defends one's country.

Are we supposed to hate our country? I don't get it. I love my country. I wouldn't want to live anywhere else. We are so blessed. I guess that is not very Christian like of me to say.

Kyle said...

Thank you for sharing that with us, KEL. I think it adds helpful dimension to the issue.