On flags, All Saints Day, and Acoustics

Q. What is the origin of the Christian flag, and where should it stand in relation to the American flag?

A. The idea for the Christian flag was conceived by a Mr. Charles E. Overton, apparently during an impromptu talk at Brighton Chapel in Staten Island, New York. It was first designed and constructed in 1907. The flag was initially popularized in the Methodist Church, and is used in several denominations. However, it has never received the status of being the "official" Christian flag.

Your question of location assumes that the Christian flag needs the American or Canadian flag as a counterpart. In the March 1990 issue of Reformed Worship, Richard Mouw raised significant questions about putting American (or other national) symbols in our worship space. I completely agree. The display of national symbols tends to undercut the biblical emphasis on the universality of the church. When we worship, we need to be reminded that ours is a community of all peoples, nations, and languages.

Q. Is it permissible for a Reformed church to celebrate All Saints Day?

A. First, a quick explanation of All Saints Day (ASD). The day is celebrated on November 1 as a way of honoring those who have died in Christ. In some times and places the term saints has been used to refer especially to those who suffered martyrdom; at other times the term has been used more generally. In the Roman Catholic and much of the Anglican tradition the day is celebrated with a worship service including communion.

Whether Reformed churches ought to observe the day depends partly on one's attitude toward the Church Year. Some conservative Presbyterians do not celebrate either Christmas or Easter, and therefore would not deign to remember ASD. The Dutch Reformed tradition has always observed an abbreviated Church Year, mandating, for example, an observance of Christmas and Ascension. More recently, an observance of Advent and Lent has been added in many churches. Such churches might consider adding ASD.

We must also remember the historical issue. When the Reformers pitched or whittled down the Church Year calendar, they especially objected to the many saints days. The honoring of saints had deteriorated into worship of saints with attendant veneration of saints' relics (there were enough churches claiming to have a piece of Saint Peter's clothing to stock a fabric outlet store). Reformed Christians might well decide that the honoring of saints (including ASD) has too much historical Roman Church baggage to salvage the practice.

However, I have attended some ASD services that did not suffer from the historical abuses. Such a service can capture the biblical notion of "those who went before," or of Paul's imploring that we imitate his faith. Again, the prominence given to saints in the book of Revelation or the honor roll in Hebrews 11 suggests that the church must rejoice in the faith of spiritual foremothers and forefathers. Jaroslav Pelikan calls this a remembering of "the living faith of the dead." Our linking of arms with the saints of the first and sixteenth centuries (those who fought the good fight) will help to counter the "just-me-and-my-Jesus" mentality we are sometimes guilty of.

Q. When speaking on worship, I'm frequently asked to address a question on congregational singing, acoustics, and carpeting. Here's a response I picked up on the Internet:

A. "Sell off small squares of the carpet as momentoes, and use the funds to hire an acoustician to come in and fix things."

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ANY QUESTIONS?

We hope you find Q&A stimulating. We also hope that you'll join in the dialogue. Send your questions about worship to Reformed Worship Q&A by mail (2850 Kalamazoo Ave. SE, Grand Rapids, Ml 49560), fax (616-246-0834), or e-mail

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Harry Boonstra (hboonstr@calvin.edu) is former theological editor of RW and emeritus theological librarian of Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan.