Q. When an edited version of the U.S. Constitution was read aloud at the opening of the 112th Congress, some referred to it as “our sacred text.” Such talk confers near-scriptural status to the document and furthers the belief that Americans are God’s chosen people. This is supported by a variety of other “sacred” rituals, such as saluting the flag, the insistence that “In God We Trust” be on our currency, etc. At what point does American nationalist zealotry become idolatry?
A. Though some may emphasize the importance of the Constitution by using the word “sacred,” we know it is a humanly crafted and amended document. And saluting a flag or pledging allegiance to a country are legitimate aspects of good citizenship, something to which Scripture calls us when it encourages us to “be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good” (Titus 3:1; Rom. 13:1-7).
It is possible for nationalist zealotry to become idolatry. That was well illustrated during the Vietnam War when one of the most popular bumper stickers in the U.S. proclaimed, “My Country—Right or Wrong.” Cartoons in daily newspapers showing a person wrapping the Bible in the American flag reminded us of the tendency of all nations to baptize their cause with the name of God and to proclaim “God is on our side.”
The Bible favorably presents people who disobeyed the governing authorities when the instructions of those authorities were judged to be in conflict with their faith commitment (Ex. 2:1-3; Heb. 11: 23; Dan. 3 and 6; Acts 4:18-19). Our pledge of allegiance to our God and to God’s ways supersedes any pledge of allegiance that we make to the nation of which we are a part.
—George Vander Weit
Q. The discipling of teens in our church feels very haphazard. It seems that the catechism classes study new and “improved” materials every year. Some make profession of faith as children, some as teens, and quite a few don’t do it at all. Many go on mission trips, which get them all excited for a while, but the long-term fruit isn’t so clear. The fact that synod has just made it official that a formal profession of faith is not required for admission to the Lord’s Supper makes it all feel even more haphazard.
A. When I was a CRC teen, it was very straightforward. We studied the Heidelberg Catechism every year from grades 7 through 12. During grade 12, my peer group and I made public profession of faith and began partaking in communion. My sense is that my experience was pretty much uniform throughout the denomination back then.
I know there are congregations where this “straightforwardness” still exists, but they are the exception. We are in a time of “discipleship transition,” and we’re searching as a denomination for ways to bring sturdy wisdom to this transitional period. I would suggest five things that might help.
1. Accept the reality that transitional times are by necessity haphazard. We simply have to navigate our way through them as faithfully and prayerfully as we can. We can’t turn the clock back to “the good old days” (which—let’s be honest—weren’t better than today for most of us).
2. Don’t let the current “messiness” blind you to the blessings that are present within it. I meet teens who love the Lord and are eager to serve and to grow. I also meet teens who are struggling but are (more or less) honest about their struggles and looking for adults to walk with them. There are good blessings in both of these places. (For a primer on haphazard ministry, read the entire book of Acts in one sitting.)
3. Messiness tends to make us anxious while straightforward steps give us a (usually false) sense of security. When this happens, the real spiritual issue is not the messiness but our own anxiety.
4. Quite a few CRC classes are holding discussions about youth discipleship during a public evening session at which congregations share their joys and struggles and encourage each other. Has yours done this? Transitional times need much dialogue between congregations.
5. Have you checked out the resources at the denomination’s faith formation website, www.crcna.org/faithformation? There’s good stuff there to chew on (and a lot more on the way soon).
Questions about profession of faith are bubbling up all over the denomination. I’ll write more about that in an upcoming issue.