With it being Fourth of July week, it's a helpful reminder for all of us to take a step back, take a deep breath, and relax. Our pulpits yesterday were filled with the myriad of views about America: God's last hope for the world, A Nation to be reclaimed, A fallen moral giant, or for the really expository guys it was just another Sunday.
Behind all of it is a spectrumed dichotomy of worldview. Trevin Wax, who says things much smarter than any of us, made the observation in an article for The Gospel Coalition:
-Some (younger typically) view America as a Babylon, with the Church as a faithful remnant committed to redemption and transformation
-Some (older typically) view America as an Israel, with the Church responsible to reclaim and restore a political & social climate that once was
As pastors, we're going to have a church across the spectrum. And as pastors, we are charged with the oversight, instruction, and formation of the entire body. With that in mind, can I offer some pointers about how to lead somewhere between Israel and Babylon?
1. Don't pick fights - Ultimately, it's not that big a deal. This is, as theologians would say, a third level issue on the theological triage. Your opinion of if we should have flags in worship, should sing God Bless America, or any other raging debate, doesn't really matter that much. Pastors, we can (and should) have our opinions and positions on these issues. But we must also measure our positions against the wisdom of pushing beyond what's biblical or prudent. Whatever your position is, remember that there will be people in your congregation who differ. Is this really worth picking a fight over? Or is this better to, as Paul suggests in 1 Corinthians 6:7, take an L?
2. Preach the Gospel, not Americana - The Cross invites men and women of all nationalities, all tribes, all tongues to come kneel before King Jesus. Heaven is promised to be a tapestry of colors and languages and flags who all worship as one before the Lamb. For the sake of the nations, preach Christ. For the sake of the lost, preach Christ. People won't be saved by returning to values or by making anything great again. People are saved through hearing about what Christ has done for them in His death and resurrection.
3. Praise God for freedom - Whatever your view on the spectrum, you can and really should take time to praise God for freedom. What we have been given as Americans is not only unique in Christian history but also in modern times. Religious liberty is guaranteed in our Constitution. And with it comes the freedom to gather for worship and preach without fear of government intrusion or seeking favors. We operate as a free church in a free state (thank you Roger Williams and Virginia Baptists!). This is great grace. Many of our brothers & sisters around the world worship and live in fear of a repressive and persecutive government. We don't. And that's worth celebrating.
4. Listen to Each Other - Full disclosure, I'm in the Babylon camp. I have a different view of America's founding and its identity as a "Christian Nation" than many others do, even in our church. But I want to know those who disagree and why they believe what they do. I want to know their experiences and their upbringing and what made them come to the conclusions and perspectives they do. James reminds us to be quick to listen and slow to speak, and we'd be wise to do that with our disagreements. Those who are more on the Israel side aren't there blindly, their view is held with conviction and conscience and is shaped by profound experiences.
5. Remember the temporary - On Thursday our nation will turn 243 years old. That sounds old until we remember that Japan has existed with an Emperor for millennia, England has since shortly after the time of the Roman Empire, and the Krelin of Russia was built before Columbus sailed. Even with these old nations, our time is limited. We are not guaranteed our tomorrow. At the end, when all nations have fallen and Creation itself is redeemed, the only banner that will fly is Jesus. All of this is temporary. And because it's temporary, it's urgent. As we lead between Babylon & Israel, we cannot lose sight of the urgency of the Gospel to our neighbors and to the nations.
These resources are helpful across the spectrum:
-Five Observations About Younger Southern Baptists (Trevin Wax)
-America: From Israel to Babylon (Rod Dreher)
-Is America a "New Israel" or a "New Babylon"? (Trigger101)
-Patriotism & the Gospel in American Churches (Jimmy Scroggins)
-Letter from a Minister about Corporate Worship (Chip Stam)
-Should Patriotism Have a Place in Worship? (Desiring God)
-Patriotism & Worship (David Brumbelow)
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.