What about Hugh Freeze?

Hypocrite Exposed or Erring Brother?

I have lived in Roanoke for 4 years during which I have asked, "What is this ACC thing they talk about?" Soon I will be back in Mississippi where they observe the high, holy days called "Football season." One dare not commit the sacrilege of scheduling a wedding or even a funeral on the most holy days of the holy season, a football Saturday. We are moving to Oxford. 

I have tried to be and Ole Miss fan. There is no doubt that the University of Mississippi is the flagship university in Mississippi. I admire Johnny Vaught and Archie and Eli Manning. I love my dear friends, Gerald and Bette Morgan (Gerald played at Ole Miss, coached Archie, and was a seminary classmate), and my daughter-in-law Neil (Jeremy's wife). And I am going to make a new effort to like Ole Miss since we are moving to Oxford.

The problem I have with Ole Miss is cultural. While I have some aristocrats in my family tree (Don Francisco Moreno and his descendants), I am basically a Florida Cracker, which is close to being a Southern redneck. There is a an internal contradiction within me. My Daddy was and brought me up to be both a Cracker and a Florida Gators fan. He lived back in the days when Florida State was a girls' school before they became the Creminoles. I am a Gator, which in the context of Florida is something like being an Ole Miss fan. I also was a Reformed University Ministries campus minster from 1977-84 at the University of Southern Mississippi which made me a fan a football team with a chip on its shoulder, especially in relation to Ole Miss. Lots of contradictions to live with.

I am going to make a new try at being an Ole Miss fan since we are moving to Oxford, MS, at the end of August and for the sake of daughter-in-law, Neil. I don't think I will ever be for Ole Miss against Florida, but perhaps I can pull for them in the annual Egg Bowl.

All of that is background so that I can comment on the situation of Hugh Freeze, the Ole Miss head coach, who just resigned because it was discovered that in January 2016 he had made a one minute phone call to an escort service. Apparently there were other issues discovered as the the Chancellor and Athletic Director have said that Freeze, had he not resigned, would have been fired for moral turpitude. 

Hugh Kellenberger of the Jackson Clarion Ledger expresses the view of many:
But that’s not the story right now, nor is it entirely about Freeze’s indiscretions. They’re unbecoming, shameful and absolutely a fire-able offense. Freeze also has a wife and three teenage daughters, and they’re going to get the worst end of things as that last name is dragged through the mud and made into a joke. He earned it, not them, and not just by his misbehavior but by holding himself up as something more than a football coach. No man is without sin, but when you strut about as if you are then people will delight in the fall.
My question is, "How should Christians think about the downfall of Hugh Freeze?" The "hyper-grace boys" will say, "No big deal. We're all screwed up and do bad things, but God's grace to us in Christ is greater than all our screwed-up-ness and sins. Don't flagellate your self about this, Brother Hugh." The "obedience boys" will say, "We are not surprised. There are many hypocrites who profess Christ ("Lord, Lord..."). Some of them are exposed in this world; more will be exposed on the Day of Judgment. Hugh Freeze is among those who are exposed in this world. Freeze needs to be saved."

You may hear some Christians say, "There but for the grace of God go I," but the way they say it seems to have more in common with "God, I thank thee that I am not like other men." The tendency of the human heart is to say to itself, "I am a sinner, but at least I am not as bad as Hugh Freeze." One of the reasons I am an an Anglican is because I saw just such a spirit among Presbyterians. For this reason and others, though I have much in common with Presbyterians, I will not go back among them. 

So, here is how I respond, as one who is not yet an Ole Miss fan: 

(1) I will remember that I am a sinner no less than Hugh Freeze - or King David or the Apostle Peter. I mean, seriously, really that bad. I truly belong in that group, not the group of "real" Christians who are not like Hugh Freeze. I say that not because I am trying to be humble, but because it is the truth.

(2) I will grieve for Hugh Freeze, his wife, and his three teenage daughters. All of them deserve our compassion, especially the wife and daughters, who have done nothing to be treated as social and spiritual pariahs.  But Hugh Freeze also deserves our Christian compassion. 

(3) I will regard Hugh Freeze as a Christian brother who has fallen, not as a hypocrite. Perhaps as time passes he will be exposed as a fake - a hypocrite who is not a Christian but has pretended to be one. But, perhaps what will be revealed that he is that he is a struggling Christian, not the man he was thought to be, or portrayed himself as, and perhaps not the man he thought himself to be, but a Christian who has struggled with sexual sin.

(4) I will wish that it it were easier among us Christians for us to confess our sins. It is not easier, not because the church is not a community of sinners, but because the ethos of the church leads to "hiding" of our sins, to pretending we are better than we are, and to having a public persona that does not correspond to reality.

(5) I will continue to think that sexual sins are very bad sins, but I will also continue to wonder why we deal with sexual sin as we do not deal with others. It is almost more easy in conservative churches to be found to be a murderer than an adulterer or some other kind of sexual sinner. Why do we tolerate malice, envy, gossip, jealousy, running down the reputations of others, attachment to material goods, and other sins, when we come down fast and hard on sexual sins?

(6) I will encourage myself and other Christians simply to be Christians by character and and conduct, and not to make a big deal of it. If you're a coach and concerned about the spiritual welfare of your players, then be concerned about their spiritual welfare but don't announce it. Christians need to do a lot more "being" (including being honest about their sinfulness) and a lot less "talking" and "advertising." This is especially important if you have a public position and are honest with yourself about your sins.

(7) I will continue to ask, What is the church? A hospital for sinners or an exclusive club for the righteous?

Just one more word:

Go Gators!


Go to Eternal Jail

Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200

I read over at The Gospel Coalition, that when R.C. Sproul was asked what doctrine he most struggles with, he replied "Hell." I would not be disappointed if, when we reach the Last Day, it turns out that the lost will be annihilated, as theologians of such stature as Philip Hughes and John R.W. Stott thought possible. When you think about the blessedness of life freed from sin and death in a universe freed from groaning and frustration, it would seem that eternal exclusion would be a significant penalty for sin not covered by the blood of Christ. Conscious, endless torment of body and soul for our fellow human creatures is an horrendous thing to contemplate. However, it seems to me more likely that J.I. Packer is right when he affirms the reality of hell.

The struggle of coming to terms with the reality of hell gives me a little surprise with how quickly some people pronounce others on their way there. To explain, allow me to mention four websites I have come across. 

One is Barbara Roberts' "A Cry for Justice" which is committed to supporting those who have experienced domestic abuse according to Barbara's definition of abuse and who may in Barbara's view justifiably divorce their spouses (almost always men). Her view of what constitutes abuse as grounds for divorce more resembles Rabbi Hillel's grounds for divorcing a wife (anything that displeases) than Rabbi Shammai's (serious transgression). "A Cry for Justice" is also dedicated to calling out the evangelical church for its failure to take the side of the abused and its covering up the sins of abusers.

Another website is "Spinderella Sproul" where someone who calls himself R.C. 2.O has dedicated himself since 2005 to hating, exposing, and mocking R.C. Sproul, Jr. It seems he was one of the persons hurt in the problems at St. Peter's church. But his malice toward R.C,. Jr. has taken on a life all its own. He is convinced that R.C., Jr. is not only a sinner but a wolf in sheep's clothing, a man devoid of grace and filled with wickedness. R.C., Jr.'s problems with the law, which arose in December of 2016 and were finally adjudicated in June of this year, have given 2.0 6 months to plow a fertile field. His disdain for R.C., Jr. boils over to Ligonier and the whole Sproul family, including R.C., Sr. and Vesta. 

Yet, another website is "The Wartburg Watch" which focuses on church abuse and gives a voice to those who believe themselves to have been spiritually abused. But "The Wartburg Watch's" special hatred is for Calvinists of the Baptist sort - the Reformed Baptists, of course, but especially those Calvinists who are surreptitiously worming their way into and taking over churches in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Then, very much unlike the first three, is the "Bayly Blog" which promotes patriarchy and hates wom...I mean feminists. Tim Bayly is on watch 24-7-365 for deviations from the Bayly orthodoxy and does not hesitate to denounce the doctrinal deviants with the strongest terms and ridicule then with the most sarcastic language, especially with regard to his favorite subject which is sex.

The first three Blogs experienced a harmonic convergence regarding the resolution of R.C. Sproul, Jr.'s legal case. "Spinderalla" followed the case closely and reported its disposition. "Wartburg" picked up and republished "Spinderalla's" last posting on the legal end of the case. And, wouldn't you know it, here comes "Cry for Justice's" Barbara Roberts at the "Wartburg" site to post this charitable comment about R.C. Jr, a comment no doubt "amened" by "Spinderella" and "Warturg":
Serous (sic) help? Haha. Sounds like needs a blood transfusion! …. which is not that far off base: he needs to be born again as this persistent pattern of behaviour shows he is NOT regenerate and is NOT in Christ at all. I wonder whether RC Sproul Senior has accepted that fact yet? I doubt it.
Tim Bayly is never to be outdone, and he has consigned several to hell lately. Tim is worked up about The Christian Standard Bible and what he regards as its translators' choices of gender-neutral language. He is particularly upset with Denny Burk's defense of the translation and writes:
What Burk ought to have done was to point his readers to the Atlantic's article and ask his readers to contact the Southern Baptists who deleted God's male inclusives from His Word hundreds and hundreds of times, just as the Atlantic reported. Denny Burk himself should have written an open letter to the woman and men who removed these hundreds and hundreds of words from God's Word calling every one of them to repent.
Denny Burk should have warned his fellow Southern Baptists against this neutered Bible, reminding them what God Himself said concerning those who change the words of His Word:
I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book. (Revelation 22:18, 19)
Denny Burk should warn the translators and publishers of his denomination's Christian Standard Bible that their removal of hundreds and hundreds of words with a male meaning component from Scripture places their souls in jeopardy of having their part in the tree of life and the holy city removed by God.
But you say, "Surely not! If anyone is saved today, it must be the Southern Baptists. Look at how despised they are! If anyone can be trusted to defend God's very words about sexuality, surely it is these very conservative men down South?"
Yet God says:
...if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book. (Revelation 22:19)
Are there men today who will stand for God and His Word against Denny Burk and his fellow Southern Baptists?
And then there's the case of Eugene Peterson, who first seemed to endorse homosexual marriage (but now seems to have backtracked). Responding to one who commented that he hated to see Peterson's loss of courage, Tim wrote about Peterson:
This is no mere lack of courage, but utter apostasy. In other words, this man will never enter the Kingdom of God.
So there you have it. R.C. Sproul, Jr. is unregenerate and headed to hell. The translators of The Christian Standard Bible are in danger of going to hell if they don't repent of their gender inclusive translating. And, Eugene Peterson is without a doubt going to hell.

Let me tell you what dogs I don't have in this hunt. I have never heard Sproul, Jr. speak or read any of his books. I think I have read few of his Ligonier postings. I reject theonomy and patriarchy and other views attributed to him which range from weird to crazy. I don't plan to buy the Baptist (oops, Christian) Standard Version.  I have never heard Eugene Peterson speak or read one of his books, though I think that a couple of times I tried to make a start of A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. I oppose homosexual practice and marriage.

But really, isn't is possible, indeed more likely than not, that R.C., Jr. is a sinner who has stumbled many times on the way to the Celestial City but whom God won't let go of? Is God going to send the translators of the Christian Standard Bible to hell for the way they have translated masculine nouns and pronouns? And, isn't it more reasonable to think that Eugene Peterson is confused and waffling on a significant issue of morality and the ministerial office, but will be in the company of the rest of us messed up sinners in the kingdom that is to come - and probably a lot closer to the throne than I, and maybe you?

If these folks are to judge who is in and out, I doubt there will be as many as 144,000 saved.


It Was All Over before Terry Johnson Entered the PCA

It Was Already Too Late, Terry

Terry Johnson, Senior Minister of the Independent Presbyterian Church in Savannah, GA, is a really, really good guy. I have worshiped at Independent and experienced the worship he describes in his book which I commend to every Presbyterian minister, Leading in Worship

Sunday Dr. Johnson had a piece, Worship in the PCA in 2017published at The Aquila Report, in which he laments the worship he experienced at the PCA General Assembly in June.  He laments the loss of what he believes once was Presbyterian worship in the PCA:
When I joined the PCA nearly 40 years ago, I did so for two reasons: theology, particularly the doctrines of grace; and worship, that is, the word-filled, God-centered, gospel-driven, emotionally disciplined and reverential worship of the Reformed church. I was fleeing the revivalistic Baptist services of my childhood and the charismatic/Pentecostal influences encountered in college and seminary.
Back in 1980, in 1985, in 1990, and perhaps even in 2000, the preceding sentences describing worship would have been widely understood in the denomination. We enjoyed considerable consensus throughout those years, rooted in nearly 500 years of Reformed practice, from Calvin’s Form of Church Prayers, to the Westminster Assembly’s Directory for the Public Worship of God to the more free-form but weighty Presbyterian worship of the 18th and 19th centuries. Up to nearly the end of the 20th century our services featured substantial Bible reading, expository preaching, a full-diet of biblical prayer, the singing of biblically-rich praises, and the regular administration of the sacraments.
He laments the loss of the Presbyterian ethos of restrained emotion:
... The worship culture of Presbyterianism has included quiet reverence and emotional restraint, even among those not temperamentally given to such restraint... Emotional discipline was thought to be important, an excess of sorrow and exuberance to be avoided. Why? So that one’s focus on the word, sacraments, and prayer might be undistracted by one’s overwrought passions. It was understood that those overcome by either extreme of emotion would struggle to redirect their attention to the word read, preached, prayed and seen... A quiet solemnity has characterized Puritan and Reformed worship (Eccl 5:1; Hab 2:20). Emotions are powerfully moved, but they run deep, below the surface. We have sought to worship God with the “reverence and awe” that is, with a disposition that is compatible with bowing and kneeling, whatever our posture happens to be (Heb 12:28; Ps 95:6). It was this consciously cultivated atmosphere of disciplined reverence that many of us found deeply satisfying, and more importantly, biblically balanced and sound. It was for this that many of us became Presbyterians.
He believes that novelty in worship has overcome the old forms and ethos:
The worship services at General Assembly were quite different from what I am describing. They were novel, unlike the culture and practice of Reformed church across the centuries and across the continents. They were also quite unlike anything practiced in 95-99% of our churches today, though not unlike General Assemblies of recent years.. I found the addition of contemporary forms, plus those forms that mirrored the entertainment industry, plus forms borrowed from charismatic and Pentecostal churches, unsettling. It is clear that those who over these years have sought to remake the worship culture of the PCA to a significant degree have succeeded.
What did he experience in 2017:
I would describe the services as contemporary with a dash of Pentecostalism minus tongues. The choirs’ performances, the gestures of those leading (arms thrust skyward, hands clapping overhead, hands waving back and forth, one leader literally jumping up and down), up-front leadership of three women, non-traditional instrumentation (drums, tambourines featured prominently), plus choir-dominated and leader-dominated congregational singing, were all outside the norms of Presbyterian practice over the past 400-500 years. 
He does not object to the worship on grounds of principle:
I am not now attempting to engage in biblical argumentation. I’m not saying that anything that was done was wrong or invalid per se. There are many ways to worship God. What separates various Christian groups is their disagreement as to what is the best way to worship. Hence we divide into charismatic, high-church, free-church, and countless variations on those themes. All may be valid. All may be sincere and earnest in their forms of preaching, prayer and praise, etc. 
He argues rather on the grounds of what is best:
Yet only one can be best. We all choose to do what we think is best and alter our services when we think we can do better. What I am saying is that the services were foreign to what our tradition has considered best, and to the regular practice of the vast majority of our churches today. Yes, there was a superficial resemblance to the tradition: old words joined to new tunes on occasion; also, several souped-up versions of traditional hymns were sung. Scripture was read, the word was preached, the sacrament were administered, prayers were offered. However, the overall impact was overwhelmingly novel, from the prelude all the way to the end, when we were instructed to hold out our hands to receive the benediction. 
How might all of this liturgical chaos at PCA General Assemblies and in the churches been prevented?
I wish that 40 years ago when I joined the PCA that the denomination’s elder statesmen had raised their voices warning those of us who came into Presbyterianism from other traditions, be they Baptist (as in my case), Lutheran, Anglican, or Pentecostal, that it was not for us to remake the church in accord with our own background and preferences.... I might also have tried to import the altar calls and gospel songs of my childhood and youth. I wish that we all had been counseled to respect the regulated worship culture of international Calvinism and conform to it for at least a decade or two, so that we might learn to love its distinctive strengths. Too many of us thought we knew better and, as a result, all these years later we are drowning in the liturgical chaos we call the PCA. 

Not surprising, Terry Johnson's piece got a response, Your Preferences Aren't the Point of Worship by Sam DeSosio whose background is the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, a strict regulative principle-Psalm singing without instruments denomination. Mr. DeSosio contends that he still believes in the Regulative Principle of Worship, but he believes the RPW is meant to protect freedom in worship (picture the Westminster divines turning over in their graves) not constrain it:
What makes me so frustrated is that the RPW is meant to protect our gathering from the opinions and preferences of individuals, especially those who might suggest that worship is somehow defective because that person didn’t like it. But when Dr. Johnson takes to a public platform and when this platform is named for another elder in the PCA, we are in a situation where a few are attempting to burden the church’s worship with their opinions.
What to say?

First, I cannot allow to go unchallenged a mistake made by Mr. DeSosio, who quotes C.S. Lewis to support his view that Terry Johnson is just an "old fogey" who can be dismissed because of his cultural preferences for the old rather than the new. DeSocio writes:
Dr. Johnson is free to have these opinions, he is free to share them, but I am upset at the idea of PCA minister publicly belittling any worship service based on nothing more than cultural preferences, or what C.S. Lewis might have called “Chronological Snobbery”. 
The truth is that C.S. Lewis offers support to Mr. Johnson, not Mr. DeSocio. Lewis protested not the triumph of the old over the new but the triumph of the new over the old. In other words, in Lewis' view  the burden of proof is borne by Sam DeSosio, not Terry Johnson.
..."chronological snobbery," the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also "a period," and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them. 
Second, had Mr. Johnson had his wish that the "elder statesman" would have instructed those coming into the PCA 40 years ago, it would not have prevented what is occurring in the PCA. Why? Because many of the "elder statesmen" had been affected by Second Great Awakening revivalism. More than 40 years ago William Hill was writing Reformed Seminary graduates to determine whether they gave invitations in their worship services. More than 40 years ago many of the hymn "favorites" were not Psalms and historic hymns of faith but gospel songs. Nearly, if not more than 40 years ago, at the Pensacola Theological Institute  Dr. Robert Strong gave in "invitation" to spite Al Martin who was also on the faculty that year and expositing the Parable of the Sower. The "fathers" could never have agreed to instruct those coming into the PCA in a common form of worship.

Third, the PCA gave the worship store away at the third General Assembly (1975) held at First Presbyterian Church of Jackson, MS. On Thursday, September 11, 1975, the Assembly adopted the following:
Temporary Statement to preface the Directory for Worship: The Directory for Worship is an approved guide and should be taken seriously as the mind of the Church agreeable to the Standards. However, it does not have the force of law and is not to be considered obligatory in all its parts. 
What was to be temporary became forever temporary, and the Prefatory Statement of the Directory for Worship now reads:
Temporary statement adopted by the Third General Assembly to preface the Directory for Worship: The Directory for Worship is an approved guide and should be taken seriously as the mind of the Church agreeable to the Standards. However, it does not have the force of law and is not to be considered obligatory in all its parts. BCO 56, 57 and 58 have been given full constitutional authority by the Eleventh General Assembly after being submitted to the Presbyteries and receiving the necessary two-thirds (2/3) approval of the Presbyteries. 
With the exception of chapters 56 (The Administration of Baptism), 57 (The Admission of Persons to Sealing Ordinances), and 59 (The Administration of the Lord's Supper), the PCA churches have no Directory for Worship. Every minister, session, and church is left free to do what is right in its own eyes, and that has been the case for more than 40 years.  There is no accepted authority in worship to which Terry Johnson or others may appeal. Ministers such as Mr. DeSosio can do as they please, assuming the support of their sessions and  congregations, with no fear of accountability to their presbyteries on the basis of the Directory for Worship. 

Likewise, Mr. Johnson gave away his store when he wrote:
I’m not saying that anything that was done was wrong or invalid per se. There are many ways to worship God. 
If the guide is what is "best," then worship becomes a matter of preference. Why must we choose what is best and by what criteria are we to judge it? If I don't care of The Metropolitan Opera, why not allow me my preference for the Grand Old Opry? Isn't that's what best for me?

Fourth, there is no functioning so-called "Regulative Principle of Worship" in the PCA. Maybe in the RPCNA, maybe in the OPC, but not the PCA. In one of the strictest Presbyteries in the PCA, Mississippi Valley, all who enter affirm the RPW but there is no uniformity of worship. 

Fifth, this is one reason I am happy to be an Anglican who worships according to The Book of Common Prayer. If it's a matter of preference, I much prefer directed worship to regulated worship that regulates nothing. 

Terry, I am sorry, but the worship issue was over before you ever entered the PCA.

July 4: God and Country

Below are two previous Blogs related to God and country, first an analysis of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and second my experience at a PCA General Assembly after Desert Storm, for your consideration on Independence Day.  

Hymn No Christian Should Sing - Ever

Mrs. Howe's Hateful Hymn 

Julia Ward Howe

What follows is from my old Blog, the Christian Curmudgeon, on July 4,2013. It seems worth posting here a Just a Curmudgeon for several reasons: 1. It was the third most read post at the old Blog. 2. Today is July 4, and few songs are more a part of the patriotic songbook than "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." 3. July 4, 1863 marked both the surrender of Vicksburg and the defeat of Lee's Army at Gettysburg, dealing with God's "contemners" with his "terrible swift sword.' 4. Reading some of the discussion among members of my former denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America, it seems to me that not a few men, most of them perhaps younger, share the same spirit as Mrs. Howe. They are as "righteous" and "zealous" as Mrs. Howe - and as misguided. 

What is below originally appeared as a Soul Food Column 
in the June 22, 1996 issue of World Magazine.

My friend came from old Virginia stock, spoke with the soft accents of Dixie, and should have known better. But destined for a military career and a lover of all things martial, he requested "That Hymn" during a pre-service hymn sing. The Yankee minister, however, knew better and refused to accept the request.

It was a hymn whose chorus every red-blooded American can sing. A hymn that was guaranteed to bring the crowd to its feet as the conclusion of the Pensacola Fighting Tigers High School Band's patriotic half-time show in the 1960s. A hymn whose rousing version was a standard in the repertory of the Belhaven College (Jackson, Miss.) Concert Choir during its glory days. What was it? "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

Why did the New Jersey minister refuse 40 years ago to let us Southern boys sing the hymn whose secular version ("Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Teacher hit me with a ruler!") we sang almost every day? It was not sensitivity to Southern sensibilities.

Perhaps it was because he knew something about the author, Julia Ward Howe. She was a classic leftist. Born into a wealthy New York family, she settled with her philanthropist husband in Boston. Active in the Unitarian Church, she preached in congregations throughout New England and joined organizations of the 19th-century left such as the Woman's International Peace Association. And, as her hymn reveals, she had that ability to hate that liberals quickly condemn in conservatives but righteously indulge in themselves.

More importantly, our minister understood the words we so thoughtlessly sang. Before you sing "The Battle Hymn" this July 4, perhaps you will want to think about what Mrs. Howe would have you sing.

Mrs. Howe's Christ is not the Christ of the Bible. If, "In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,/With a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me," it was not "the glory of the One and Only who came from the Father," of "God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side," and who "became flesh" (John 1:14, 18) that Mrs. Howe saw. It was only the glory of human goodness.

If "he died to make men holy" it was to make them holy by the power of sacrificial example that would motivate them to "die to make men free." It was not to make them holy by the efficacy of an atoning sacrifice which frees from sin's guilt and power.

Mrs. Howe's eschatology is not the eschatology of the Bible. If she could not believe in judgment in the hereafter, she surely believed in it in the here and now. Her eyes had "seen the glory of the coming of the Lord" not at the end of the age, but in the 1860s. "He hath loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword" in the form of the Union army marching against the South, God through them "trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored."

One greater than Uncle Sam wants you in the righteous army which will execute judgment on the wicked whose cup of wrath is full:

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before his judgment seat;
O be swift, my soul, to answer him! Be jubilant my feet!
Our God is marching on."

Mrs. Howe was nothing less than an early and ardent proponent of liberation theology. Sin is social. Salvation is freedom from structures of oppression. Redemption is by warfare. Judgment is now. Consider this little-used verse of her hymn:

I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished tows of steel;
“As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal;’
Let the Hero, born to woman, crush the serpent with his heel,
Since God is marching on.

If she believed in moderation and toleration in religion, she gave little place to them in politics. If reason must lead to the discovery of religious truth, coercion must lead to social righteousness. She had no gospel of peace - that this day is a day of mercy in which we can be saved from the wrath to come by a God who, in love, provided the propitiation his justice demands and now pleads with sinners to be reconciled.

Mrs. Howe's hymn is a liberal hymn of hate stirred by the passions of war and based on a "God is on our side" mentality. Today, some whose patriotic zeal is high and theological discernment low might be tempted to sing it. Worse, some on the religious right may march into the culture wars singing it.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

A Patriotic American, A Denominational Alien

Patriotic Alien

The following was published as Soul Food column in the July 1/8, 1995 issue of World .

Render your patriotism unto Caesar and your worship unto God

It’s Saturday evening, June 8, 1991 – Desert Storm Victory Day. The week has been busy and the day hectic and still there’s work to do. But about 7:00 p.m. I declare victory over the unfinished Sunday evening sermon and head for the Washington Monument to experience the day’s climactic event, a gigantic fireworks display. That evening I felt, as on so many occasions during our four years living near Washington, D. C., the joys of free-spirited patriotism. The monuments, military bands, and holiday celebrations of the capital provide regular, healthy stimulation for the sensuous patriot.

Less than two weeks later, at a national meeting of a conservative protestant denomination, there’s a service featuring patriotic music and a message by General Schwarzkopf’s chief chaplain. And while others join the celebration, I’m feeling like an alien. I’m feeling, in conservative context, almost what I felt nearly 20 years before in a liberal context as my church body voted to urge the president to pardon my contemporaries who deserted rather than face the draft.

Israel, in Babylon, asked, “How can we sing the songs of Zion in a foreign land?” Tonight, in my spirit, I’m thinking, “How can I sing the songs of a foreign land in Zion?”

What’s the matter with me? Why is the United States my country when, with my fellow citizens, I’m watching fireworks explode over Washington, but a foreign land when I’m with fellow Christians worshipping? Why do I join without restraint in celebrating America on the Mall, but find I can’t do it in church?

On the Mall I experience those patriotic feelings that are natural and good. Those feelings should be strong in a person privileged to be a citizen of the United States. But in church I am reminded of a more important identity and a higher loyalty. I am, first, a citizen of the kingdom of heaven, ultimately loyal to King Jesus. Since his coming into the world, no country on earth has been, is, or will be the kingdom of God. Though I gladly live in my country, work for its welfare, and pray God’s blessings on it (Jeremiah 29:4-7), I am still an alien and stranger on earth looking for a country of my own, longing for a better country – a heavenly one (Hebrews 12:13-16).

On the Mall I “render unto Caesar” the patriotic fervor he is due and then some. In a country such as this, I give it not merely as my patriotic duty, but as my delightful privilege. But in church I render unto God the worship that belongs to him and no one else. To mingle worship of country with worship of God may be unintended idolatry, but idolatry it is.

On the Mall I join with fellow citizens of the United States to reaffirm our loyalty to our country and to experience a sense of common identity. In church I join with my fellow citizens of the kingdom of God to reaffirm our loyalty to Christ and to experience the communion of the saints that rises above all political, national, racial, and cultural divisions. There I want to put my arm around my American Christian brother who opposed the war. And there I should feel more at home with my brother in Christ who fought in the Iraqi army than with an unbelieving American who fought in the U.S. Army. Though we may, in good conscience and duty, have tried to kill each other as soldiers, in church we eat from one loaf and drink from one cup.

“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ…” (Philippians 3:25). Here I’m a patriotic alien waiting for my king to consummate the kingdom his coming established.