Thursday, June 17, 2010

No Flags in Church!

Let's make 18 June an annual "remove flags from your church sanctuary day". I confess that I have always been perplexed why Americans have flags in their places of worship. It is borderline idolatry, it confuses the kingdom of God with a worldly government, and it (deliberately?) creates the view that America somehow has a special relationship with God that other nations don't have. I've been in churches all around the world and Americans are the only one's who put flags in churches as far as I can tell. By all means, keep your flags for Veterans Day, Presidents Day, Independence Day, or even Oprah Day. Bring them to the Olympics and World Cup Football, but take them out of the churches.

On the same topic, see this excellent video clip by Doug Wilson who thinks that flags in churches is "deranged" (HT: Text, Community, Mission).

Update: Nick Norelli adds his two cents.

27 comments:

Peter McKeague said...

Mike I agree with you. However, while it is not a widespread practice in Australia I have seen flags in churches, particularly some of the more historic Anglican Churches. The Garrison Church in Sydney is a case in point, but its very name tells you why. I do wonder whether the more politically vocal elements of conservative Christianity in Australia will see a trend to displaying the national flag in churches.

Luke said...

Some old school Tasmanian churches have Union Jacks, para-church organsational or even a few military flags displayed prominently in them.

michael jensen said...

Oh it is not, or need not be, idolatrous! What rot! Especially in Oz, where we don't worship our nationhood or believe our own national myths anyway. But then, I don't think Christendom was always such a bad thing, either! I don't think what Peter describes actually exists, so I wouldn't worry.

:-)

Virtual Methodist said...

Christendom not such a bad thing? here in NI we are just about mopping up the dregs of Christendom... and on all fronts it was a disaster...

ap viper said...

At least they're not being waved around during worship ;-).

If lots of flags are around, it can symbolize the "transnationality" of the Gospel, or even Jesus as Lord of the whole world.

But yes, a single flag is usually just silly ;-).

Dunc and Als said...

Hi Michael,

I think I'm with Michael Jenson on this one.

The church I was a part of in Sydney had the flags of all the Australian armed forces on display as part of its funding came through a connection with the Australian Government following WW2 as a church that supported veterans. I considered it simply honouring of the country. But I do agree, I think we do need to be mindful of what role with give to our country within our churches.

D.C. Cramer said...

To M. Bird: Agreed!

jordan said...

Are you talking about American flags or flags in general? For example, are you against having flags from countries all over the world?

Gary said...

I like it when a sanctuary hangs flags of the countries in which they are funding missionaries. Seeing that encourages a global vision of the church.

But just seeing an American flag? That's not good. And the Pledge? Definitely not.

howardpetts said...

Mate - have you got something against yanks?! Plenty of Australian churches have flags in them...

Marty Foord said...

What worries me Mike, is when the flags come out as the music begins! And then they're waved this way and that ... as a form of 'worship'. It crops up time and again in some of the churches I find myself preaching. Wouldn't mind getting that use of flags canned!

Brian Small said...

I am an American and I agree with your post. My church has a "God and Country" service around every Fourth of July which I always quietly boycott.

Karl Hand said...

It's not the conservative churches you have to watch! MCC's in Australia usually have rainbow flags in the sanctuary, and often drape one over the altar!

My church, CRAVE MCC has had a no-flag policy from the outset. Partly because of the idolatry factor, but mainly because of the taste factor :P

Tony Johnson said...

I couldn't agree more, it is most certainly idolatrous, even in Australia. Having preached in some 50 congregations in an unnambed denomination in Victoria and NSW I can tell you that a good number of them had the flag inside the space dedicated for worship and services. And then there are those congregations who bring out the Aussie flag on ANZAC Day, some even bring out the Stars and Stripes, the Union Jack, and the Kiwi flag on this most religious day in Austalia. Now to those who dispute the idolatry of flags in churches I challenge you to go to any of these churches and suggest that the flag comes down, or worse yet that the flag(s) not go up on ANZAC Day.

Nifty said...

i am totally agreed with the views.

thanks metrogyl.

DeeCee said...

Mike,

I'm a huge fan of the blog and I absolutely agree that Americans confuse Christianity and nationalism all the time.

However... believe it or not I've seen the American flag (often right next to a Christian flag and sometimes a State flag) in as many mainline sanctuaries as I have evangelical and fundamentalist ones -- and these are liberal mainline congregations that would not ever confuse nationalism with their faith.

I once saw an evangelical sanctuary where a huge American flag was draped in the back vertically behind the Cross. That was pretty disturbing and wrong.

However -- I think there's a way to display flags -- even just an American flag and maybe a state flag -- that says "these kingdoms are ultimately under the authority of Christ's kingdom" or "Christ's heart cries out for this nation." Pentecostal churches do it often in their flag waving. It's important for these churches to be explicit about the difference -- but I don't think advocating for an all-out ban on flags is the solution.

That said... I'm somewhat surprised there haven't been comments on this blog or other blogs about Peter Lillback's appearance on Glenn Beck. THAT was an example of religious captivity to conservatism, nationalism, bad historiography, book sales, capitalism, and oh yeah Mormonism if I've ever seen one. We in the American Reformed machine have thrown Peter Enns and Bruce Waltke under a bus while we let Lillback keep his job as leader of an institution that was once an important defender of orthodoxy. What a joke.

Calvin Chen

goodwalkwasted said...

Hi Mike

While I've never seen the Union Jack/Union Flag in churches in the UK, lots of parish churches have regimental flags and battle honours on display. It's not a worship thing - it's more to indicate that both church and regiment are part of the same local community.

Fraser

Mike W said...

yep, I'm with Mr Bird on no flags. Especially military/regimental ones. I don't mind military memorial boards with names of fallen soldiers though. not because it reminds me of their 'ultimate sacrifice', but because it is one of the few personal reminders in our community that war is shit.
@Mike Jensen. There are plenty of people from irish descent who wont darken the door of a church with a union jack in it. Whether they are right or wrong, a flag symbolizes different things to different people. There are people who don't identify with Australia, who may even have had a terrible experience of Australia, who are brothers and sisters in Christ. I'd love them to feel welcome at church without having to endorse the identity of our state

Steven said...

Back in the day, the Church of England replaced images of Mary with the ER (Elizabeth Rex), so it definitely is not a uniquely American thing in the broad scope of history.

If you're going to have a Christendom, then I don't see the problem with flags in church. Governments are deacons, after all, and the kings of revelation bring their glory and honor into the New Jerusalem.

Sean LeRoy said...

C'mon, Mike, give me a break...move on to something else.

Al Shaw said...

Perhaps we could remove "church sancturaries" while we're at it.

Dr. Evangelicus said...

Flags in churches in Northern Ireland were a total disaster and contributed highly negatively to the several decades of Troubles we suffered.

michael jensen said...

I think I have more problem with people wearing their national football shirts to church!

I appreciate some of the sentiment here, though my Irish (tyke AND proddy) heritage has certainly never caused me grief here.
BUT:
I don't think national identity is dissolved in the gospel. It is relativised, for sure. But aren't the nations seen in revelation bringing their treasures in?

Jason Poling said...

Not for me, but for thee...if you've got a state church it may not be inappropriate, though I'd probably be inclined to say the idea of a state church is inappropriate.

As an evangelical raised in the mainline, I'll confirm that you have flags in the sanctuary far more often in the former bastions of civil religion than you will among the Bible-thumpers. The Anabaptist strain of our heritage continues to be influential in this regard, which I regard as a good thing.

Douglas Dobbins said...
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Douglas Dobbins said...
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TRUTH said...

The flag and ministers campaigning from the pulpit are stumbling blocks to many souls seeking Christ. Be real and honest. Put machine guns and pics of all the dead and orphaned children next to the flag too. Now worship. What are you worshiping?