Thursday, July 7, 2016

Patriotic Christians

This past Sunday, we had a man leave in the middle of Services because he disagreed with our reciting the Pledge of Allegiance during our Worship Service on the Sunday before Independence Day. He didn’t speak to me on this occasion, although he has previously expressed his concerns on this issue to me and to others.

One of his primary arguments is that we shouldn’t recite the Pledge or participate in other patriotic displays because of the separation of church and state. That’s a pretty weighty issue on which there are a wide variety of learned opinions. But even if you concede that the separation of church and state is a legitimate issue, here’s the thing: the restriction is on the state, not on the church. The state (i.e. the federal government) is in fact prohibited from making laws respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. It’s right there in the 1st Amendment. Clear as day.

Again, honest people will disagree on how to interpret it, but there is no honest disagreement on this salient point—the 1st Amendment regulates the government, not the church. The church is free to participate as much or as little in the promotion of the state as it desires.

I consider myself a very patriotic person. I love my country and feel incredibly blessed to have been put here by God. That’s true regardless of whether Democrats or Republicans wield power. That’s true no matter whether conservatives or liberals are in charge. I am not always proud of the things our government does, but I am proud to be an American, where (to steal the words of the song) at least I know I’m free.

It might surprise some people to know, however, that I do struggle with how far we should go in the church in our patriotic zeal. I think we have to be careful not to confuse being an American with being a Christian. They are not the same thing. I think we have to avoid thinking that the blessings God has promised to believers apply across the board to our nation, because they don’t.

So we do have to be cautious in aligning ourselves in the church with the state. Even a cursory review of Church History makes this very clear: whenever the church and the state get too closely tied together, the church inevitably loses. Every time.

That’s why the focus in our Worship Services—on Independence Day, Flag Day, Veteran’s Day or any other day is on Jesus. We may honor our nation, but we worship our Lord. We may recite the Pledge of Allegiance, but our loyalty is always first and foremost to our God.

In the same Service in which we have one man walk out because of the Pledge of Allegiance, we may have others who are upset because we didn’t go further in recognition of Independence Day. We didn’t sing God Bless America or The Battle Hymn of the Republic. The Sermon was not explicitly a patriotic sermon.

And that’s OK. Honest people can and will disagree on such issues. But as long as I am privileged to pastor Life Spring Church, we will do our best to achieve a balance in which Jesus Christ remains preeminent.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Tragedy in Orlando

            On Sunday we woke up to the tragic news of another mass shooting. While merely one of dozens of such tragedies in recent years, this one was different, in some ways.

            For one thing, it was the deadliest mass shooting in the nation’s history, with 49 innocent victims plus the shooter dying by gunfire. 53 more people were injured, but as of the time of this writing, the hope is that the death toll will not rise.

            Another difference is that this one involved a bar that catered to the homosexual community.

            It was classified a “hate crime” because it was directed at a certain segment of society, though I suspect that most mass killings are motivated largely by hate.

            It was classified an act of terror, because reports suggest that the killer had been radicalized by association with one or more terrorist groups which, while often in conflict with one another, share one overarching commonality—they hate America.

            But in the end, this one was pretty much like all the others. More sons and daughters perished. More friends died. More neighbors wouldn’t return home at the end of the day. More police, EMTs and first responders put their lives on the line for complete strangers once again

            What, some have asked, is the proper Christian response to this horrific tragedy? The fact that the question is posed at all is sad. It is a testimony to how polarized we are, not only as a nation, but as a community of believers who profess that Jesus is our Savior and Lord.

            The proper response? Sadness. Grief. Mourning. In Old Testament times, such a tragedy would have led people to “rend their clothes” and to clothe themselves in sackcloth and ashes.

            The proper response? Outrage. How dare someone, for whatever reason, harbor such hatred and malice so as to unilaterally decide that some human lives aren’t worth living.

            Let me be clear. The homosexual lifestyle is sinful in the eyes of God. But those of us who hold to the Scriptural teaching regarding homosexuality should not in any way view this criminal act as just or right or acceptable. To do so is to deny that our God is a God of grace and mercy.

            I do not hate the homosexual. I hate the sin.

            I do not hate the adulterer. Or the alcoholic. Or the liar, cheater or thief.

            I cannot hate them, because I am a sinner just like them. I don’t think that they should be attacked for their sin any more than I should be attacked for mine. I do not believe that they should be ostracized from society or banned from the culture.

            That’s true of most Christians I know. We are capable of complex thoughts, attitudes and beliefs. We are capable of believing something is sin just because God’s Word declares it so, while at the same time being able to associate with and minister to those who practice such sin.

There are some on the fringes of Christianity who have gloried in this tragedy. They use vile and vulgar terminology that adds nothing to the public discourse. They hold hateful and spiteful attitudes that call into question the legitimacy of their relationship with the Christ of Scriptures. They do not represent the heart of Christianity and should not be elevated to such status in the public eye.

            My heart breaks for the men and women who lost loved ones in this affair. I grieve for my country because of this attack on us. I mourn for the Orlando community as they struggle to deal with this senseless tragedy.

My condolences are not inauthentic nor my sorrow disingenuous because of my understanding of right and wrong based on the teaching of the Bible. I do not apologize for my beliefs nor do I yield my right to express sadness in times of such sorrow. I condemn those who would use this attack as an excuse to score political or theological points. And the comfort I draw in a time like this is that the God of the Bible is still on the throne, and the hope—the only hope—we have is in Him.