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Rev Julian Mann: Do not worship false gods, even if they are the flag of St George


It may be heretical to say it following the furore over former shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry’s pictorial tweet of a house in Strood festooned with St George’s flags, but the practice is open to question from a Christian perspective.

Or to be precise from a Protestant Christian perspective, for Protestantism emphasises the priority of the Word of God and minimises the role of visual symbols. For example, Article 22 of the Church of England’s 39 Articles of Religion, its Protestant basis of faith, declares that the ‘Romish doctrine’ concerning the ‘Worshipping, and Adoration, as well of Images as of Reliques’…‘is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God’.

Do people who cover their houses with flags of any kind worship these images? Probably not in any ritualised or liturgical way, but very arguably publicly displayed images are a visual assertion of a person’s spiritual and moral identity.

While Anglicanism and patriotism are compatible under the right circumstances – Article 37 of the 39 asserts that ‘it is lawful for Christian men, at the command of the Magistrate, to wear weapons, and serve in the wars’ –  if a person’s spiritual and moral identity is rooted in nationalism, then from a biblical Christian perspective such faith (and nationalism is a faith) is misplaced.

That is because according to the Bible, which is the supreme authority in Anglican theology, a person’s spiritual and moral identity should be rooted in the one true God, who has made Himself known in Jesus Christ, His Incarnate Son.

For the biblical Christian, using symbols as a way of asserting one’s spiritual identity is at the very least superfluous and in some cases unhelpful.  As the Anglican clergyman once told a young man who had started wearing the badge of a then fashionable Christian organisation: ‘Your life is your badge’.

And surely he was right, for according to the New Testament following Jesus Christ is about what you believe and how you live.  As Jesus Himself said to his followers in His Sermon on the Mount: ‘Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father, which is in heaven’ (Matthew 5v16 – King James Version).

What about Christians who like to wear crosses about their person?  There is nothing in the Bible to say they should not. But if they are known in the office as a relentless gossip, then it would be better for the Christian cause if they were not publicly identified with it by a visual symbol.

Which brings me on the matter of Christian fish symbols on cars. A vicar of my acquaintance  told me he was almost killed by a lady backing out of her driveway on a main road. Her car had a fish sticker prominently displayed on the back of it.

Imagine that being the last thing you see on this earth before you face your Maker and that because of unchristian behaviour in dangerous driving.

So, although Ms Thornberry was clearly not motivated by spiritual considerations in her tweeted observation, discussion of the significance of displaying visual symbols and even criticism of the practice in some cases should certainly not now be off limits in a free society.

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Julian Mann
Julian Mann
Julian Mann is a former Church of England vicar, now an evangelical journalist based in Heysham, Lancashire.

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