Friday, November 11, 2011

The Separation of Church and State

Veteran's Day Edition

ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Ἀπόδοτε τοίνυν τὰ Καίσαρος Καίσαρι καὶ τὰ τοῦ θεοῦ τῷ θεῷ.
Luke 20:25

Last post I mentioned how my wife and I had been disappointed in our search for a place to fellowship amongst the Baptist churches of Fairbanks. I wrote that I had intended to devote the next couple of posts to “describ[ing] the disappointing services we found and unpack my reasons for believing they [were] the result of the faulty, unscriptural notions produced by poorly founded doctrines”. I had in mind a chronological journal entry-style report & commentary on each service we attended, but have now decided to write a series of short essays on the problems I see with how church is “done” here.

In fairness, before I begin, it should be noted that I am probably one of the least “churched” Christians you’re liable to come across. By nature, I am repelled rather than attracted to groups, clubs, teams, organizations and, yes, even small get-togethers or parties, so I’ve never had, nor have now, any real desire to attend church. I only ever went because I thought I would learn how to live righteously there; I only go now because my wife needs to go and I accept the admonition of Paul regarding “forsaking the assembling of ourselves” (Hebrews 10:25). This personality trait could be seen as good or bad with regards to the objectivity of my insights in the following series. Bad in that every church is in my bad books before I even go there; and good in that my vision is unclouded by any feelings of wistful nostalgia or cravings for acceptance and community.

One of the first hints you get that the church you just walked into might have a serious problem with regards to their understanding of basic Christian doctrine is the degree of prominence the membership have given to that ubiquitous icon of American secular authority, the U.S. flag. The more prominent the flag, the more likely the service will include the national anthem or some paean for U.S. military personnel.

Now, in light of the cultural propensity for Americans in general to overindulge their nationalist sentiments (which they will always label “patriotism”, supposing this characteristic to be more admirable), it’s not surprising that American Christians will wave the flag a good deal more than those of other nations, but surely even they can see the idolatry inherent in having a church gazing adoringly at a piece of colored cloth while reciting a jingoistic ditty that celebrates a non-Biblical military campaign.

Displaying the Stars and Stripes is one thing, but one church we visited had every national flag you could name hanging from the top of the side and back walls of the sanctuary. Talk about idol overload! And yes, they even had the new flag of Iraq, which has “Allahu Akbar” (Allah is greater) written across its center bar:

And, worse still, the Saudi Arabian flag was there, too. You know, the one with the Shahada on it, the Arabic declaration of faith:

"There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah"

Now, just what are we supposed to make of that?

Of course, Fairbanks is an Army Town. As I noted on my last post, it is home to Fort Wainwright, so you'd expect to find a higher than average number of military families in church. But 1st Century Jerusalem and Rome were also Army Towns, yet you don't read in the NT about any of the Apostles blessing the local garrison or thanking God for the Sacrifice of Fallen Centurions.

During one service we attended, they spent about 10 minutes running through a slideshow of the week’s fallen heroes and asked the congregation to pray and thank God for their “sacrifice”. I thought it was a memorial for the members of the church who had been killed in Iraq, but Sandy informed me later that they were all the U.S. military casualties of the past week. I was shocked. Praying for dead Christians is bad enough, but memorializing people who could’ve been anything—atheist, Muslim, Satanists, whatever—just because they were killed while wearing an American uniform is outrageous!

This overt pandering to militarist sensibilities occurred in every church we went to, even the most liberal seeming. It is clear that the culture’s hyper-nationalism has crippled the church’s pacifist, anti-establishment stance.

Pagan enculturation of the church is certainly not new, nor is it peculiar to America. Like many of the other unhealthy elements of Protestant church worship, it’s a vestigial limb of the Roman Catholic Church, a modern outworking of the blasphemous idea that men could realize Christ’s Kingdom on Earth, complete with a human monarch or pope, that was first brought into being through Galerius’ Edict of Toleration, Constantine the Great and the Holy Roman Empire.

In most English-speaking countries today a strong tendency has developed for Protestants to see the worldly success of the Anglo-American socio-political systems as incontrovertible proof that their nations have been blessed by God, that, contrary to Scripture, the material wealth and military victories of their self-styled “Christian countries” means that now, along with bearing witness to the Kingdom within, they are to work to preserve the Kingdoms without.

So, while it might not be unique to America, because its maintenance is contingent upon the high value the Christian citizenry place on the perceived “goodness” of their nation (which itself is simply carnal pride in its preeminence in the world), this unholy convergence of Church and State reaches its apogee here.

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