IIIM Magazine Online, Volume 4, Number 2, January 21 to January 27, 2002

Music Matters
Show 13

by Robert Barnes

Good Day! This is Music Matters, and I'm Robert Barnes. Last week, I promised to get us into a question of usage—how can we use various types of music, be they classical, folk, or contemporary, in a Sabbath service of worship. But I'm taping this show a few days after September 11, 2001, when the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked, and ten thousand were left killed or injured. In response, we had several memorial services in the National Cathedral (which is Episcopal by denomination, by the way) and numerous patriotically-themed worship services around the nation on the following Sunday.

How much flag-waving can we do in a God-centered, biblical, and relevant worship service? That's the question I want to answer on today's Music Matters.

Whenever we would have sing-along or "Pick your favorites" on Sunday evening worship at Whitesand Baptist Church near New Hebron, MS, my hand would shoot up and I would request one of my favorite songs as a child, The Battle Hymn of the Republic. It was a lot of fun to sing, it talked about God winning battles and truth marching on and as a five-year old, I loved it.

I didn't learn till later that this song was a Yankee war ditty and that the vineyards they were trampling down were my own well-plowed gardens and fields of Mississippi. It was a lot of fun to sing until I learned that the places the grapes of wrath were stored was in Natchez and Dolphin Island and all along the Mississippi River on both sides. The truth that was marching on was not the truth of the Gospel, but the brute force of an occupying army that destroyed my ancestors' homes and left my culture in ruins.

In war, both sides claim to have God on their side. Both sides claim to have the moral high ground. The "God Card" has been played to motivate the common man to war since the beginning of history. How much should the church be drawn into the Christianizing of national conflict?

The Bible teaches it is the duty of people to pray for magistrates and those in authority, to honor their persons, to pay them tribute or other dues such as taxes, and to obey their lawful commands. The Bible is clear about this. But I believe it is dangerous for the church to become overly patriotic in their worship services. Christ should be the king of our worship services, and when we honor our nation or wave flags or sing patriotic songs at church, I believe it confuses us and our children as to who is sovereign: God or government. When we begin to associate the same feelings of reverence and love we have for God at church, and then occasionally substitute a flag or a nation in God's place, it sends mixed messages from the church, to the world, as to why we exist.

I'm deeply grieved by the events of this week, and I hope every church within the sound my voice prays regularly, publicly, for our nation and our leaders. And if you or I are called to defend our country from attack, then we should go with our church's blessing. But let's make sure we salute the right flag and worship the right King when we are in worship next week. This has been Music Matters. See you next time.