“new-Calvinism” and Patriotism

They go together like salt and cinammon. Like sugar and herbs. Like death and weeds.

The role of patriotic expressions in Christian worship services is a serious matter, and involves real and significant pitfalls that any bible-believing congregation should consider. In our Sunday worship should we recite the Pledge of Allegiance? Sing the “Battle Hymn”? The Star-Spangled Banner? Recognize those who have served in the U.S. military? Yet frequently the intramural discussion of these matters is acrimonious, to say the least, and in that infamous description, it tends to “generate more heat than light.”

Recent dust-ups about patriotism in worship demonstrate this trend. After reading three articles (if you dare) that address patriotic ‘worship’, ‘new-Calvinism’, and ostensibly improper use of company letterhead, you will be no clearer on what the connection is between the ‘new-Calvinism’ and patriotic ‘worship.’

Baptist 21 apparently re-published a letter sent by Chip Stam, Professor and Director of the Institute for Christian Worship at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS). The letter advocated against the use of patriotic music and imagery in Christian worship. In response, Howell Scott published a two-part post. In Part 1 Scott lays a ‘foundation’ from which to address Stam’s argument, which he claims to do in Part 2.

Scott is apparently bothered by the ethics of Stam being identified both as a church music minister and as an official of SBTS. In Part 1 Scott spills much ink addressing letterhead and then concludes with the dramatic question of whether Stam’s letter (or the position he espouses in it) is “indication of the theological/ecclesiological divide within the greater SBC?”

Scott then spends the greater part of his article repeating the tired canard that Calvinism splits churches. In so doing, Scott makes snide and sarcastic comments and repeats unfounded claims against the “new/agressive” Calvinism in such a way that deprives his targets of the grace he claims that they, themselves, lack. Scott’s summary warning to churches seems to be thus: 1. Calvinism is anti-patriotic; 2. Christian worship should be patriotic; 3. you should therefore beware of music ministers coming from Southern. Oh, and because Scott is not “mad about my Calvinistic theology” nor “consistent enough…to be described as truly Reformed” he can cooperate with the Southern Baptist Convention (as if others cannot).

The gratuitous condescension looms large.

In Part 2, Scott addresses Stam’s various contentions regarding patriotism in worship. In general, I contend that Scott’s response seems to pass far afield of the point of Stam’s letter, despite the stated intent to meet it head-on. The careful reader can discern that for himself. My concern is for some of Scott’s assumptions, and it is those that I will address here.

First, Scott asserts that patriotism in worship is permissible because we should “show respect” and he cites Romans 12:10, 13:7 and 1 Peter 2:17 as biblical proof. But those passages speak of “honor” and “respect” in ways that relate to patriotism only remotely, if at all. And they certainly do not suggest that the honor to be shown should actually occur in our worship services, and consist of songs and flags and processions befitting the occasion.

Second, Scott says this: “Just because something can be easily confused in a worship setting [referring to patriotism in worship] does not mean that we automatically discard it. I’m quite sure that for many, the cross can be confusing.” I have no doubt that Scott does not mean to say that honoring military men in Sunday worship is as important to the faith as the cross of Christ. But this is the sort of muddled thinking and sloppy writing that characterize many of our discussions with each other, and that the confusion inherent in Stam’s statement itself would not be patently obvious and studiously avoided is incomprehensible.

Third, Scott seems unwilling to discuss the issue of whether Christian believers should incorporate expressions of patriotism in worship without alluding to some nefarious connection with “new-Calvinism.” In his “Final Word” on the matter, Scott infers that the only believers who could possible have concern about patriotism in worship are Calvinist. And, in the course of three posts, he broadened the scope of his disdain from the “new-Calvinist” or “agressive-Calvinist” to the wider “SBC’s Calvinist wing”, and to the wider still “Reformed theology.” Given a bit more blog space, Scott might have gone on to impugn the entire Western church (save Southern Baptist congregations which reject Calvinism and sing “America, the Beautiful” in a flag-studded sanctuary on July 4, ostensibly).

Yet over these three posts Scott utterly fails to show even the slightest connection between Calvinism and anti-patriotism. I am still left wondering why Calvinism was brought into the discussion.

Whether believers should express patriotism in corporate worship is a serious matter, and should be sincerely considered. If other believers raise a concern about the implications of such practice, the simple fact that those who raise it might be “Calvinist” should be of no consequence (whatever “Calvinist” now means — Scott refers to himself as an “inconsistent Calvinist” and others as “more Calvinist”, among other things).

Our inability to hear the valid concerns raised by other believers, and see past whatever soteriological badge we think they wear, does not serve the church well.

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3 thoughts on ““new-Calvinism” and Patriotism

  1. Rob,

    I didn’t realize that you were a practicing attorney in AL before being called into the ministry. I had a good friend in Law School at FSU from Dothan — Cam Metcalf — who still practices in Dothan, which is just down the road from Troy.

    Sometimes attorneys and pastors (and attorneys turned pastors) find ourselves on opposite sides of an issue. I’m not mad or upset that you or anyone else did not “connect the dots” as I did in my articles. We will not always sway the jury to see things our way. We probably can both understand that.

    I revised my “Final Word” for SBCVoices this morning. I would encourage you to read it. You may still think that I’m muddled in my thinking and sloppy in my writing (and I’m perfectly fine with you thinking that), but maybe you can understand why I wrote as passionately as I did. But, if not, that’s okay too.

    Looks like you have a wonderful family and ministry in Troy. I hope that God truly blesses you and the rest of the folks at Covenant Grace Baptist Church as you share the Good News! Have a wonderful and blessed Easter!


    • Mr Scott,
      I appreciate the kind words. There is always a bit of communication lag when we respond to one another’s articles, as opposed to holding the same discussion face to face. I try to keep that in mind (not always successful…). I didn’t mean to characterize your entire post(s) as muddled and sloppy; primarily it was that one comparison, and even then I (think) I know what you meant. I also certainly appreciate vigor and zeal in presenting views; I hope that I will be as gracious as you in handling (hopefully constructive) criticism.
      May the Lord bless you and your ministry as well, and may the Word increase and abound.