First of all I would like to address the whole concept of “flags” and what they are meant to represent. Flags are meant to be symbols to identify someone or something – and are often used to rally people together in support of what they symbolize. Because they are symbols meant to rally support they tend to engender strong feelings as we see them. I was reared by parents, and a society, that had great respect and honor toward the flag of the United States of America. I pledged allegiance to that flag every day I went to school at least through the eighth grade. I was also taught what that pledge meant. It meant that I supported the “republic for which it stands.” This meant that when I saw that flag it reminded me of the Constitution which established a Republic. It reminded me of a system of checks and balances intended to protect freedom. It also reminded me one of the greatest threats to that freedom was government itself. I was taught that any evolution of government that began to ignore those principles was going to eventually be a threat to the freedom they represented. It also reminded me that our nation openly believed in God, stood for liberty, and justice for all the people.
Being a student of history I openly admit that this pledge is a goal – not a reality. The things pledged were meant to be ideals we sought to live out in our daily lives. Our history reveals that sin and selfishness have tarnished these ideals. Our treatment of Native Americans, African Americans, Japanese Americans during WWII, and a host of other sins against each other are well documented. The most egregious of these sins is against the unborn. By saying this I am not trying to downplay other national sins, but one would have to admit that we have no other holocaust like the one perpetrated against unborn babies legally killed in the United States of America. That number is now over 20,000,000 – which is beginning to dwarf even the holocaust in Germany.
You may be wondering why I am going into all this. It is because there are enough issues out there for me to be offended with the flag of the United States of America – as well as just about any other flag that exists. Take the “Christian flag” for example. At VBS we pledge allegiance to it as a symbol of our Savior, His kingdom, our shared brotherhood in Him as we serve and love Him. But flags similar to this were flown during the Crusades, which is one of the darkest moments in Christian history. I believe the actions taken during that time were under men who were probably not even regenerate, but Christianity in general has received a serious black eye because of those sinful actions. I could be so offended by those actions that I refuse to even fly a Christian flag.
How do we deal with symbols like flags? If we choose some aspect of selective outrage over the sinful moments of what they symbolize – we won’t have any flags ever. Another option is that we will spend the majority of our time debating which flag is more sinful than the other. As I read a few articles about all this (along with comments made on them) I noticed that it is almost as if we are arguing who should loathe themselves the most over which flag they support or reject. I also noticed in the comment sections that things usually move from thoughtful comments to vitriolic, angry barbs seeking to one-up each other.
The first flag ever flown was not even a flag – it was a tower. That tower was an attempt to gather people under a symbol – and to foster a sense of pride in who they were. Unfortunately for them, that symbol was one that sought to bring them together out from under God. Their cry was, “ . . . let us make a name for ourselves,” as they built a tower reaching into heaven itself. God saw the power that such symbols have – as well as their ability to gather people together so that they could make much of themselves, much of their views and ideals, and much of their group. That is where the Lord confused the languages so that men could no longer gather in this way – until the end. Interesting that when they do in Revelation, they gather under a symbol so that they can rebel against God and His sovereignty. By the way, it doesn’t end well for them either in Genesis or Revelation.
Flags and symbols have always been used to gather people together for a cause or an identity. It was under a Nazi flag that many of the German people gathered together to advance their nationality – and a set of ideals that led to horrific acts and eventually genocide. A majority of people sees that flag, and the swastika on it, and reacts in horror over what was done under that symbol. But before we get too exercised about those acts, remember that since 1973 our nation, not under a flag used during the Confederacy, but under the flag of the United States of America, have now killed over 20,000,00 innocent babies in the womb. Under our flag – and with the full agreement and blessing of our current government – we’ve allowed full term babies to be partially delivered and then executed in the most horrific way – and that without anesthetic. Those who do this and support it don’t even recognize a baby as 3/5 human, which is even less than our government did under ungodly laws prior to the Civil War. Mankind has done unspeakable things when gathered under a symbol of their unity in “making a name for themselves,” as they reject God and live according to their own fallen, sinful direction.
As those saved by God’s grace through Jesus Christ our loyalties are always to be subject to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Our first and foremost desire is not to make a name for ourselves, but rather to magnify and exalt Jesus Christ. We are to do so not under men, but under the Word of God. Anything done by men in leadership is done recognizing God’s Word as the ultimate authority in the Church. Remember, men led others into the error of the Crusades because they lifted a man (at that time the Pope) above the Scriptures, so that what he said was more authoritative than the Scriptures. We gather, not under a flag or any other symbol. We gather under Jesus Christ Himself for the glory of God and the advance of the message of the Gospel. We enter into dangerous territory when we begin to equate that with any other symbol – and begin to gather under that symbol rather than under Him. It is not wise to mix any form of national, racial, or religious pride (i.e. denominationalism) with Christ. What you come out with is a form of idolatry. Our loyalty and submission to God through Jesus Christ should infinitely dwarf any other loyalty in our lives. When it does it will lead us into a place where we will try to mix these things with Jesus – making Jesus subservient to our other loyalties. Jesus is Lord and will not be an errand boy for a nation, race, or religious group. We are to live under Him – with all our allegiance to Him – and with our ideals firmly founded upon His Word as we not only hear it, but do it as well.
So, where do I stand on the controversy in South Carolina? If I were to argue that on the basis of making a name for myself, it would involve multiple things like a desire not to offend my precious bothers in Christ who are black, the first amendment right of free speech, a desire not to be identified as supporting slavery or racism, my southern heritage given me by my parents, an offense against those who used such symbols as a rallying cry to oppose civil rights, a desire to have nothing that would cause people to be offended with the gospel I preach (except the gospel itself) and a host of other thoughts that would argue back and forth – even in my own head. But - my desire is to make much of Jesus Christ. I want to glorify God as I seek to live out my faith in Jesus Christ – and proclaim the gospel as the only remedy for sin. Because of this I may listen – and even have strong feelings rise within me as I do. But I choose to turn the conversation to things that will make much of Jesus. I do this because my loyalty is not to a flag used by the Confederacy, by the United States, or even to the one used by the church. All of these flags and symbols have opportunity for offense – and to give unquestioned allegiance to them will lead to idolatry in the end. One of the facts of life since Genesis 3 and the fall is that you cannot live your life without offending someone - eventually. I don’t want to offend people – but if I do – may it be because of my identification with Jesus Christ and the gospel – not because of what flag I do or do not want flown over a government building in South Carolina.
NOTE: The real issue in South Carolina is that a precious group of our brethren in Christ, who are black, were attacked and killed inside their church by one man who is by his own statements a racist. Maybe our focus should be more on comforting them in their loss, rather than turning this into a political issue where their pain is beginning to be forgotten. In Christ we are not Jew, Greek, barbarian, slave, free, black, white, or any other way of “making a name for ourselves.” Christ is all and is in all. He took ALL of us with our previous nametags, whatever they are, and made us into one new man in Him. If you want to know what will truly solve racism, it is the gospel and the transformation of our lives when we come to know Jesus Christ and find our true identity in Him.