Why Goshen College is Wrong

Recently Goshen College, a Mennonite school in Goshen, Indiana made national news by reversing their decision to sing the National Anthem before athletic contests at their school.  For 116 years the school had chosen to not sing the anthem because they believed it glorified war and confused the separation of church and state.  Then last year they changed their position and sang it, only to face widespread rancor among Goshen College students, faculty, alumni, and donors.

In response, the school reversed itself again and has gone on record as planning to never sing the National Anthem again.  Recently Mark Schlonegar, a Mennonite pastor and Goshen graduate, posted an open letter on CNN explaining his agreement with the school’s position.  Of course I support my fellow pastor’s freedom to believe and proclaim whatever he chooses, but in this case I believe he is dead wrong.

The argument should not begin in church history…

Pastor Schloneger spends considerable time explaining their denomination’s connection to the 16th century Anabaptists in Europe.  Incidentally, our church would trace many of our theological beliefs to the Anabaptists as well.  Schlonegar suggests that because the Anabaptists called for a strict separation of church and state, their denomination will only “recognize one Christian nation, the church, the holy nation that is bound together by a living faith in Jesus rather than by man-made, blood soaked borders.”  That is exactly where arguing from one’s perspective on church history alone will lead.

…it should begin in the Bible.

The Scripture should always be our source of truth in matters of faith and practice.  The Bible would lead churches and individual followers of Christ to adopt a much different position than that of the Mennonite Church on this issue.

Governments are instituted by God.

Paul told the Roman Christians that “every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God and those which exist are established by God” (Romans 13:1).  So much for nations simply being defined by “man-made, blood soaked borders,” as if the sovereign God of heaven and earth had nothing to do with the matter.  He “puts down one and exalts another” (Psalm 75:7).  Consider the political climate in which Paul wrote to the Romans.  Even the government that would soon take Paul’s life was to be considered as being ordained by God.

There is such a thing as just war.

Paul goes on in this same passage to explain that governments are “a minister of God” to restrain and put down evil.  He went on to say that they do not “bear the sword in vain” (Romans 13:4).  It is patently unbiblical to suggest that Christians should not sing a song that celebrates a rockets’ red glare and or bombs bursting in air as if there is never the need for such brave, heroic acts. And it is incredibly offensive to men and women who have worn our nation’s uniform, or who are doing so today, for followers of Christ to fail to acknowledge the value and beauty of their service to God and our country.

We are commanded to honor our nation’s attempts to restrain and put down evil.

Paul ends his argument in verse 7 by saying “Render to all what is due them; tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.”  This is a commandment that is given to the church of Jesus Christ.  One of the ways we please our Savior is by honoring those who have sacrificed so that we can be free.

Let it rip!

Followers of Christ need not be afraid that we will confuse the cross and the flag if we sing the national anthem.  It is simply a matter of separating priorities in a biblical fashion.  That is why Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Luke 20:25).  That is about as simple and straightforward as it gets.

Admittedly the National Anthem is a challenging song to sing.  Some of the best artists and vocalists of our generation have been humbled by its difficulty.  But Christians should want to sing it in all sorts of settings, including the moments before an exciting athletic contest.  Sing it loudly.  Sing it with joy and thanksgiving in your heart.  And sing it with confidence because you believe your actions are consistent with what God has commanded in His Word.

Steve Viars
Dr. Viars has served as a pastor and counselor at Faith since 1987. He is an author, national speaker, and Vice President of the Board of Directors for the Biblical Counseling Coalition.