Monday, April 22, 2013
I glanced down at the church bulletin. There were the usual announcements. A list of the weekend services. A welcome notice for guests.
My mother had invited me to attend her church yesterday. It is one of those modern evangelical churches with a rock band and a minister who delivers his sermon while sitting on a Dave Garroway-style stool while delivering a variant of orthodox Christianity -- the righteousness and wrath of God this week.
But it was the "Praying Together" section of the bulletin that caught my attention. Prayer is important. And what a church prays for says a lot about its character. Or, at least, the character of the leadership.
There were three requests. "Pray for our missionaries" -- with a special request for missionaries in Hungary.
"Pray for area churches." With a nod to the church where we were worshiping and its pastor.
All rather conventional and appropriate.
But it was the third request that jarred me. "Pray for our nation. Military and leaders. A military prayer list is on our website."
I mentioned the other day that I have been reading Ross Douthat's Bad Religion. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in how orthodox Christianity and its current American heresies have impacted political life.
Douthat ended his appraisal with an analysis of the negative impact of nationalism on Christianity -- a faith that, by its profession, is universal and not the property of any country. It is an old heresy dating at least to Woodrow Wilson's attempts to save the world for democracy.
I have long worshiped in churches that sport the heresy. Protestants churches that would be scandalized with the presence of a crucifix, but have replaced that icon with an American flag prominently displayed on the podium.
The prayer requests for leaders has a long tradition in Christianity. After all, it was Paul who admonished Timothy: "First of all, then, I counsel that petitions, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all human beings, including kings and all in positions of prominence; so that we may lead quiet and peaceful lives, being godly and upright in everything."
Too may Americans skip over most of that verse when prayers are offered up to protect one nation's leaders. Paul clearly lays out the universal message of Christianity in that verse. That we are pray for all human beings.
Jesus made it even more explicit. "But I tell you, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! Then you will become children of your Father in heaven. For he makes his sun shine on good and bad people alike, and he sends rain to the righteous and the unrighteous alike. What reward do you get if you love only those who love you? Why, even tax-collectors do that!"
And that is the theological weakness of theology based on nationalism. Our understanding of God gets all turned around. Until we start singing songs like "Jesus is mine!" And we then treat him as if he were our own little genie to grant us every wish that pops into our head.
He is not mine. My theology says that I am his. I am not the owner. I am the servant. And that means I respect the world with the same type of love God has shown us.
There is nothing wrong with praying specifically for missionaries or area churches or our nation. But, prayer is so much more. Maybe it is a way for us also to consider why we think some people are our enemies -- even after Jesus died for the sins of all of us.
My mother's church seems to be made up of a group of well-meaning people. But what we believe matters.
Richard Weaver was correct. Ideas do have consequences.