That question is an interesting one. You would think that the answer is a resounding and unequivocal ‘NO.’ Yet hang around IFB sects long enough, you begin to see patterns emerge from the worship service. How often has the song leader omitted the third in a four verse song? Why the third?
Sometimes, attendees are given a printed ‘order of service.’ But this isn’t ‘liturgy.’ Well — it isn’t what IFBs call ‘liturgy.’ After all, liturgy is what Episcopalians and their closely related cousins, ‘Catholics’ do.
But those patterns which reveal themselves week after week were not lost on Paul and Cindy Erlandson. They came up with a great liturgical parody on IFB ‘liturgy’ which the IFBs don’t call ‘liturgy.’
None Dare Call It Liturgy
For example in place of the ‘Passing of the Peace,’ the Erlandsons refer to ‘the Glad-handing of the Peace,’ which goes as follows:
Then may the Minister say: “Why don’t we all shake hands with the person on our left and on our right and say ‘Good morning.’”
This is followed by several exemptions for ‘special days.’ This closes with:
When the general hubbub has subsided, the Minister shall say: “You may be seated.”
In place of ‘Canticle of the Day’ the Erlandsons refer to IFB ‘Sharesicles, Prayersicles, and Praiseicles of the Day.’ They might also have alluded to testimonies, but that would imply … well … you know where this goes.
The Erlandsons have served up a playful intertwining of sacred language with IFB ‘unstructured, spirit led, whatever happens’ services. The result is quite a treat. Perhaps others will have their own observations to offer on IFB liturgy which isn’t ‘Liturgy.’
If not my theological magazine of choice, Friday’s Christianity Today article, ‘Patriotic Worship is Coming to a Church Near You,’ addresses an egregious error more charitable in a spirit than my pen would allow. Well done, Christianity Today; well done, Ed Stetzer.
Stetzer said that many churches would alter liturgy and/or worship with special ceremony and/or pageantry in Independence Day observation.
If Roopville Road Baptist Church indicates anything, Ed was right.
Himself a pastor, Ed Stetzer wrote:
‘we have not made a major practice of emphasizing patriotic holidays during worship services. We acknowledge them, pray for our nation and leaders, and are thankful.
There is nothing here that one cannot find say in the Church of England. The Book of Common Prayer includes beautifully crafted prayers for the nation, the head of state, and other civil order officiates. But Stetzer adds:
‘However, we are also cautious because, as I see it, some churches have overemphasized patriotic celebrations and this has led to a confusion of where “God Bless America” and “All Hail King Jesus” do, and do not, mix.’
How the World Sees
Reared in this context, many see nothing remarkable in this. We’re Americans. This is what we do. It doesn’t occur to us that this way of thinking and doing ‘church’ is very different from other places.
Trevin Wax relates this experience from his mission work in Romania.
As if to show how strange the civil religion idea is in other contexts, Wax adds these words to the conversation:
“To show you do missions?” I said, trying to find a reference point from my own culture.
“No, to show we are the church.”
My own recollection of that first ‘patriotic worship’ experience was that it was about the strangest creation I had ever seen. But then, I became a naturalized citizen in my 40s. Then some years later, I was struck to learn by what means civil religion sometimes has been promoted.
Civil Religion, Corporate Agenda
I refer to Princeton historian Kevin Kruse’ work, ‘One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America.’ Kruse is mistaken to think that civil religion is a product within this lifetime. Politics and religion have interacted since the Revolutionary War. Still, Christians may be startled or even aroused at Kruse’ assertion that business leaders and corporations paid clergy to shape theology in ways that served a business agenda. Kruse is interviewed by NPR’s ‘Fresh Air.’
Interesting as Kruse’ history lesson may be [and it won’t interest some], Ststzer’s article respectfully recognizes and supports civic officiates while cautioning against the idolatrous tendency of some congregations to ‘love America more than they love God.’ Both concerns are valid.
Revelation as a Theological Metric
Revelation 13, 17-18 offers cause for sober reflection — not of the nation so much as the church and of her place in the world. That, I think, is the real issue. It may not be apparent to us; but it is possible for us to make it impossible for onlookers to see the difference between church and world.
As we know, no one is more separated from the world and its secular agendas than Independent, Fundamental Baptists. That said, may we welcome to Roopville Road Baptist Church, Roopville, Georgia.
An Independence Day Prayer
May God bless and keep you all as you travel, and visit with friends and family. May the bonds of family be strengthened across generations. May all your children come to know the goodness and sheer goodness beauty of laughter, rest, recreation and good food. May these be lifetime memories.
God has blessed America.
Now let us bless our God.
The children of Orlando sit on the ground in silence; Their hands bury their faces; grief has become their sackcloth.
For these things we weep. Our eyes flow with tears.
Our children are desolate. For the enemy has prevailed.
Our souls are bereft of peace: We have forgotten what happiness is.
The thought of such horror and death is wormwood and gall! We think of it continually and our souls are bowed down within us.
But this we call to mind, And therefore we have hope.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end.
They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness, O Lord.
The Lord is my portion, says my soul. Therefore I will hope in him.
A Prayer of Confession
Lord God, who gives and sustains all life, comfort all your children, but especially those of Orlando whose minds now relive the horror and wanton destruction of life that came when your shalom was vandalized, Be the passionate friend whose heart breaks with all who are brokenhearted.
We turn to you for your life-giving breath; we turn to you for hope, We turn to you for forgiveness as we confess our sins.
Where we have failed you and others in your mission, Lord, forgive us.
Where we have failed to love you above all and others as ourselves, Lord, forgive us.
Where we have taken secret pleasure in others’ misery, believing that their suffering is deserved, Lord, forgive us.
Where we have not stood by those unlike us in color, language, origin, gender, gender orientation or belief, Lord, forgive us.
Where we have not raised our voices against oppression and injustice because ‘they’ are different, Lord, forgive us.
A Prayer for Restoration
Renew our lives and our faith so that we may be the Church of Jesus Christ wherever we are placed. Move us to dedicate our lives to your service.
As you raised your own Son from death and the grave, raise us up to new life in you. Move us to dedicate our lives to your service.
Empower us by the Holy Spirit to dream dreams and see visions of a cosmos in which all things are made new. Move us to dedicate our lives to your service.
Make us a living Church in Christ’s name, holy unto you and precious in your sight. Move us to dedicate our lives to your service.
Make us to be Christ in the world, finding new ways to declare your love to those around us. Move us to dedicate our lives to your service.
Raise up Orlando and all our communities to be better, stronger, united and devoted to our common good to the praise of your holy Name! All honor, glory and praise to you, God our Father, and to Jesus Christ your Son, and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forevermore, world without end.
Like any cult, a state religion of selective, political piety needs liturgies. They need Holy Days. Memorial Day is a biggie, as is July 4. Patriotic songs are sung, and national doctrines and narratives [Manifest Destiny, American Exceptionalism] are recited. Heroes are celebrated [adoration of the saints]. Political litanies tell what we got wrong [confession]. There are predictions of glories [beatific vision] if we get it right, and prophecies of doom [civic hell] if we don’t. There are exhortations to vote [ballot as political sacrament], calls for more [working class] sacrifice [offerings], and appeals to re-consecrate to national purpose [more chauvinism].
To help set the spirit for the event, Sharefaith makes available a variety of suitably martial Memorial Day images. Pastors and worship committees use such things to remind us of stuff we won’t forget if we know what’s good for us. For a price, of course.
‘Suitably’ matters. A lot.
Lest we doubt that images seek very specific responses, imagine the uproar if a Memorial Day church service used this as a power point image.
Actually, ‘uproar’ is an understatement. We can reasonably expect that many would up and leave.
Others would offer diatribes. Conceivably, there would be some fist-fights. Certainly some would resign from church councils and boards. Other churches would sever pastoral relations. In some localities, a few bricks [or a Molotov Cocktail] might pass through a parsonage window, driving home the message that pastor needs to leave sooner, not later.
Yet for many in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and other lands where the US military routinely conducts clandestine operations, the ‘Statue of Liberty’ image may be more indicative of their experience. This raises an issue that Christians in the US ought to consider.
Say an Iraqi man wanders into this service. Twelve years ago as a young teen, he lost his parents, siblings, four uncles and nineteen cousins. His admittedly lively birthday party was mistaken for a resistance cell. A US tank shelled his home. It collapsed. He alone survived and came to the US as a refugee.
What is our guest to make of this pageantry? What of the nationalistic hymns, prayers, narratives and other symbols? Attached to the Christian story, might not the riot of all things patriotic obscure the cross and glory of Christ for this guest? Might not this hinder gospel proclamation?
If as Mt 28:18-20 and Re 14:6 imply, the redeemed are from every nation, is not God’s purpose undermined by our unbridled nationalistic fervor? At some point, we must not say that this simply isn’t appropriate?
Ordinarily, the ‘Statue of liberty’ imagery would be equally inappropriate. This is not to say that the church might never have occasion to use it; but in her worship, the church has numerous, ever–appropriate Biblical images — the bread and cup, the basin and towel. A rich history of Christian art — ancient, classical and modern — illustrate every Biblical theme imaginable. Use those in worship.
While Christians should join to sing these songs at parades and picnics, should they be doing so in a church worship service? Do displays of patriotism have a place in Christian worship or should they be reserved for the local minor league baseball stadium?
That’s the rub.
It is just too easy for the church to be co-opted by secular, civic premises and systems of thought. All too easily, we become the ecclesial reflection of the politics of earthly power and glory. That it is an ecclesial reflection of the powers of this age might explain why the church is where it is.
William Barber said:
‘If your Gospel isn’t good news for those who are poor…then it isn’t the Gospel of Jesus.’
This can be extended to include all people. If your Gospel doesn’t visit orphans and widows in distress … if your Gospel isn’t peace to those who are weary of strife … if your Gospel isn’t healing for the sick … if your Gospel isn’t restoration for the broken … if your Gospel isn’t protection for women, strangers and aliens, etc., … then it isn’t the Gospel of Jesus.
Whenever these or any voices are smothered or otherwise silenced, we know that we’re getting it wrong. Whenever our issues come to the fore, we must remember who we are and what we’re doing. Our central confession of faith in Jesus Christ is this:
Christ has died.
Christ has risen.
Christ is coming again.
That confession can never mesh with the ideologies of this world, and we would be wise to question attempts to do so.
It is never an easy task for church to rid herself of the cultural signature that is everywhere about it. It is easy for us to be blind to what this says and does. To us, it is all so normal. But we can address the more blatant displays of our culture — especially where it can cause others to stumble.
My Google search for Christians and Gun Violence got some 1,130,000 ‘hits’ [no pun intended] in .38 seconds [still no pun intended].
Relevant Magazine writer Dargan Thompson said that Christians need to bite the bullet and discuss guns. She could have said, ‘THEIR guns.’ Each Advent, we proclaim Jesus as Prince of Peace. Yet rhetoric and behavior belie another truth about Christians and gun culture. In the US, guns are themselves a religion, and evangelical Christians are their prophets.
Guns Я Us
Like guns, perspectives on them and their control are plentiful.
While mass shootings gain attention and motivate activists, far more gun related deaths happen in other circumstances. Fox News assembled these gun related deaths for a single day. Eugene Sutton and Ian Douglas put this in perspective across time.
Every 7-8 years, one million Americans are killed or injured by firearms in a country that has nearly more guns than people.
Thompson is correct. Discussion is needed. It is also happening. It will continue to happen because it must. One venue for this conversation is the Armor of Light documentary on the subject featuring Rev. Rob Schenck.
‘Many pastors share with me privately that they are very concerned with the number of people who are not just procuring firearms for defensive purposes, some are bringing them to church.’
He says that:
‘Most pastors have said to me, “I just don’t touch it. It’s too volatile. It ends up dividing the church.”’
I had a growing concern as I watched folks in my own evangelical community demonstrating a kind of escalating fear about a lot of things—government, terrorism, fear of home invasions, of being robbed or murdered.
Noel Murray also interacted with Rev. Schenck and writes:
‘Schenck finds his fellow evangelicals parroting the idea that firearms “protect the innocent.” Even harder for Schenck, the goalposts keep moving for gun enthusiasts, from mere “self-defense” to active vigilantism.’
Thompson also interviews Abigail Disney for her role in this production. Disney believes that it is among white, evangelical, conservative Christians where:
‘…the disconnect is … largest between language about the sanctity of human life and the embrace of this culture. It’s not just the gun, it’s a language and a set of values around the gun. I call it yippie-ki-yay culture—this sort of looking forward to the conflict, not exhausting all the other possibilities first, and a blitheness and a disregard for the taking of human life.’
I can’t say whether this passes the formal definition, but perhaps yippie-ki-yay culture, looks a little like this:
Facing our Steel Dragons
If there’s one thing we grip as firmly as our guns, it’s the narratives that rationalize them. Of course for many, guns are their own rationalization. And as safety and justice arguments easily replace trust in God with a sidearm, today’s video is on target to regard the hold guns have over us as idolatrous. It isn’t that we keep guns as much as our guns that ‘keep’ us.
Chad Hall is Director of Coaching with Western Seminary faculty. As a much needed corrective to Mr. Whitney’s Institute on the Constitution [IOTC], Hall says that American values such as patriotism, nationalism and war [etc.] are not necessarily Christian values, and that the assertion to the contrary quickly devalues religion. Hall sees that often, there is nothing uniquely Christian about the way gun debates are framed.
We have to ask, What does God think of all this? And how should a Christian approach this issue in a faithful and thoughtful way?
Hall notes that God’s kingdom brings the world under Christ’s authority not from a gun barrel, but on a cross. Perhaps in somewhat that spirit, Brian Kammerzelt’s 4 things Christians Need to Remember about Gun Control is no polemical piece but a simple reminder of four things:
Seek first the kingdom
Love your enemy
A Christian Response
Liturgy is a powerful and essential part of Christian worship and witness. And as some see it, narratives of patriotism, nationalism, chauvinism, individualism, etc. are liturgical counter-inventions that contest God’s kingdom. From this perspective, all life is a litany practiced toward God or idols. Surely then, church can incarnate in appropriate ways a kingdom of God perspective in reply to this and other crises of our time.
This interfaith liturgy alone gives fundamentalists their desired rationale to boycott such events and to host anti-gun restriction events in their own political temples. But those who prefer witness minus anal retentiveness might be open to attending events.
Several other starting points for potentially useful resources include:
It’s time to ‘bite the bullet’ on gun culture. As analyses and rebuttals on mass shootings multiply, it behooves Christians to know where lies their faith allegiance lies in these things. It is not only the power of guns but the sway of this culture which indicates that we are discussing one of the ‘powers of this age.’ Nor should we forget the staggering amount of money that changes hands as guns are sold and bought each year.
The sheer number of gun-related deaths, the dominance of cultural fear, the evolving cultural narratives surrounding guns, and their power to silence proclamation in the church — these require that Christians take their stand beneath the sign of the cross, and face our steel dragons.