Thursday, May 26, 2011

While We're Avoiding Idolatry in Worship

Blogging at The Gospel Coalition, Kevin DeYoung has written Thinking Theologically about Memorial Day. The piece is the latest installment in the ongoing uneasiness with which evangelicals manage their relationships with the secular order. DeYoung's piece is a fair corrective of some of the extreme positions advocated on various sides of the broader question.

With a number of other voices, DeYoung urges against nationalistic displays or hymnody surrounding Memorial Day. I appreciate the warnings that DeYoung has offered, as well as his concessions that he makes in the article. I find it to be a well-balanced piece, although I come to a slightly different conclusion than that of DeYoung. That's not just pre-slam falderol—I really liked DeYoung's article.

The warning sounded is that we are to avoid idolatry in our worship services. To use DeYoung's words, "true religion blends too comfortably into civil religion" in some quarters—his gentleness in not using "false religion" in contrast to true religion does not undo the implication. Churches must beware not to worship nation instead of God, we hear. And indeed, to worship nation rather than God would be heresy. By all means, let's avoid doing so.

And yet, although I can't speak for everybody's pastoral experience, the more prevalent risk in my congregation is that our people fail to pray for their leaders, fail to show due honor and respect to the President of the United States, fail to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and slide into a negativistic cynicism about our government. In a Tea Party age, are we really in danger of stumbling headlong into the worship of the state? Pastorally—pragmatically—I simply don't see any grave risk at the moment that the members of FBC Farmersville are about to bow the knee in worship to Washington, DC.

What I do see instead is the powerful temptation that we face to worship ourselves. Instead of "God Bless America," what we probably ought to banish from our worship services is the round of applause that we give to the soloist after she sings "God Bless America." Oh, yes, I know—we're just giving "the Lord a clap offering!" And surely, if you just say that before everybody claps for the big solo, then that changes EVERYTHING, right? Or does it? The screaming throngs at the next Christian concert will all be screaming exclusively for Jesus, and not for the personalities on the stage, right?

I can't document the story, but I remember hearing through the grapevine when I was in college that the Christian music group Second Chapter of Acts had refused an interview by CCM magazine, alleging that such things "tended to place the focus [wrongly] on the creature rather than the Creator." It impressed me at the time. If it really happened, then it still impresses me now.

The practice of the church, it seems to me, ought to be shaped at least to some small degree by the real perils that face us at this moment, in this context. Considering the tone of the average forwarded email that I receive every day, a worship service emphasizing God's command that we honor our nation and its officials seems to me to be something of the prescription that my congregation needs from time to time. Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between zeal for the truth and tilting at windmills. May God give us the wisdom to discern between the two.