Have you ever been to a church service, perhaps in early July, where they “honor veterans” by asking them to stand while the rest of the congregation erupts into applause and the pastor, or whoever, says something to the effect of “Thank you for your service”? I have been to at least three. And in case you’re wondering, these weren’t churches in Texas full of gun-toting Republicans; it was here, in the Bay Area, at good Bible-teaching churches. This is a tragedy.
I call this an “American tragedy” because I believe it to be a peculiarly American phenomenon–that, being the Cross+Flag faith that I’ve alluded to before. Perhaps this occurs in churches in other countries with standing armies, a history of military interventionism, and a strong sense of nationalism. I wouldn’t be surprised if it did–the U.K., France, Canada, Australia seem likely. Yet, America is unique in its historical relationship to Christianity and I am convinced that this is the source of our syncretism. That being said why is this a tragedy? The role of a Christian church is to affirm and encourage obedience in the form of acts of love towards God and others, not to affirm and encourage sin. As Christians we are called to submit to and obey our respective governments (see Romans 13:1-5, Titus 3:1); we are not called to sin for them. Unless an individual is a cook, doctor, or some other kind of non-combatant, job duties in the military will unfortunately require the taking of human lives in violent warfare–or at least the preparation and willingness to do so. Violence, murder, and vengeance are the very essence of warfare and each one is sin. If our government asks us to sin then we must be prepared to join with the Apostles and shout, “we must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29), and then be willing to endure any persecution that might come as a result. This is the brutal and dangerous nature of being a Christian and loving our Lord and I say that it is a tragedy when our churches affirm and encourage sin rather than obedience! It is safer, and certainly more P.C., but what a tragedy it is when Christians gather together and those who have participated in sin are esteemed rather than corrected and pointed towards love. And let me quickly offer the disclaimer that this is not a critique of the so-called Just War Theory, the necessity of a strong national defense, rules of engagement, or any other secular, political idea. I am talking exclusively to the Church here because “what business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside!” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13).
You know what I would love to see? I would love to go to church next 4th of July or Veteran’s Day and witness submission and obedience to God in relation to government affirmed. Do you pay all your taxes? Do you obey traffic laws? Have you never stolen or vandalized property? Do you show respect to government officials? Do you fill out government forms honestly? If so, you should be standing and receiving applause from your congregation! You are the role model for your fellow Christians! You show faithfulness to God through your fearless submission to the government! You are the one deserving a “thank you” from the pastor for your faithful witness and obedience to God “rather than men”! If churches feel so obligated to use patriotic holidays as an opportunity to affirm acts done for our earthly kingdom then let them affirm acts such as these for they show allegiance to the Kingdom of God and are the only ones that should be encouraged at church.
Church is for affirming and encouraging righteousness and “blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves.” (Romans 14:22) Since God desires for us to obey our government, so far as it doesn’t conflict with His Kingdom, let’s encourage each other to do so. But let’s not allow our government or American culture define obedience for us. That would be a tragedy.