A recent poll found that Americans, in general, and Protestant clergy, in particular, believe that religious liberty in the United States is on the wane.
The poll, overseen and reported by Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, asked whether or not respondents agreed with this statement: “Religious liberty is on the decline in America.”

Fifty-four percent of Americans and a noteworthy 70 percent of Protestant senior pastors concurred.

Recent observations and evidence hint at disruptions of these once-hallowed freedoms.

What if these clues become more than easily ignored suspicions? What if the church in the U.S. wakes up one morning to find the country’s favorite aged and eccentric “Uncle Sam” has become a tyrannical Caesar?

It is not difficult to find congregations in this country that participate in displays and delights of nationalistic fervor with some regularity:

â—     The American flag stands guard in the corner of many a worship center choir loft.

â—     “God and Country” services feature soul-stirring anthems and pledges designed to yet again affirm allegiance to the nation.

â—     Hymnals intended for use in the worship of God by Christians are rarely without songs meant to rehearse the nation’s story.

What if the heritage of freedom in religious matters long enjoyed by all religious traditions in America suddenly became a memory rather than a safely guarded reality?

The biblical narrative features seasons when God’s people had to re-evaluate their understanding of what it meant to worship God faithfully.

The church birthed by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in first-century Jerusalem has constantly faced the temptation to intertwine elements of other narratives into the identity-defining story of God’s redemptive enterprise.

If offered, Caesar would gladly accept a share of the attention of people devotedly gathered as God’s holy nation and royal priesthood who might be willing to expend a bit of that devotion in service to a well-meaning though worldly sovereign.

Nationalistic practices in the worship life of the church may introduce into the church’s common commitment a narrative that distracts from and competes for the affections of God’s people – affections over which God makes exclusive claims.

Because there is no biblical way to justify or excuse idolatry, it is a good and wise moment for congregations in the U.S. to evaluate and strengthen their exclusive devotion to the one, true, holy God.

Christ’s church requires neither the approval nor protection of earthly empires in order to be faithful to God in its worship and its witness to the gospel.

In spite of Caesar’s attempts to gain a hearing in the church’s liturgical practices, this competing voice must be overcome by the resounding proclamation of God’s people – that Jesus Christ alone is Lord, to the glory of God the father.

Rob Hewell is director of the worship studies program at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas and a resident fellow at B.H. Carroll Theological Institute. You can follow him on Twitter @DrRH2007.

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