Christian Patriotism, Part Two

Patriotism is defined as the love of one’s own country which leads an individual to seek the well-being and the highest good of that country. A Christian patriot is a man or a woman who works to see the kingdom of God and His righteousness established in the land of his earthly citizenship. We who are Christians have a unique responsibility to the civil society that God has placed us in. 

  • First, the proper functioning of the community is dependent on the natural affinity that God has given us with people in our own community and nation. th-2This is the source of the sense of patriotism in us. We want to help and protect our own – it’s natural.
  • Second, the law of God commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus established that our neighbor is anyone, who in the providence of God, we come into contact with, or anyone in need who happens to cross our path. Those of our own community, state, and nation are our most obvious neighbors. It is them whose burdens we are to carry, whose benefit we should seek, and for whom our prayers should be regularly rising to God.
  • Third, God’s Word commands us, as citizens, to honor and obey our own rulers (1 Peter 2:13-14), not rulers of other nations. On the other hand, Scripture also calls for rulers to serve the people under them – not the people of other nations – through godly wisdom and justice (Romans 13:3-4).

In other words, we have unique moral duties to those of our own community that we do not have to others. Some in the Christian community view this as idolatrous. It’s no more idolatrous to love and seek the well-being of our country than it is to love and seek the well-being of our family. And, it is no denial of the Christian’s heavenly citizenship when he/she works for the good of the country in which God has placed him or her, whether it be one’s country of birth or an adopted homeland.

Jeremiah 29:7 provides instruction on the duty of the Christian to seek the good of the country where God places her/him. If it is true that the people of Judah were to seek the good and pray for the nation where they had been taken captive, how much more is it true that the people of God should seek the good and pray for the nation that in the providence of God they were born into or now have their citizenship.

As part of God’s plan some of us have been placed in the United States. God would have us recognize that He has put us here for a purpose, and that we have unique moral duties to perform on behalf of the country in which we have been placed.

Christian patriotism is based on a desire to serve our country with the goal of glorifying God. Patriotism, rightly practiced, exalts God, fulfills the command to love our neighbors as ourselves, and benefits each and every one of us personally.

Does this mean we must support a war with terrorists? Not necessarily. In this case, I, personally, support the elimination of rogue, thug militias who threaten nations and individuals on the basis of their religion and martyr Christians in horrible manners. I do not want this, or any future generation of Americans living with such threats hanging over their heads like a Sword of Damocles. We probably cannot root out all the terrorists, but we may be able to deter some sponsor nations.

Francis Schaeffer used to say that if an enemy came up the mountain where he lived in Switzerland and was a threat to his family and community, he’d be standing out there with a shotgun. I believe the enemy is part way up the hill.

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Christian Patriotism, Part One

With American troops involved in military action in foreign lands, many Christians are struggling with the concept of war. One young Christian wrote recently that he had no trouble with the idea of losing his life on behalf of his life and his country. His real struggle is with the idea of taking a life.

thThis is a struggle worth having. We should not glibly accept the idea of killing, no matter what the reason. Neither, however, should we accept the pacifistic concept that war can never be the answer. As I listen to the anti-war talk, I recognize that there are basically two groups (broadly categorized) involved. One faction is made up of those honestly convinced that either war is bad or that a particular war would be bad. I understand their reasoning and agree with their right to express their displeasure either with a future war or a current war. Many would argue that American soldiers, sailors and airmen have fought and died precisely for these people to have the right to dissent.

The other group involved in the general anti-war movement is the anti-America, “my country is always wrong” crowd. For these folk, the country which affords them the opportunity to assemble and protest is always the oppressor. This nation which expends millions of dollars on foreign aid each year is always characterized as an imperialist overlord seeking to control more and more of the landscape. This latter group is nicely defined in the book Why the Left Hates America, by Daniel Flynn.

I do not think the US is always right or that war is always the answer. Immediately after the attack on our nation on September 11, 2001, it was suggested by several Christian leaders that maybe we’ve brought some destruction down upon ourselves as a nation because of the debauchery of our culture. Sexual deviancy, high abortion rates, homosexuality being taught in our schools as an “alternative lifestyle,” immorality all over the TV, the movies and in popular music, all speak of the depths to which great portions of our population have sunk.

True as these claims are, they are not good reasons to simply give up on this nation. The United States of America is still worth reclaiming for God. This land is still the best launching pad on earth for missionary efforts to all the world.

This being the case, I’d like to float the idea of Christian Patriotism, which I will define in my next post – on Memorial Day.

Deflategate

“What sluggards, what cowards have I brought up in my court, who care nothing for their allegiance to their lord. Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest.”

These were the words of King Henry II, of England, when upon learning that Thomas Becket the Archbishop of Canterbury whom Henry had appointed, would not lift the excommunication he had imposed upon the Bishops of London and Salisbury. The dispute between Henry and his archbishop had raged for years.

Four knights, seeking to curry favor with the king, took it on themselves to carry out the perceived desire of the king. They went to Canterbury and slew the archbishop with swords while he was at the altar of the cathedral. Was this what the king wanted? It does not seem to have been. He was shaken by the entire affair and some years later he went to Canterbury and walked the streets barefoot and in sackcloth and ashes. Eighty monks beat him with branches as he made his way to the crypt of the now-canonized Saint Thomas.

Unintended consequences.

th-3It seems to me that, though considerably less serious, a circumstance similar may have happened in the “Deflategate” situation involving Tom Brady (often considered to be saintly in New England) and the New England Patriots.

I wonder whether Brady simply indicated to the attendants in charge of game balls, that he wanted the balls deflated to the lowest possible point, which is how he likes the footballs he uses in games. Something like this may have been uttered:

“Hey, guys, make sure those game balls aren’t inflated too much.”

Seeking to please the four-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback, it would be no surprise if the Knights-errant of the locker-room took the opportunity to go “above and beyond” what was actually asked of them.

Possible? Probable?

The Sermon – It’s for Kids, Too

We have heard many questions – and a few objections – to our view that Christian families ought to have as a goal worshiping together. Many of the questions/objections have to do with children and sermons. Can they understand the sermon? Can the parents CIC coverhear/understand the sermon when dealing with their children? Should the rest of the congregation be subjected to your child-rearing practices during the sermon?

Yes, I do believe that there is a tremendous upside to ­­­­­­­­­exposing our children to the [reaching/teaching aspect of the worship service. I do understand, however, that family participation in corporate worship is not a “one-size-fits-all” experience. Families will differ as to how they approach the issue, how they teach their children about sermons, and how they relate to other worshipers. Even those who do not yet understand the content of the sermons to which they are exposed will gain a feeling for the reverence of the worship service as God’s Word is preached.

Families also differ in number of children, age spans, and abilities. When we automatically dismiss the notion, however, that children can have a meaningful worship experience, even during the sermon, we are shortchanging those children. They will understand more than we realize. They will gain from the opportunity no matter how much or how little they get from the content of the sermon. They will likely remember the experience of worshiping with you more than they would being with relative strangers in a program for children.

With these things in mind I offer a brief, three-point, strategy for incorporating the sermon as a part of your children’s worship experience.

Prepare. Preparation is often the key to success – in any venture. This is no less true in our approach to introducing our children to sermons.

  • Look ahead. Many churches publish the scripture passages and/or themes for the sermons in advance. If your congregation does not, why not ask for the preaching schedule. There are probably others who would like the opportunity to prepare in advance for next Sunday’s sermon. Once you know what the passage or topic will be for next week’s sermon, you can read the passage with your children. Depending on the ages and abilities of the children you can then have discussions on what is likely to be preached on Sunday. Be careful, however, not to pre-judge the preacher’s sermon. This reading/discussion could be part of your regular devotional time with your children.
  • Pack well. Make sure you have what will be needed for full participation. Do you have paper, pencils or crayons? Chapter 6 of Children in Church discusses the ever-important “church bag.”
  • Talk with your children about what behavior and participation is appropriate during the sermon. Explain the nature of sermons. What are they? Why is there a sermon? How does the pastor know what to say? Can I talk during the sermon? Reinforce this discussion often. If you don’t have answers to some of these questions yourself, ask the pastor. That’s also a good example for your children.

Participate. There are many ways to teach and model how to listen to a sermon. Many of them are examined in chapter seven of Children in Church.

  • Draw. One needn’t be a professional artist to make a simple stick-figure sketch of what is being taught in a sermon. Illustrate the main point. Is Jesus preaching? Is He in a boat? Whisper to your child as you create a word picture. As they get older children can begin to take over the artistic duties.
  • Note-taking. As they get older, children can begin to take notes on the message. If your pastor provides an outline, you can use that to jot down key words. This is a good opportunity to teach the skill of note-taking. Teach the concept of capturing important concepts. Again, as they get older, the children can begin to create the notes themselves.
  • Keywords/Concepts. As a pastor, I used to publish a “Keyword” in the church bulletin for the children to listen for and count during the sermon. How many times did the pastor say “Grace” or “Jesus” during the sermon. Children would excitedly give me their numbers after the worship service. Truthfully, I usually didn’t know that actual count, because my sermons were not scripted, but I could be enthusiastic about each child’s answer. You don’t need the pastor to post a keyword. You can look at the passage or topic in question and choose your own.
  • Don’t forget to pay attention during the sermon. It may be difficult at times, but take your own notes, or make your own drawing. Let the children know that this is not just an academic exercise for their educational advancement.

Prolong. Keep it going. Don’t quit just because the sermon has ended and you got through it without a meltdown (though that’s certainly a good thing!). There is much to be gained in the follow-up.

  • In the car. While it’s fresh in their minds, ask your children age-appropriate questions about the sermon. What was the topic today? What part did you like the most? What was the pastor’s outline? Get a discussion going. Encourage everybody to take part at their own level.
  • At home. Look at the drawings, the notes, the keyword count. Be enthused about their understanding. Gently discuss what they may have missed. This is a good discussion to have around the dinner table.
  • On Monday. Before moving on to look at next week’s sermon topic, why not review just a bit on Monday? You can also take this opportunity to fine-tune note taking and other skills.

In Acts, chapter 17 we read of the Bereans, a noble people. They compared the sermons of Paul with Scripture, not in hope of catching him in error, but anticipating greater understanding. God has chosen and anointed some to preach the Word. We will gain most from the labors of these servants of God if we listen carefully. Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” He was referring to understanding the Word, not just receiving it in our ears. We can help even the youngest of our children to understand God’s Word by teaching them to hear.