Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Our national liturgy

Thankfully, there were no patriotic extravaganzas at our church this past Sunday. You know what I mean: giant American flags, patriotic skits, videos and stirring musical medleys. Not that I have a problem with all that, as long as it's not in the church and not on the Sabbath. Granted, our church isn't large enough to mount such a thing, but I hope that even if we were -- we wouldn't. Shannon and I were helping out in the nursery, but by all accounts it was a fairly "ordinary" service of Lord's Day worship. Our minister preached from 1 Corinthians 13, not exactly a traditional July 4 weekend text. Of course, that wasn't the case at many evangelical churches in America. The experience of this blogger was probably typical: standing for the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, but sitting for the reading of God's Word.

Baptist professor David Gushee has an interesting article on his experience this past weekend, and on our fondness for God and country services. He argues that the persistent popularity of these kind of services stems from a hunger in the pews for liturgy. As most Protestant churches have scrapped all remnants of liturgical worship (or never had them to begin with), creeds and confessions have been replaced by the Pledge and "My Country 'Tis of Thee". He writes, "the problem is that the liturgy is national rather than Christian—or national as Christian." He also points out that there's a tendency to use these occasions to idealize the past and demonize the present. I suspect the subtext at some of the July 4th celebrations this past Sunday was "God will bless America as long as such and such a candidate (you can fill in the blank) isn't elected in November."

Read Gushee's article here.

Is there a way to incorporate our national holidays into services of worship? Can patriotism comfortably co-exist with the gospel? Russell Moore discussed those questions with Mark Dever and Stanley Hauerwas on the Albert Mohler program.

Listen here.


Mary said...

I've been reading your blog via the Hobe Sound blogs for some time now and find your posts interesting. I have thought for years now that some Christians equate patriotism with Christianity and that just isn't true. We visited a church last Sunday and one of the first things I noticed were the flags at the front. It jarred me after being used to worshiping in a very unadorned sanctuary.

Stephen Ley said...

Thanks for your kind comments. It's nice to know I have some readers out there. I totally agree with you about equating patriotism with Christianity. Re the flag issue...I know some pastors who won't have an American flag in the sanctuary at all, even if it's off to the side. I don't know that I'd go that far, but a church needs to be careful not to send the message that the American flag is a defining symbol. Nothing should distract from the message of the cross, even our beloved flag.

JenLo said...

Hmmm, I have to say that I totally agree, though I'm not sure I've put a lot of thought into it before.