5 Tests: Is Your Church Christian or American?

The line between patriotism and nationalism is a thin one. So is the line between worship and idolatry. This Sunday, at churches both in my city and across my nation, both of these lines will be crossed. I’m a proud American (really, I am!) . . . . but I have an extreme allergy to the nationalistic strain of idolatry that runs rampant throughout churches in America. So I’ve developed a short and simple diagnostic test for you to use in order to determine whether your church is primarily Christian or American:

Simply answer these 5 questions:

#1: Does your church celebrate Pentecost Sunday as enthusiastically as it celebrates Independence Day?

I’m fine with churches honoring Independence Day (although maybe they shouldn’t), but not if it is consistent with a larger pattern of ignoring the church calendar (Lent, Advent, etc) and holidays (Pentecost Sunday, etc) while prioritizing a national calendar and holidays. This liturgical rhythm speaks much louder than words when it comes to determining where a church’s true loyalties lie.

#2: The Language Test: Does your church make more references to Jesus than to the USA?

Just count. Consider substituting “Jesus” with “Holy Spirit” for an advanced test (unless you go to a Pentecostal church).

#3: The Time Test: Does your church’s service spend more time (total) singing & talking about Jesus or about the USA? 

It’s not a good sign if there are two patriotic songs and two worship songs in the service. Or if the sermon is 20 minutes of homiletical attention given to the USA and 5 minutes of Jesus tacked on at the end. The time during a service which is focused on the Triune God should far outweigh the time spent focused on a nation. Again, this speaks so much louder than words.

#4: Does your church honor martyrs & missionaries as much as fallen and active soldiers?

Once again, I have no problem honoring fallen & active soldiers. I’m grateful for their service and sacrifice. But if your allegiance to the historical, global Christian community comes before that of your national commitment, it is not too much to expect a regular honoring of martyrs and missionaries. Take an unofficial “atmosphere measurement” when soldiers are honored: is there more clapping/emotion/support than when missionaries are commissioned or martyrs are remembered? Which mission makes our hearts swell more: national military activity or the global work of God?

#5: Who is the community implicit in the “we” and “our” language of your church leaders?

When your pastor talks about “our problems” or “our values” – is the “our” understood as the United States of America or the Christian community? Are they problems of American legislation or the holiness of the Church? Are they the values inherent to the American Dream or the sacrificial way of Jesus? This subtle analysis of language often reveals where our true commitments reside.

Do you agree with these tests?
Would your church pass them?
Anything else you might add to the diagnostic check-list?

2013.01.16 American Patriot's Gospel #3 (30%)

The Great Irony of American Christianity

I’m currently leading a group of folks at my church through Lee C. Camp’s book Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World.  I first read it last year (it was highly recommended to me) and I think that it is one of the best “popular level” introductions to the theology & ethics of John Howard Yoder & Stanley Hauerwas (with a good measure of N.T. Wright and Richard Hays thrown in as well) that I have read.

The book has spurred some great conversation among our group and as I was preparing for our next meeting I was struck by the following quote:

“This is the great irony of American Christianity: exalting the nation that affords us ‘freedom of religion,’ we set aside the way of Christ in order to preserve the religion we supposedly are free to practice.  We kill our alleged enemies in order to ‘worship’ the God who teaches us to love enemies.  The most important question about our pledge of allegiance is not whether we pledge allegiance to a flag under “one God,” but to what god we are pledging our allegiance.  Perhaps it is, after all, not the God revealed in Jesus Christ we are worshiping, but the god of the nation-state, the god of power and might and wealth.”

Do you agree with his assessment of the “great irony of American Christianity”?  
Can you think of any other examples that would support his argument?