Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Caesar's Church

Here we go again. I am so tired of this nonsense.

July 3 was a Sunday. That's no news to anyone who has a calendar handy. So, I was at my church. We have a Sunday School hour at 9, followed by a worship service at 10. Pretty standard arrangement. I teach a Sunday School class during the first hour, and my wife does a "children's church" during the second, when there are enough children on hand to warrant it. (My church is quite small.)

I don't know why I always let myself be surprised by these things, but for some reason, I just didn't make the calendar connection -- until I got a look at the bulletin, that is. The pledge of allegiance to the U.S. flag. The pale imitation "pledge of allegiance" to the "Christian flag." (I will confess my ignorance of the provenance of this latter flag, but I'll bet my house payment that it's quite recent, on the time scale of, say, the history of the Christian church.) The singing of the national anthem. "God Bless America." And, of course, the "Battle Hymn of the Republic."

Having seen this, I did not enter the "worship" service. I just wasn't up to the pure, concentrated idolatry of it all. If my wife hadn't had children's church customers, we'd have simply gone home. As it was, I went and assisted her for the hour.

"Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God the things that are God's," said Jesus, as reported in Matthew chapter 22. The reader is encouraged to read that chapter as a whole, for the instructive context of these words. Yes, we live in this fallen world, subject to the temporal power of its fallen rulers. Yes, we have to pay taxes. Yes, we have to get a permit from the county every time our flatulence comes out sideways. Yes, Caesar is running things around here. But why, oh why, would we want to assemble ourselves on the Lord's day and then voluntarily sing the songs of Caesar, and pledge him our fealty? How will we claim to be doing any better than the 1st century Jewish authorities did, who proclaimed, "We have no king but Caesar?"

I don't want to go out there and resume my search for a church. For one thing, where I'm at now, we don't do the Sunday morning rock 'n' roll (a rant for another time). And for another thing, I believe the red-white-and-blue idolatry is quite universal in the American evangelical church. I've simply got to remember that you skip the Sunday before July 4. And, to be safe, the same goes for Memorial Day, and the so-called "Veterans' Day," too.

You know, it would be one thing if this wretched business were compulsory. On one level, it would be understandable if the secret police were watching, ready to put the pastor on report if the patriotic niceties were slighted. But this is voluntary. We do this to ourselves, over and over again.

God help us, I say without a trace of irony. God wake us up. That would be a help.


Grace said...

I've always wondered: As human society evolved, which came first -- politics or religion? I always waver back and forth on the answer.

TW said...

I'm looking forward to the rant on the Sunday morning rock 'n' roll. How long will I have to wait?

I understand the thrust of your argument and am fairly sympathetic. I also understand your particular sensitivity to it at this time since our government is engaged in a mission that you are at odds with. At the same time it seems a little incongruous to have people form a clan, a state, or a nation and not try to encourage and nurture some allegiance to it. Possibly the church could do more to help their members keep things in a healthy perspective from a Christian standpoint.

Another thought I have on this matter is that Christian responsibility as pertains to the Great Commission is probably better facilitated working from (as well as in) a country that Christians can respect and one that as well respects them. I'd say it would be hard for that relationship to exist in a healthy and fruitful manner if it weren't for a little rendering to Caesar. Again, keeping it in the proper perspective is the key. Your post does much to define that proper perspective and I thank you for your verbal slap to awaken that awareness.

Another option for people that cannot stomach any patriotism in their church would be to consider joining a faith that absolves itself of many obligations to the state. I believe Jehovah's Witnesses fall somewhat into that category. I believe they also abstain from the Sunday morning rock 'n' roll as well. What do you think?

Bartleby said...

Thanks for your comments, TW. You bring up several things that require lengthy responses. I'll post about them during the next few days.

One thing can be dealt with briefly, though: the Jehovah's Witnesses. Their denial of the deity of Christ, His physical resurrection, and the doctrine of the Trinity makes them a thoroughly non-Christian cult. Refusing to "pledge allegiance" or to take oaths is a good idea, but it hardly compensates for the completely-heretical nature of their beliefs.

Anonymous said...

This past Veteran's Day, pasted on the walls of the church, we had a little flag for every veteran who had ever lived in our area, complete with their name and pertinent dates. They stayed up until Christmas. Ugh.

Have you thought about doing a "home church" with like-minded Christians instead of ARC's? I think that's next on our agenda.