When we wrote last week’s article about the flags that have been ruling Facebook in the last month or so, we wrote:
…we must remember above all that the blood-stained standard of Jesus Christ flies over both the Confederate flag and the rainbow banner, and that standard calls all of us to pursue Him before our freedoms, before our marriage…before everything.
It seems that a couple of pastors in North Carolina may have taken that sentence very literally. On July 5, Pastor Rit Varriale of Elizabeth Baptist Church in Shelby, NC raised the Christian flag above the American Flag, reportedly in recognition of the correct way that our priorities should be arranged. His action follows Walter Wilson’s of nearby Focus Missionary Baptist Church. It’s sparked a bit of a national debate, and has added two more flags to the Facebook flagpole.
Varriale gave an explanation of this order to local news station WBTV. “Our typical flag etiquette is to have the American flag above the Christian flag,” he said. “But when you stop and think about it, it should be our commitment to God first, then our commitment to country.” This is, of course, true. Jesus called us to look to Him above all other nations, above all other obligations. If our work draws us away from Him, get rid of it. If our preferences draw us away, prefer something else. He even says that if our very family draws us away from Him, and we follow, then we cannot be His disciple.
But God doesn’t call us to deal with him first in the way that then we may move on with our lives and ignore Him thereafter. Rather, we’re supposed to deal with him first, primarily, as we deal with everything else in our lives. Our lives’ priorities are not a flagpole. They are a solar system.
All things in a solar system orbit the body in the middle. The planets, moons and comets of our solar system circle inexorably around the sun. And in your life, your job and family and recreation and even church attendance all circle a center point. The question is, what is that center point? For the Christian, the blazing center (as John Piper calls it) should be the supremacy and glory of God. Not merely the most important flag, He is the guiding force that keeps the rest of your life together and in motion.
This is a crucial point! Because if we move something else to the center of our solar system, major problems will occur. If the Earth’s moon were at the center of our solar system instead, the planets and moons would fly wildly off into space! If the sun were replaced with different stars of varying sizes every day, or if two suns tried to occupy the center of our celestial neighborhood, the planets would orbit erratically, smashing into one another and turning to rubble. And if there were only a massive black hole in the center, all the planets would be pulled in and consumed by its gaping maw.
Likewise, the solar system of our life requires a stable, weighty, brilliant center to maintain our orbits and nurture life on Earth. The planets of job and family cannot do the job, and it cannot be a huge, uncaring force; it must be both loving and strong. If the center is not God, our lives will fall apart.
The Wrong Reason
Pastor Varriale’s raising of the Christian flag over the American flag was not simply a reordering of the church’s priorities, though. It was a political protest.
Now, I don’t know Varriale’s heart, but he appears to have made it clear in his blog post. Independence Day 2015 came eight days after a historical Supreme Court ruling that ruled same-sex marriage valid in the entirety of the United States, a decision that Varriale met with anger. Calling the United States “The Land of the Free and the Home of the Cowards,” he urges Christians to nonviolent protest in a blog post. “We can peacefully turn this nation around with one swift move… stand up to the courts!” So his raising of the Christian Flag over the American Flag right after Independence Day was carefully calibrated as a protest against same-sex marriage.
But does his action simply prove that he has placed traditional marriage on an altar above Christ? Is the flag of heterosexuality waving alongside the Christian flag up there? Choosing this moment to switch the order of the flags, and making it clear that it is a reaction, suggests so. And as I said last week, although marriage IS very important, “if we viciously insist that marriage is the ‘most important thing,’ we have succeeded in making marriage itself an idol that is keeping us from Christ.”
Look at the Center
But let us take this moment to look instead at our own hearts and inspect our personal solar systems. Are you trying to make all of the other planets of your life revolve around the planet of traditional marriage, or of same-sex marriage? Have you placed your job, your friends, your hobbies, or even your family in the center where they were never meant to go and fly apart under the burden?
Take down all the flags. Place God in the center, and watch as all the other orbits fall into place.
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Thanks for reading Redeeming Culture! Take a look at our previous article, “Flags over Facebook“; or look at all of our past Current Events articles (“Past Current Events” is a great oxymoron). And, as always, if you like what you see, we’d also greatly appreciate your support. Thank you!