Monday, November 12, 2007

Render to God

Today is Veteran's Day. Leading up to and following this weekend, three similar requests/inquiries have come my way. I have been interacting with several folks via email and have promised that I would commit my thoughts and share my views here at Life Together, so that others might understand my convictions in this area.

Here are the 3 requests/inquiries:

  1. Why don't we sing patriotic "hymns" on Veteran's Day and other similar national holidays? Why don't we do more to honor our vets on these days?

  2. Why don't we have an American Flag in our place of worship?

  3. Why won't we mount in our foyer next to our missionary display, a companion display to honor our men and women currently serving in the military?

These are legitimate and important questions, and I think they all fall into a similar category. For those who ask them, these are passionate and deeply personal issues.

Let me share my views on this subject and in so doing attempt to answer these questions, from my own perspective . . .

  • First off, I will come right out and share that I am a registered Republican and supportive of the current war in Iraq and the fight for freedom around the world. I give thanks to God for those who have given their lives and are giving their lives now for the freedoms we enjoy. As a citizen of our great country, I believe we should be doing everything we can to honor our vets at community celebrations and the like. I need you to hear that!
  • However, as a Christian, I don't believe that patriotic celebrations and the singing of patriotic music belong in the church. My own view is that this leads to a common confusion between the world's kingdoms and God's kingdom, which is not of this world. Kingdoms rise and kingdoms fall, but God's kingdom will never fall or fail. I believe that nationalism and Gospel ministry each have an important place in our lives, but belong in separate spheres. When we gather for worship, we are about other business, the business of the Gospel. It's important to me that the Gospel not be confused with republican values or, for that matter, any values of a particular political stripe. I believe in a clear distinction of the kingdoms. We have a foot in each, but they are separate spheres and we should work hard not to confuse them.
  • I believe that Jesus taught us to distinguish the kingdoms when asked about the paying of taxes. He said "Render to Caesar what is Caesars and to God what is God's." As citizens in the community, we are called to render to Caesar (and to vets) their due. This is appropriate and this is good. When we gather for worship, I believe we enter into a different sphere where we are called to render to God what is God's.
  • The early church was marked by a diversity of people united in Christ. There were Gentiles of every nationality and Jews, men and women, slaves and masters, who presumably differed widely in their views of politics and a variety of other subjects. Yet they came together to worship. They checked their baggage at the door and affirmed that there was One Lord, One Faith, One God and Father of all. I believe facilitating this kind of Gospel-centered, diverse, open community in the church is as important now as it was then. My own conviction is that singing patriotic songs and having an American flag in church jeopardizes this kind of Gospel-centered environment and blurs some important distinctions. As an American citizen, I believe in the flag and in the honoring of the flag as a patriotic symbol, but as a Christian, I believe our first allegiance is to God and the Gospel.
  • In the 5th Century, when the barbarians were sacking the gates of Rome, Christians despaired and wondered what would happen to them if Rome fell. The church had become too attached to and equated with the Roman Empire after the conversion of Emperor Constantine in 325. In that dark and scary hour, God raised up Augustine, who took up his pen and wrote the classic "The City of God," where he illustrated that the God's work of salvation through the Gospel transcends all earthly kingdoms. I believe that Augustine was right . . . we should be very careful to not equate Gospel ministry with any earthly kingdom.
  • Personally, I believe that patriotism and love of country are very important values that must be taught and instilled in our children. We are working double time to teach and instill these values in our own children by giving them a rich biblical and classical, history-based education. I just do not think the church is the appropriate place to teach and instill these values. Our role, in the church, is to instill Gospel values. I believe the Biblical distinction between the kingdoms that I am arguing for is also a value/belief that needs to be instilled in our children.
  • Here's a great comparison issue: Our family is deeply involved in a school that my wife helped found. We are passionate about this school and its merits. We value it and believe in it, and yet, I have never once mentioned the school by name from the pulpit. Why? Because I believe the schooling of my children belongs in a different and separate sphere of my life. When I have my "parent hat" on, you will hear me quite passionate about our great school. Likewise, when I have my "citizen hat" on, you will hear my quite passionate about our great country. When I have my "pastor hat" on, you will hear me quite passionate about our great Gospel. I am determined, when we worship, to know nothing among the people of God, except Christ and Him crucified. I refuse to talk about schools or politics.
  • This issue is a curious one, because I think if we did sing patriotic songs and had an American flag in church, I would be fielding just as many questions from folks on the other side of this issue. Its a "lightening rod" issue.
  • Specifically regarding the issue of a display to honor our currently serving military men and women: Our ministry staff reached a unanimous decision after an extensive discussion of the idea. Our shared conviction coming out that discussion was that it would be more appropriate and valuable to remember our soldiers by asking someone to collect and coordinate prayer requests for inclusion in our weekly prayer email bulletin. In this way, the needs of our soldiers in harm's way would be kept in front of us in a weekly and ongoing manner. We also agreed that our Missionaries fall into a unique category as those financially supported by Grace in their Gospel ministries around the world. Our financial support and their Gospel callings together set them apart. We asked together, "What about our Christian teachers, those involved in the vital education of our own and the community's children? And what about our police and fire men and women, who protect and serve? And what about our Christian business owners and managers, who provide jobs for people in our church? Should these other groups not also have Honor Boards? Where should we draw the line and how?" God calls and sends us to all these professions, just as he calls and sends some to the battlefield.
  • I suspect that my views may be a bit different and out of alignment with some of the historical happenings here at Grace. I don't know what has happened in the past, because I was not here. I am doing, as the lead pastor of Grace today, the best I can before God to make our worship services as Biblical as I possibly can.
  • I know that my views are not necessarily popular or even understood, by vets or by others here at Grace. I truly mean no offense. But I do think these are important theological and Biblical distinctions for our world today. I will look for an opportunity to address these issues from the pulpit down the road, if that would be helpful.
  • I want to be clear that these views are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of all our staff or elders. Nor do these views, in any way, represent an official position of Grace Church at this time. Our elders have discussed these issues, usually around the time of each election, when some have asked why we do not provide voting guides for our people. I will raise this issue again for discussion. I am open to correction and am committed to submitting to the other God-appointed leaders around me.
  • At the risk of sounding redundant, I don't want my views to be construed as being unsupportive or ungrateful to our veterans for their sacrifice and service to our country. Nor do I desire for you or anyone to think that I am not patriotic or proud of the great country we live in. Nothing could be further from the truth. As a citizen, I am deeply grateful for the sacrificial service of our vets and for the freedoms we enjoy. I am proud to be an American.

Hope that makes sense and is in someway helpful. I want you to know my mind and heart on these matters that so directly impact our life together. I'd love to hear your thoughts and would be quite surprised if I don't see at least a few comments.


Phillip Moses said...

Amen! I support this philosophy of ministry / separation of Kingdoms whole-heartedly.

Too often Christians spend their time and "collective bargaining power" trying to play politics, when they should be more focused on knowing and worshiping their God.

Kate said...

I amen everything you said as well. Thanks for taking the time to write this all out. I love it! How perfect our Lord said it, "Render to Caesar what is Ceasar's and to God what is God's." Thanks for this post!

Brianna Heldt said...

Kevin and I both really appreciate that you are committed to keeping nationalism and Christianity seperate. We once visited a church that was EXTREMELY patriotic (American flags everywhere, huge wall in the sanctuary with servicemen's names on them, and before the sermon two (Republican)candidates in the upcoming election stood up to give talks on why we should vote for them.) It felt a little like a political convention, and we were really uncomfortable. (Let it be known that we too are registered Republicans, and I used to work for a Republican California assemblyman, so it has nothing to do with a distaste for one particular political party. For the record I'm not gung-ho about either party.)

For me personally, when I see patriotic songs sung in a church setting or lots of flags, I feel like we are endorsing the idea that God is on America's side and that "holiness" is synonymous with "American", at the exclusion of everyone else. (When really WE ought to be seeking to be on GOD'S side). I also think it then becomes very easy for certain political values to become synonymous with being a Christian--obviously there should be some overlap there, but not on everything.

I too love America, am happy to live here and am thankful that many have sacrificed for our country.

I do wonder how to instill patriotism/love of country in our children without putting out the "America and everything we do is superior" vibe. I'd love to see more on this.

Thanks for sharing these thoughts!

Jeannett Gibson said...

Loved the way you put it all out there. And I too, happen to agree with your stand on the whole spectrum of issues. Again, I just love the transparency!

andy gibson said...

I agree with everything, believe it or not, except for one thing, I think; displaying the flag in (or on) the church. I don't think that "endorses" America as the one and only country, or the only Holy country. But at the least, it simply acknowledges the fact that this church stands on U.S. soil and because of that, we have the freedom to have a church in the first place and worship in it. We should appreciate that. It is because of God's grace on us that we can (and those that bled for the country), because through his will, he made the U.S. free? That should be acknowledged. Doesn't Romans 13 say that government is the extension of God's hand?

And to clarify, I don't specifically mean a flag in the sanctuary, this argument can simply apply to a flag flying on the church campus.

I can maybe be convinced, but so far, the arguments for simply not having a flag in church are not good ones. So if it's a "lightning rod" issue (isn't music just as much a "lightning rod" issue?), I want to hear from those that are REALLY opposed to even simply having a flag in church, and not just passively against it. Why?

Oh, and another (very far right, if we're going for transparency here) Republican here.

Pastor Tim Theule said...

Brianna, I think teaching our kids history can give them a humble, but non-triumphalistic (is that a word) appreciation for the values/ideals our country was founded upon. I believe the Gospel teaches us to be humble and see the errors and idols and fallenness of every culture, including our own.

Andy, I think a flag in church just muddies the water unnecessarily. Even if the flag on the premises is not an endorsement of American values, there is still an association there and for some that would be a confusing and unhelpful association.

Why put a unnecessary barrier or stumbling block in front of somebody who is considering the claims of Christ and the Gospel, but who has hang-ups about the flag? The Gospel is naturally offensive. Let's let it be offensive w/o adding our own offensiveness to it. I've got enough of a challenge trying to explain what the Bible teaches about other hot-button topics without having to continuously explain why we have a flag on the premises. (Although looks I have my hands full right now explaining why we DON'T have a flag on the premises!)

Phillip Moses said...

Another opportunity to teach our kids these important values would be to bring them this Thurs. night!

andy gibson said...

But Tim, you're only looking at one side of it. We can be putting an unnecessary barrier or stumbling block over somebody who thinks that we SHOULD have a flag, could we not? The argument can go both ways. And that could be offensive to that person. You're dead right that your job shouldn't be having to explain why there is a flag on the campus...but here you are arguing why there is not, and I still don't buy it. Sorry.

If I had to be a betting man, there are likely MORE lurkers out there that notice the church w/out the flag then there would be those that would notice that there was a flag on the campus. At the very least, it's probably 50/50. So which group do we want to cater too?

So all we are arguing here is opinion and semantics, and we likely won't convince each other. Your view is the one that stands, however; you're the lead pastor, you've made a decision, and I respect that. The reasoning, however, doesn't ring with me, but that's OK. As long as you're (or the elders, staff, etc.) have been thinking about it, I'm good. Peace.

I have to be in San Rafael Thursday :(....I hope to be back in time and I hope Lance's flight is later than sooner!

Anonymous said...


You concisely laid out your feelings in regard to this issue. I too, am a Republican, believe in America's responsibility to protect her citizens, and am extremely patriotic. However, I am not always enthusiastic in regard's to her policies, including methods of education, taxing, entitlement programs, and all judicial
Decisions, which favor the felonious instead of the victim.

I have the HIGHEST respect for our veteran's. I never hesitate to vocalize this to any one. I always try to make the effort to convey this to any veteran I meet. The most impressive sight I have ever witnessed in America was Arlington National Cemetery, acres and acres of white crosses. The sacrifice of lives that establishes our freedom as unique among the world (not dismissing any other democratic society) should NEVER be taken for granted!!!!!

When I read Andy's comment I saw a new perspective on having an American flag on the church premises. Andy makes an excellent point. Our freedom of religion again sets America apart from so many other countries. After some thought I have come to the conclusion Tim's reasoning is the best for the church. The church is the focus for the church family and the Gospel. Tim's arguments clarify the purpose of the church and why seperation of state is necessary to the God's church.

What a blessing it is that we DO have the freedom to openly dialog together about these religous issues.

Denene Klosterman

Joe Pollon said...

This may be off the specific topic of patriotic hymns and displays, but I think it may be relevant.

The Bible certainly instructs us with regard to being a parent, a spouse, a business person and a member of the church. It tells us how to treat the poor, the widow and the orphan. And it seems those themes are readily preached. However, doesn’t it also have something to say about the more controversial/political issues like qualifications for leadership, confronting evil, war, abortion, and self-defense? Why aren’t these topics preached about? While I appreciate the effort to keep the political and church spheres separate on campus, once we walk off those spheres merge.

I agree that neither Republican, Democratic nor even American values should be preached or specifically endorsed, but when we are trying to decide to support a candidate, a party, a policy or a cause, it would be helpful to know what the bible has to say in order determine where they might overlap or conflict.

Granted that sometimes the answers are not so clear. But if we are instructed to act on G-d’s behalf in this earthly world, I can’t imagine that “rendering unto Caesar” meant to stand on the sidelines when Caesar perpetrates evil.

Pastor Tim Theule said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pastor Tim Theule said...

Hey Joe,

I make a point to preach about the sanctity of life every year in January. My attempt is to lay a Biblical foundation that will inform voters when they go to the boxes, students as they sit in the classrooms, children as they sit by their dying parent's bedsides, and all of us as the trainwreck of bioethics comes barreling down the track toward us all.

I will deal with these other topics you mention as they come up in the course of our systematic Biblical study. One of the challenges is that the Bible is less clear on some of these topics and we must work from broader principles to come to conclusions in more specific situations.

Another challenge is that the Bible does not really address our situation living in a representative democracy. As Andy referenced, Romans 13 deals with the role of government as appointed by God. 1 Peter tells us to submit to those in authority, not to take up arms. How does this apply in a democracy? I'm not always sure.

We have a Savior who suffered and in so doing brought about the greatest good. He's left us an example for us to follow in His footsteps. Topics for another day. The Gospel is radical in its implications.

Vikki Murray said...

Pastor Tim,
I agree that we shouldn't have a flag on campus for the same reasons you cited.

However, for those Christians who want help determining God's will on political matters, I think as a church we should find a solution that everyone can live with. Maybe we can have some type of open forum or "question and answer" meetings outside of the sanctuary (the Ministry Center or the park?) where candidates and voting issues can be discussed in light of the Bible. I think it is a mistake to think that everyone in the congregation is thoroughly aware of what the Bible says on all issues, especially new believers. I believe there are many Christians that are hungry for guidance in this area. Also, if we had it in the park, perhaps some locals would stumble upon us and hear the Gospel:)

I also think it would help our youngsters in public schools and college who are bombarded with liberal social opinions/agendas on a daily basis. With the signing of SB777 by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example, this atmosphere only promises to get more unhealthy both spiritually and physically in the future. I don't have the space to explain SB 777 here, but please look it up if you don't know what it is! Maybe if a greater number of Christians would have known that it was being voted on they would have put more pressure on their representatives to kill it.

Thank you Pastor for giving us a space to dialog with you and others.

Eric said...


Let me be the first to say I was embarrassed by our acknowledgement of our military servicemen/women on Veterans Day. It would have been better not to mention it at all. Instead they got a passing mention as you read off other announcements and a clap while everyone was already standing.

I agree that politics do not belong in church. We should never endorse a political candidate nor allow them to campaign from the pulpit. We should not endorse any particular proposition or ballot measure. Which makes me wonder if you feel the way you do, why did you endorse Prop73 from the pulpit? Surely you could teach on the sanctity of human life and leave it for people to figure out for themselves what to do.

Also the church should not be in support of the war or any other military campaign. However, on a few occasions per year, can we not show our military folk our respect and gratitude for what they do? It is true that God ultimately cares for us and gives us our life and freedom but He did use our military to provide us those things. Our Declaration of Independence acknowledges these very facts. In a country that seems to be ignoring these self evident truths more and more shouldn't we be the ones to proclaim them?

Why do things need to be so radically separated? Can you not think of a way to present the gospel message and be patriotic at the same time showing how the gospel message fits into our country's story? I refuse to believe there is no room for patriotism in the corporate church service.

As for singing, why did we sing Battle Hymn of the Republic on Mother's Day? Our country has a rich and beautiful history of patriotic songs that acknowledge our God as the giver of life and freedom. It has been argued for America the Beautiful to have national anthem status. If we the people of Jesus Christ are not going to sing these songs, who is? There are plenty of people who would be thrilled to have these God oriented patriotic songs fade
away. We must be the ones to keep them alive.

I grew up in Fighter Town USA in a church with a lot more military folk than are at Grace. Whenever Independence Day or Veterans Day fell on a Sunday, these folks would show up in uniform. One of them would be selected to read the scripture for the morning. We would sing some God honoring patriotic hymns. The pastor would weave God's story and our country's story together during the message. Our military folks would stand and we would all clap for them. Never once did I feel the church was being militaristic or promoting the USA over God's kingdom. Rather I was grateful to our God for the freedom that He provides and thankful for brave men and women who sacrifice themselves for the rest of us. God does not need us to do anything. However He uses us, including military, to accomplish his plans on earth. If not for them, where if at all would you be worshiping Jesus today?

andy gibson said...

"Never once did I feel the church was being militaristic or promoting the USA over God's kingdom. Rather I was grateful to our God for the freedom that He provides and thankful for brave men and women who sacrifice themselves for the rest of us. God does not need us to do anything. However He uses us, including military, to accomplish his plans on earth. If not for them, where if at all would you be worshiping Jesus today?"

Bingo Eric. That is the point I was trying to make earlier, but fell on deaf ears. That argument, at the very least, supports putting a flag on the campus just as acknowledgement. And you make very good points for why we should be patriotic in church. I don't disagree.

You make a very, very strong argument, and I agree with you on our lackluster acknowledgement in church last Sunday. What made it worse for me, is that there was in fact somebody in service (11am) in their uniform.

I'll be interested to see the response to some of the contradictions that have been carried out during service that you pointed out. I'm hearing that nothing U.S. related or patriotic should be in the church, but actions have spoken otherwise, meaning a balance between the two was there. So why a hardline with no balance now?

Pastor Tim Theule said...

Now its heating up!

I'm hearing you boys and am eager to respond. I'm going to be disciplined and hold off till at least tomorrow. Other duties and responsibilities call. But I will respond, I promise.

Thanks for engaging. . . Tim

andy gibson said...

No worries. You're a single Dad this week. Rough.

But let me add something does this work with separation of church and state (or separation of state and church, since this is backwards)? Jeannett and I argued long and hard about this tonight after growth group and can't agree or come to a solid conclusion.

We, as Christians (or many at least) worry about having "In God we Trust" on bills, taking "under God" out of the pledge, voting for religious leaders, voting for leaders that "say" they will overturn Roe vs. Wade, etc. But if we are here saying that it has no business in the churh, why do we think we have any business in the state, or in politics? Where is the line, what is the grey area?

Are we creating a double standard by thinking we should be in the state, but the state not in the church? Do outsiders see that as a double standard, and add to the fire against the church and against the Gospel in America today? It may be hurting us.

jeff martin said...

Would not the importance of Gospel Unity be enough to avoid the pitfalls of engaging patriotism and politics within the church?

Since we are all out on the table here you should know I am likely the most right of center person usually in a room. And patriotism in my understanding of the term is not one of my weak points. This ideology carries into my vocation and personal life but I believe it really has no place in the church. Why? I beleive our duty is to build each other up in unity and maintain our faith. I may not be hitting them all but I cannot see any benefit other than soothing our own pride when it comes to patriotism and/or politics in the church.

Bottom line is you can be a real believer whether you are patriotic or not. Politics and definition of patriotism is very subjective and diverse. This diversity is not a bad thing as long as we meet in Gospel Unity and set the other issues aside. The bad side of the personal or subjective diversity is it is just the kind of stumbling block that hurts churches and causes christians to stumble.

I sincerely appreciate everyones dialog here and understand their hearts and passions. I am with you as God is my witness. I just don't think bringing it in the church will help our Christ given cause.

andy gibson said...

It's late, but long story short, my biz partner and I talked about this for about an hour during our 4+ hour drive to San Rafael today.

So are we not standing (or typing!) here that we really are hypocrites? I have a hard time seeing how we aren't when considering the separation of "state and church" we have here.

Not only could we be hyprcrites, but we came to the conclusion that some of this has to be based on political correctness, and I've read elements of that in the responses so far. Tim, you've never shyed away from tackling issues in church for the sake of "correctness". You bring the Gospel every Sunday, and you will preach what it tells you, period, without worrying about "scaring" new Christians or new guests of the church away even though it is a VERY real possibility. But all of the sudden to have a flag on the campus would compromise that or cause stumbling? Or to better acknowledge our vets would compromise that and/or cause stumbling?

I understand points like Jeff's based on Gospel Unity and I agree that while we are in church; it's really the only way to do it, but there is still a huge disconnect with me (as to why a flag would hinder that) and I see a huge hole in the arguments that I can only answer myself by filling with political correctness. Are we afraid somebody will think we are endorsing the war with a flag, endorsing the left/right with a flag, etc., so instead, we just wont have a flag. Tell me that isn't an element of what is going on here, seriously? If it is, that sucks.

Suzette said...

I liked Tim's sermon awhile back on "A People of the Word". It was really helpful to see the reasoning behind the things we are doing during worship. I like all of the things we do to put God's Word at the center. Everything we do in our worship should give glory and honor to God.

With that in mind I completely agree with Tim about the issue of the flag. The question was asked "Why not have a flag to honor the country that has given us the freedom to worship?" I am grateful for my freedom. I praise God that He has given courage and strength to those who have fought for our nation. We should honor their sacrifice frequently and abundantly in the public square. But not in God's house. Becuase really it is not the noble men and women or the nation that has given me the freedom to worship. It is God alone. He is sovreign and all glory and honor are His. It is so easy for me to forget that. And when I do it always gets me in trouble.

Pastor Tim Theule said...

Eric and Andy,

Its 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 clouds and confuses 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 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, its 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, calls Jews to subsume their nationalistic Jewishness to a new and higher allegiance to Jesus. Likewise, the Gospel calls 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 we speak of the 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, its 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

Eric said...


Thanks for responding.

I think you and some of the others are inter-relating politics and patriotism too much. In today's political climate I feel that they are the antithesis of each other. We both agree on the politics thing and I have not seen anyone in this thread disagree with that either. I think that part is solved excepting the Prop 73 thing which I think I understand now.

The biggest issue I have is that I believe the church should be celebrating and proclaiming what God has done for us as a nation. The rest of the nation is not jumping up and down to make it known so if we don't in time it will be lost. I'm glad you are teaching your kids this at home, but where are the kids who grow up in public school without a dad as helpful as you going to learn these truths?

Finally, I know that Grace Church has no official position on these matters but from where I am standing your viewpoint is the defacto position. The exceptions seem to be a case where you were directed to promote Prop73 and the Battle Hymn got past you. A US flag used to fly in the sanctuary but has since been removed.

If the church does not have a position the staff should be free to do things within the official positions of the church regardless of what you think. Otherwise you are a virtual dictator and the lack of official positions is just a convenient way for you to get out of hot water.

Vikki Murray said...

Hey Pastor Tim,
How about giving your opinion on my post?


andy gibson said...

Tim, you make a lot of good points, and I agree with 90% of what you said, with some fundamental disagreements, which I'm not going to harp on. Like you said, I like the dialogue, I like that you really put my concerns to thought, and I like that we can humbly disagree. Thanks.

Ouch, Eric, those are some pretty strong words, and crossed the line. If anything, you may be right that after this discussion and the way it has played out, maybe the church does need an official position because the water is muddy right now. But, I would have left it at that.

Eric said...

Andy, Tim,

Re-reading my comment I can see how you thought I crossed the line. However, I was merely making an observation based on what has actually happened and comments from Tim himself in this thread.

Tim, in no way did I mean to imply that I actually think you are a dictator, virtual or otherwise.

I apologize if my comment offended you.

Pastor Tim Theule said...


I think the type of forum you suggest is a fine idea, but I don't think it should be in anyway church-sponsored. If individual Christians want to gather other believers to discuss such issues, I'm all for it.

I am banking on the hope that solid systematic Biblical teaching over the long haul will create informed, engaged voters who bring a Biblical perspective into the booth.


It seems to me that you and I simply disagree about the role of the church. I don't believe the church's role is teach American History, but to teach the Gospel and the whole counsel of God. You and I agree, however, that the fact that American History is being neglected is a sad problem. (In fact, we believe so strongly that this is a problem that we jumped into start a school to help address it!) I just don't think its the church's problem. In fact, there are all sorts of societal problems that the church might chase after, but the church's mission is to preach the Gospel. She is most effective and most powerful when she focuses on her Jesus-given mission. There is a power in focus.

(Also, I think its quite a challenge to determine which parts of American History God was actually blessing. Was he blessing our mistreatment of the Indians, for example? ... When we focus on God's Word, we at least have the authority of the Bible to fall back on when we bump up against something that we don't like or don't understand. I feel much safer there . . . but that's another subject altogether.)

Regarding the removal of the flag from our worship space: I honestly can't remember what exactly happened to it. Its possible I pulled it. As in all things, I will submit to the rule of the elders in this as well, if they wish it reinstalled. I expect we will be discussing these issues at length at our next meeting.

Regarding staff freedom: I believe its important that our team strive to do ministry in a cohesive, consistent team fashion across the board in every setting and at every event, not a haphazardly or in isolation. Obviously, this doesn't always happen, but we try. Our ministry staff, as well, is talking about these issues at length. I think our staff would tell you I am a collaborative leader, receiving and considering their input, even when it differs from my own. Often the team makes decisions, that differ from a decision I might make alone. I sense that our pastoral staff is generally in agreement on these issues, though we may differ on some of the specifics. I think our staff has much freedom in their respective ministries.

Regarding the lack of official position on these issues: What can I say? There's a lot going on and we are in process on this and a thousand other issues. I agree we need "white papers" on this and many other issues. (I can't tell you how often I am fielding questions about the women in ministry/leadership issue these days!) We just aren't there yet, but I think I'll get there.

What you are seeing here is me/us in process on this issue. This is real life pastoral ministry on the fly and in the trenches. I sure don't have a set of pre-fab, "turn-key" answers here. I wish I did sometimes. Its sure not pretty all the time, but at least its real.

When I add the "this does not a represent an official position of Grace Church, SLO at this time" disclaimer, I am trying to be careful not to speak for others. Since these issues emerged a couple weeks back, our elders have not even had a chance to gather. They've seen some emails and are reading along on the blog, just like you are.

I suppose I could wait till we had this all figured out and then share our official position here at Life Together in a couple of years. That would be neat and safe, slow and boring. But I have chosen to do it differently. . . to take a few more risks and go for it a bit. As I do that, because I am so committed to to a plurality of leadership, I want to make sure I don't get out in front of our leaders by making what sound like official policy statements. Again, we are all in process on these and a host of other issues. You are seeing the middle of a process. I give thanks that our elders give me the freedom to show my/our process along the way and take some risks. Its a whole lot of fun for me, though, at the same time, can be a bit vulnerable and even a little stressful. Hope that all makes sense.

And come on, Eric, I'm surely not avoiding "hot water" here, but putting myself in it, by sharing my own convictions, showing the process and inviting dialogue. I'm clearly not taking the easy road or the path of least resistance.

Eric said...


Thanks for the follow up post. I think I now understand where you are coming from on each issue. Though we obviously don't agree on a couple items it's good to know what is going on and that each issue is or will be under discussion by the elder board.

andy gibson said...

Are we having fun yet?

Chris Hyde said...

Hey Tim...

I stumbled upon your site and was blown away to read this discussion. I just had a very heated interaction with the worship pastor's wife at our church about this very issue. Thanks for taking the time to write out your thoughts so clearly. I totally agree with and support what you wrote here and I think you're dead on correct with your views. Thanks for writing what was on my heart regarding this issue at our church!

I hope you're enjoying SLO. I lived there for 5 years and it is my favorite city in California!