To Battle We Go: ‘Honors To The Flag’

By: Dr. Steve Kellner

Look around any U.S. military base (at home or abroad) at 5 pm local time on a weekday and you will see and hear some strange sights and sounds. From unseen loudspeakers will come the bugle call “Attention.”  Everywhere, drivers will pull over and get out of their cars, and pedestrians will stop on sidewalks. Outdoor military training and athletic events will pause, and a hushed stillness will fall over the entire post.

Those in uniform will come to attention, and those in civilian clothes will stand with their hand over their heart, everyone facing toward the sound of the music if they can’t see the post flag. Then the bugle will sound “Retreat,” as the flag is lowered to mark the end of the duty day. Those in uniform will render “honors to the flag” by saluting. Then, the call “Carry On” is sounded, and everyone will return to whatever they were doing before.  

Why this ritual show of respect and reverence for the flag? Until fairly recently, flags had a practical military use, that of showing the position of a combat unit on the battlefield and providing direction in the chaos of battle. Modern technology has replaced this use of the flag, but flags are still powerful symbols of things less visible but nonetheless of paramount importance.  

First, the flag and the attached battle and campaign streamers show the history of a military unit. It thus functions as a memorial to those who have given their lives fighting with the unit, and current unit members want to honor that sacrifice. Second, the flag is a reminder of the beliefs and ideals of the unit and the country for which the unit fights. Finally, it represents and solidifies the bond of military brotherhood and sisterhood that holds a fighting unit together.  

Our post-modern world tells us that this reverence for the flag is passe, too corny and sentimental, or even something to be mocked, but our military services don’t agree. Respect and even reverence for both the national and unit flag is still ingrained in military training and in daily military life, as the flag lowering ritual I described above shows

Salvationists should show a similar respect and reverence for The Salvation Army flag. Many Salvationists have given (and are giving even today) their lives, sometimes literally, to God and the mission of the Army. Honoring the Army flag honors their sacrifice, and reminds us of how God sustained those fallen warriors. The flag and its colors also remind us of who we serve – the purity of God (blue), the blood of Jesus Christ (red), and the fire of the Holy Spirit (yellow) – and of our mission to spread the Gospel and meet human need without discrimination.  

Finally, our flag is both a symbol and encourager of the unity of and for all those who serve under it, in spite of the many differences between us, be they national, cultural, ethnic, racial, or anything else. Since many today don’t believe this kind of unity is possible, it is a potent example of the transformational power of the Gospel, and the unifying bond of a common ministry mission. 

Let’s “keep the old flag flying, flying ‘round the world!'”