Monday, November 19, 2007

Render to God. . . a few more thoughts (UPDATED)

The past post "Render to God" is now a week old, but there is still some valuable dialogue happening in the comments section. Andy and Eric have recently shared their passionate perspectives and, at the same time, raised some important questions/issues that I promised I would respond to. Because my response represents my continuing and still-evolving thinking on these matters, I thought I would post my latest comment here as a unique post, but also there in the comments section. As you read them, please remember that I am proud to be an American.

Eric and Andy,

It's Monday and I'm still recovering from yesterday, but let me see if I can string together a few coherent thoughts in response to some of your earlier comments . . .

• To put the bottom line up front, my personal and pastoral discomfort with patriotic songs and a flag in church has nothing to do with political correctness, but everything to do with Gospel passion, purity and priority. I believe patriotic songs and a flag in church cloud and confuse the Gospel. I understand that neither of you agree with me on this point, but that's still my conviction.

• The NT affirmation, "Jesus is Lord" was, among other things, a bold challenge to the Roman Empire, where their battle cry was the contrasting "Caesar is Lord." The early church set itself apart and, arguably, in opposition to the world's kingdoms of the day. My own view is that the church of the 21st Century should be doing the same.

• When writing to the church in the city of Philippi, a Roman Colony whose populace was quite proud of their status as Roman Citizens, the Apostle Paul has the audacity to say, "Our citizenship is in heaven." (Phil. 3:20) Again, it was an implicit challenge to Roman nationalism. (And yes, I am well aware that Paul at times used his Roman citizenship when it served his Gospel mission. He didn't deny his Roman citizenship, but he viewed his and our heavenly citizenship as of a "higher" status that trumped and took priority over our national citizenships.) I think our higher, trumping, taking-priority, heavenly citizenship should be "front and center" and unmistakable when we gather for worship. Patriotic songs and a flag, in my opinion, make that less clear.

• Though some are better than others, I believe that all political systems/ideologies and world kingdoms are fallen and broken because they are filled with sinful people. They all provide ample opportunities for some to exploit others. I think the Gospel challenges all systems/ideologies/kingdoms at their weak points. Though the church, too, is a mystery and mess, I believe Christians should exercise a healthy Gospel suspicion towards the world's kingdoms. We should be realistic, but hopeful and engaged. Yet, the church should be careful to not be too aligned, equated with, dependent on the kingdoms of this world. Again, I think the church should stand apart. I believe patriotic hymns and a flag in church muddy these waters.

• The Gospel, it appears to me, called Jews to subsume their nationalistic Jewishness to a new and higher allegiance to Jesus. Likewise, the Gospel called Romans to subsume their nationalistic Romanness to a new and higher allegiance to Jesus. I believe the Gospel calls us, not to deny our patriotism, but to subsume our nationalistic Americanness to a new and higher allegiance to Jesus. My passion is to make that as clear as possible. Once more, patriotic songs and a flag, make this less clear.

• I see this as a completely different issue than the historical issue of the Separation of Church and State. My limited understanding of that concept is that it was designed to protect the church from state control and interference, not the other way around. I think we've distorted the original intent of that concept. When I argue for a distinction of the kingdoms, I am not arguing for the separation of church and state, but for something else.

• When I speak of the distinction between God's Kingdom and the world's kingdoms, I actually am not arguing for a complete, non-interactive separation. I believe that what happens in God's Kingdom should affect and impact what happens in the world's kingdoms, but not the other way around. In other words, the flow should go one direction only, not both directions. Why? Because they are not on equal ground. Because God's kingdom and the Gospel trump, supersede and take priority over the world's kingdom. Because our Gospel allegiance affects every area of our lives and how we live in the world. (I don't know if that makes any sense, but try to picture two circles, with an arrow going from the God's kingdom circle toward the world's kingdoms circle, but not an arrow going other direction.) This explains why I can support our elders taking a stand on an occasional proposition once in a while, but not support the singing of patriotic songs or a flag in church.

• I believe we are living in a day and time, when, for many outside the U.S., being a Christian is equated with being an American. Similarly, for many inside our U.S. Borders, being a Christian is equated with being a conservative Republican. But being a Christian means neither of these things. The Gospel has become dreadfully confused and even lost. How did this happen and, for the sake of the purity, priority and spread of the Gospel, how can we fix it? Surely, patriotic songs and a flag in church, will not help this sad state of affairs. I am passionate that we do everything we can to recover the Gospel.

• Regarding Prop 73: As I've tried to make clear, I am not the sole decision maker on what happens in the worship service. The elders after long and prayerful discussion, felt that Prop 73 fell into a unique category and, by majority decision, decided to go for it and say something.

• Regarding the Battle Hymn of the Republic on Mother's Day: Not only do I not make all these decisions by myself, I am, at times, not even aware of some of these decisions. Pastor Al has delegated authority to choose songs for the worship service. I usually don't see them. He does a great job. I cringed and felt a bit uncomfortable when on that Sunday I discovered we were singing The Battle Hymn, mostly because of the title and the nationalistic associations. (In fact, besides the occasion for which it was written and its title, it's an awesome expression of Biblical truth. I've got no problem with the lyrics.)

Once more, my thoughts are my own and don't represent the official position of Grace Church, SLO at the present time. Thanks for making me think longer, harder, and deeper about these important issues.

I appreciate your thoughtful engagement and our ability to humbly disagree.

Because of and for the Gospel. . . Pastor Tim

UPDATE: Because I've now spread my thoughts over two posts, there seems to be a bit of confusion. All future comments should be attached not to this post, but to the original post. I have now deactivated the comments feature on this post to streamline the ongoing discussion. If you're showing up late to this discussion, you really need the context of the original post and comment thread, to avoid confusion and to track the arguments. CLICK HERE to go there now. Read the original post then click the comments link at the bottom.


Missy Grant said... have said it twice now....if this is your opinion and it doesn't represent the official position of Grace Church....then what is the official position of the church?

andy gibson said...

I commented in the other thread, and posed a questions similar to missy above.

Pastor Tim Theule said...


I have responded to your question in my last comment on the previous post. Please refer there. . . Thanks.

Missy Grant said...

I must be missing something in the blog, because I haven't read an answer to my question. Which comment are you referring to? I re-read through it, but didn't see exactly where you spoke to the official position of Grace Church. In your original post and your comment/post yesterday you say, "Once more, my thoughts are my own and don't represent the official position of Grace Church, SLO at the present time." Did you mention what the official position of Grace church is?

Pastor Tim Theule said...

A week ago Monday's original Render to God Post, 26th comment.

Anonymous said...

Sorry about that, Tim. The way it was worded I thought today's post was identical to your response in the comment section so I didn't re-read the comment, but read this post. This post is missing some vital info for Grace Church about amending this post and adding those last few paragraphs?