Tag Archives: non-violence

How Worship of the American Flag Changed Everything

This fourth of July will be significant for me in several ways. It was this week seven years ago that my personal journey of discovery into a flag-less Kingdom of Christ collided with the religious powers of Christendom. What unfolded was the result of a patriotic service that would not soon be forgotten.

I grew up a Southern Baptist and served in three churches as student pastor in Texas. In the last few years leading up to my departure from vocational ministry in the Baptist church, I had been slowly embracing Anabaptism—a vision of a non-violent, love-doesn’t-stop-at-the border sort of Jesus.

In fact, I had just spent weeks teaching over the Sermon on the Mount to our youth, college students, and adult companions in our ministry. And then came the annual fourth of July service.

While I was a bit more willing to prophetically clear the temple in those days, I had decided it was wise to begin my vacation the day before this event so as not to disrupt or be a distraction by my refusal to participate in the celebration of America and the worship of the flag, something I couldn’t do in good conscience. I was for sure it was for the best.

Little did I know that there were others whom I had been teaching that would go to the service but choose not to participate in what they felt was idolatry. I didn’t learn of it until the following Sunday when I was asked by an elderly deacon in the foyer, “What’s this we hear about you teaching our youth not to say the pledge.” I was dumbfounded.

Apparently when the flag was marched down the middle of the aisle, several students and adults didn’t turn to pledge. They didn’t sing the patriotic songs, nor did they pray the nationalistic prayers.

And it seems that others noticed a small prayer group outside the church building that were praying against the event.

What followed over the next couple of months was a series of meetings with parents, deacons, and the pastor. I could no longer keep my personal views to myself. It was out in the open. And they had questions.

What had I been teaching that their students would want to put aside their former pursuits to go into missions, love all people regardless of nationality, and not waste their life on worldly gain?

They were discovering a radical discipleship. And I was becoming an Anabaptist and just didn’t know it.

The truth is that these students and adults were drawing conclusions based on a simple reading of the Gospels. And we had all come to realize that this was unacceptable for this Baptist church in rural America.

Saying no to flag worship dethrones the American Jesus and it exposes our cultural Christianity.

There would be no discussion. No debate.

We asked, “What if Jesus had physically walked in the building while you were doing those things?” One prominent member said, “Well, we of course would have stopped what we were doing and worshipped him.” Say what?

And the one retort I’ll never forget, “David, where in love your enemies does it say not to kill them.” I couldn’t believe it.

Parents were angry and confused. Church leaders had run out of patience trying to understand my perspective. For whatever reason, they wouldn’t or couldn’t hear it, or even tolerate it.

I was apparently such a threat that I had to sign a document saying I would never set foot on church grounds again. I was so deeply hurt by this that I wept at my desk in front of the deacon who had been sent to me.

When I resigned in September 2006, I announced that I was leaving to pastor a church. That was my true intent. But I was unaware of the time of wilderness, recovery, and reconstruction that awaited us.

I worked odd jobs and taught in a Christian school the last five years. And looking back it’s become clear that the last seven years has been a time of spiritual formation. I’m thankful for it. I see the Lord at work.

God’s love has used it to prepare me for what is ahead.

Had it not been for the worship of the flag that day, I might not have recognized how radical Christ’s call is to those who choose to follow him, and how counter-culture the Gospel-for-all-nations is to those who have made their home in the world.

I would not be the same person that I am today without this experience seven years ago. It has forever shaped my character and my path.

And that’s how worship of the American flag changed everything.

Viva La Revolution!

D.D. Flowers, 2013.

UPDATE: This 4th of July marks 10 years since this event.


Meeting Jesus at Abu Ghraib

Joshua Casteel (1979-2012) grew up in an evangelical household and was raised as a patriotic Christian. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves at age 17, and later enrolled at West Point.

Joshua was trained as an Arabic translator and deployed with the 202nd Military Intelligence Battalion to Abu Ghraib prison working as an interrogator from June 2004 to January 2005.

It was at Abu Ghraib that Joshua would have a crisis of conscience while interrogating a Muslim who then questioned him about his faith in Jesus.

Soon after being confronted with the non-violent teachings of Jesus by a self-proclaimed jihadist, Joshua applied for conscientious objector status and was honorably discharged in May 2005.

Joshua labored internationally for several years as a subversive voice against war and violence. He served on IVAW’s Board of Directors in 2006.

Joshua authored the book Letters from Abu Ghraib (2008). Some of his essays on war and Christian ethics have become part of course curricula at Wheaton College and Duke Divinity School.

Joshua was diagnosed in early November 2011 with stage IV lung cancer (adenocarcinoma), present in his lungs, liver, spine and adrenals. He believed his illness was a result of his service in Iraq where he was exposed to the toxic fumes from the burn pits in Abu Ghraib.

Joshua Eric Casteel died on August 25, 2012.

I was deeply saddened to discover the news of Joshua’s death at the end of last year. I felt compelled to share his testimony with you.

The following video is an excerpt of Joshua’s story from the documentary Soldiers of Conscience (2008). May Joshua’s life and work be remembered and celebrated in the Kingdom revolution. Until Kingdom comes!

What do you think about the teachings of Jesus?  Does Joshua’s story challenge you to follow Jesus as a peacemaker?  Please share Joshua’s story if you have been touched by his testimony of Christ and the Kingdom.

D.D. Flowers, 2013.


On Church Doctrinal Statements

Last week I posted on Creeds & the Local Church. I’ve been giving some thought to the importance, even necessity, of a church doctrinal statement.

I’ve also been thinking about the difference(s) between dogma, doctrine, and opinion. In the pursuit of planting a church, it must be examined and discussed with others who are joining together in community.

I concluded that…

“a healthy church will continue to wrestle with dogma, doctrine, and opinion in every age and culture.”

I wanted to share a few more thoughts I’ve had in light of a couple responses to my last post on the topic.

Why We Need Doctrinal Statements

I admit that a lengthy doctrinal statement can present obstacles for folks. I know that when I see a long doctrinal statement, I honestly anticipate something that’s gonna rub me the wrong way.

I even do this when looking at schools. I almost expect that the longer the statement, the more likely we’re going to clash.

I quickly move off church websites when I see that they believe in a “rapture” pre-millenial/pre-trib theology. That’s of course because I so strongly disagree with it, and I often don’t see why it needs to be stated.

I think… “Can’t we just agree that Christ is returning?”

I think it’s different when there is a statement included that allows for differing views on the matter. It should be clear that people are welcome (and treated that way) even if they disagree with the “official” doctrine of the church. There ought to be an atmosphere of freedom.

But I want to be clear that I don’t see anything wrong with a church saying, “Here’s where we are as a local fellowship.” I would rather they be upfront about it, because it’s there whether visible in a confession or not. This is good and can please the Lord, when it’s done in grace and love.

Contrary to those that think creeds and doctrinal statements are always and only divisive, I think they are helpful for a fellowship and for those who would visit them. We mustn’t jump to such extremes just because we’ve seen examples of churches who did not hold their doctrine with grace, humility, and love. It’s reckless to respond in such a way.

A doctrinal statement captures the heart of the people, and serves as a guide for further growth into Christ.

I think it’s beneficial for visiting Christians to know where a church is in its journey. A doctrinal statement can reveal that to a certain extent. I would like to know where most of the fellowship is at in their walk. Wouldn’t you?

In reality I think it’s unhealthy not to at least hold some distinctives as a local church seeking to express the Christ they know. Where are we theologically as a fellowship? How are we seeking to manifest Christ among our culture and context? How do we feel about issues that often divide the church and the world? These are important questions that should be answered, leaving room for exploration and growth moving forward.

I believe it’s possible to plant your church’s creed, mission, and vision in certain doctrinal ideas while at the same time welcoming everyone who agrees upon the foundation—the mysterious incarnation of Christ.

I don’t think it’s a good idea to enter into any fellowship where doctrine isn’t apart of the church’s life together. That fellowship may have good intentions, but they open themselves up to problems born in the opposite extreme of dogmatism. They imagine that doctrine is inevitably against knowing Christ. They’re wrong. And they’ll be proven wrong.

So, I would say folks will (and should) find union with saints based on their basic confession of something like the Apostles Creed. But I also believe it’s healthy—even necessary—for a church to be upfront and clear about their doctrinal positions, holding them in love, grace, and humility.

It can be done, even if we’re skeptical because of our bad experiences.

What do you think? How have you seen doctrine and church distinctives serve as a healthy guide to growing in Christ? How are you and your church handling doctrinal matters?

D.D. Flowers, 2013.


Creeds & the Local Church

I’ve been doing some thinking about the difference(s) between dogma, doctrine, and opinion when it comes to the local church.

Simply put… it looks like this.

  • Dogma — Irreducible beliefs of the Christian faith. What do we say about Jesus?
  • Doctrine — Historical or traditional beliefs on a plethora of theological issues. What sets us apart?
  • Opinion — Debatable issues that you’re free to agree or disagree upon. What do you think?

I agree with these three distinctions (leaving room for some overlap), but how do you determine what belief goes where in these categories? And is it possible for a local church (pastors & elders) to proclaim a certain view as “doctrine” but leave room for members to disagree? I think so.

One thing is for certain, this is a task for folks in community together and those who are willing to wrestle with it. That’s an invitation.

Two Ways of Dealing With It

Let me first address two common ways of dealing with these issues, and then I’ll share my working thoughts.

Group One — “Give me Jesus, not your divisive doctrine.”

Some of you know that I spent about five years meeting in homes and interacting with a network of “organic” churches. I had some great experiences. However, many of the folks I ran into sought to downplay the role of theology and creeds (statement of beliefs) for fear that it is divisive and characteristic of the beastly institutional church.

They have a point. Beliefs can be divisive. But I don’t think the answer is to avoid the need for a creed, or set Jesus against doctrine.

So, I’m saying that I know people that don’t seem to think that worrying about dogma, doctrine, and opinion really matters. In their “opinion” (catch that?), we should just wander about in nebulous fashion and refrain from any organization—church practice and theology included.

This group is imagining that there is not a systematic theology at work in the members of their group or church. It doesn’t need to be posted on a church website or posted on the wall of their meeting place, it’s alive in the hearts and minds of the saints there.

A fellowship may not discuss what they believe openly or form a statement of faith by consensus, but it’s at work among them.  Avoiding the obvious need for a creed of theology, mission, and vision will lead to a certain death. That’s if the church even gets off the ground in the first place.

You can’t escape a “theology of the people” who have decided to band together for Kingdom purposes.

Trying to do so will lead to division of another sort. Once more proving that reactionary thinking and practice is not the answer.

I suppose this groups believes that if you stay away from labels and systems of thought that there will not be any division or controversy. They must think this reflects a purer stage of the NT church.

Back when there weren’t any problems, right?

I respect the desire to not be needlessly building walls of separation between saints. I’m all for that. But I can’t espouse the idea that having a statement of belief (creed) is damaging to the church.

In fact, I believe it is healthy and necessary.

Group Two — “Let’s get back to the basics… of the 4th century.”

Then there are other folks who are rightfully fed up with sectarianism in the church but believe that we must stand firm on some basic theological truths about Christ. They believe we should only stick to the ancient creeds in our attempts to articulate the essentials of our faith.

I grew up a Southern Baptist. The SBC has a very lengthy confession (Baptist Faith & Message) dealing with just about every issue under the sun (OK, I’m exaggerating a little bit). Needless to say, I didn’t grow up reciting the Apostles or Nicene Creed. I regret that.

My wife and I attended a Methodist church for a year and we deeply benefited from the recitation of these ancient creedal statements. The recitation of creeds in worship is a healthy way of reminding everyone in attendance of what brings them together and is forming their new identity as members of the universal church.

Hear me out. I like reciting the ancient creeds, but I do think it’s important to remember that the Apostles & Nicene Creeds (4th cent) were written against their own contextual issues of heresy and debated ideas of Christology in the church from ages ago.

Let’s remember the ancient creeds and recite them together in our churches. I’m cool with that. I think there is something deeply beneficial that comes with this practice. But I submit to you that a healthy church will continue to wrestle with dogma, doctrine, and opinion in every age and culture.

The local church can do this by amending the ancient creeds to better address our 21st century issues and challenges.

It’s necessary for a church that wishes to be a relevant organism seeking to make a Kingdom impact in every culture and context. Our evolving world demands it. We must not be afraid to speak to, for, and against issues of our time. We must move forward with courage.

Finding a Third Way

If you follow this blog regularly, you know that I have intentions to plant a church in the near future. I do this with fear and trembling. It’s not gonna be easy, but I’m convinced the Lord wants it.

The church today is fragmented in many ways. And I don’t wish to add to the problem by doing more of the same. But a new church plant is gonna require some line-drawing when it comes to dogma, doctrine, and opinion.

For example, some issues of “classical” theology, especially as it relates to our view of God in Christ, need to be revisited in order to reflect a change in the 21st cent church—a church that presently finds herself forced to accept views about God which contradict the revelation of God in Christ, or leave behind belief in a good God altogether.

The church that humbly professes the better view of God in Christ is being a faithful church, not a divisive or dogmatic church.

If we don’t speak up about these matters and courageously hold our ground against competing views that undermine the revelation of God in Christ… what good are we? What Gospel are we proclaiming?

There are other issues related to our culture and context that should be addressed in our creeds. We can’t afford to avoid these issues.

Some positions will need to be taken in response to culture, most others in response to misguided Christians propagating views about God and his sovereignty that don’t look like Jesus. It will require us hold positions that may not be popular, but are necessary to maintain the centrality and supremacy of Christ for authentic faith and practice.

Here’s what I’m saying… what may have been considered “opinion” or a non-essential in one generation can move into the realm of accepted doctrine worthy to be included in a church’s creed and statement of faith if it is needed in our response to bad theology and pagan culture.

The creeds of the local church should move forward in every cultural context, though never away from Christ who is eternal in the heavens.

The way forward affirms the importance of beliefs, expands on matters critical to our confession of Christ, and is willing to draw necessary lines in order to be faithful to the Kingdom.

This third way looks like Jesus Christ of Nazareth—Truth for the church and culture, saturated in love and grace for every age.

D.D. Flowers, 2013.


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