I Pledge Allegiance

“I pledge allegiance to…”

How the followers of Christ finish this sentence discloses much. Allegiances have tested and tried the followers of Christ and the church since the first century.

Dictionary.com defines allegiance as: A loyalty or faithfulness, especially to a person or cause, usually a loyalty that is considered extremely important.

Vocabulary.com defines allegiance as: The act of binding yourself to a course of action.

After inquiring of his disciples what the word was on the street concerning Him, with laser focus Jesus turns the pointed question to his followers. “What about you, who do you say I am?”

Awkward silence.

Feet shift. Gazes drift downward to avoid eye contact with the Teacher. A nervous cough attempts to cover the excruciating silence.

Somebody say something!

Anybody? Please answer the Man!

Finally, Peter, the impatient extrovert pipes up and declares, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!”

On the front side of Pentecost, this was undoubtedly Peter’s finest moment. After many foul tips, fly balls, and strike outs, Peter blasts a screaming home run deep over the center field fence!

Allegiance.

Loyalty—faithfulness—something extremely important—a binding action.

In recent months, as a result of a contentious political climate, the allegiance of many professing followers of Christ appears to have been blurred, conflicted, or completely compromised.

Our God is a jealous God which He declares repeatedly throughout the narrative of Scripture.

God calls compromised allegiance for what it is—idolatry.

The first of the Ten Commandments is all about allegiance: Have no other gods before Me. (Ex.20:3)

When asked which is the greatest commandment, allegiance is not only redeclared by Christ, all the Law and the Prophets hang on allegiance to God AND love of neighbor:

“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Mt. 22:37-39)

There is no need to ask who our neighbor is because Jesus already answered that question. (Lk. 10:29-37)

Is it possible, when asked which is the greatest commandment, Jesus gives not one, but two greatest commandments because as we give our absolute allegiance to God, the LORD will also provide the needed capacity to love our neighbor?

Compromised allegiance to God results in compromised love of neighbor—including neighbors near or far, and those who hold differing political or social views. Just as the two greatest commandments hang on the Law and the Prophets—the followers of Christ must hang on to the two greatest commandments.

Do despairing conversations and toxic posts by followers of Christ reveal compromised allegiances by failing to “hang on” to the two greatest commandments? Have conspiracy theories taken the sacred place of faith in the Lord? Is this not idolatry?

The Prophet Isaiah offers a timely word:

“Do not call conspiracy everything that these people call conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, He is the one you are to fear, He is the one you are to dread. (Is. 8:12-13)

A compromised allegiance gets one into a ditch and away from the mission of God. When this occurs, the two greatest commandments become null and void and our witness is trampled underfoot like salt which has lost its saltiness.

Witness and mission begins and ends with allegiance. Consider this well-preserved story from the fourth century.

During the third wave of the Great Persecution imposed by Emperor Diocletian (284-305 CE), in November of A.D. 303, the celebration of the god Saturn was underway. Dasius, a low-ranking soldier, was selected by lot to play the part of Saturn during the pagan feast devoted to the Roman deity. Dasius vehemently refused his lot. He was immediately imprisoned. When Dasius appeared before Commander Bassus, he was exhorted, repeatedly, to offer worship and incense. Dasius refused; he declared “I have already told you; I am a Christian, I do not or worship or fight for any earthly king but for the king of heaven.”

Bassus offered Dasius a delay, which he refused declaring that he had “already revealed my intention and resolve.” The commander tortured Dasius and pronounced a death sentence. As he was led to his death, Dasius was forcibly given incense to sacrifice to the impure demons. Dasius, instead, took the incense and trampled it underfoot. On November 20, Dasius was beheaded by Ioannes Anicetus, declared his allegiance as a follower of Christ and died a Christian martyr.*

Dasius, was forced to finish the sentence: “I pledge allegiance to…”

Our test of allegiance may be less obvious and cost much less than it did Dasius. Untested and undeclared allegiance so easily becomes the very seedbed for idolatrous allegiances to subtly grow.

As did Dasius, we must finish the sentence, “I pledge allegiance to…”

As a needed reminder for myself, I offer Article 23, The Church’s Relation to Government and Society from the 1995 Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective. Ponder the uses of allegiance throughout this Article. May it serve as a timely application to guard against drift in our personal allegiance and to ensure an uncompromised witness.

We believe that the church is God’s “holy nation,” called to give full allegiance to Christ its head and to witness to all nations about God’s saving love.

The church is the spiritual, social, and political body that gives its allegiance to God alone. As citizens of God’s kingdom, we trust in the power of God’s love for our defense. The church knows no geographical boundaries and needs no violence for its protection. The only Christian nation is the church of Jesus Christ, made up of people from every tribe and nation, called to witness to God’s glory.

In contrast to the church, governing authorities of the world have been instituted by God for maintaining order in societies. Such governments and other human institutions as servants of God are called to act justly and provide order. But like all such institutions, nations tend to demand total allegiance. They then become idolatrous and rebellious against the will of God. Even at its best, a government cannot act completely according to the justice of God because no nation, except the church, confesses Christ’s rule as its foundation.

As Christians we are to respect those in authority and to pray for all people, including those in government, that they also may be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. We may participate in government or other institutions of society only in ways that do not violate the love and holiness taught by Christ and do not compromise our loyalty to Christ. We witness to the nations by being that “city on a hill” which demonstrates the way of Christ. We also witness by being ambassadors for Christ, calling the nations (and all persons and institutions) to move toward justice, peace, and compassion for all people. In so doing, we seek the welfare of the city to which God has sent us.

We understand that Christ, by His death and resurrection, has won victory over the powers, including all governments. Because we confess that Jesus Christ has been exalted as Lord of lords, we recognize no other authority’s claims as ultimate.**

Allegiance

Loyalty—faithfulness—something extremely important—a binding action.

Various followers of Christ are called to be salt and light within the spheres of government. For this I praise God. No matter the hat we wear, our loyalty to Christ is to whom allegiance must be declared.

Given the unsettled world in which we live, I continue to hold the final words recorded by Paul to young budding leader named Timothy. Paul, a Roman citizen, also forced to declare his allegiance, as would Dasius some two hundred years later, dies a martyr at the hands of Nero in the backstreets of Rome in 69 CE.

Not surprisingly, the preceding words of Paul to Timothy are all about allegiance which concludes with a pointed and crystal clear exhortation.

“Keep your head in all situations.” (2 Ti. 4:5)

A timely word.

A good check in keeping our head in all situations begins and ends by completing the sentence:

I pledge allegiance to…

May our allegiance be bound in the Christ-the Son of the Living God!

Then Jesus said to his followers, “And who do you say I am?” Luke 9:20a (ERV)

 

Note:

  1. Coin image is that of Tiberius Caesar ((14-37 CE)). The inscription reads “Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus.” Tiberius’s father, Caesar Augustus, claimed the title of “Son of God, Father of his country.”)
  2. *Musurillo, Herbert. The Acts of Christian Martyrs. London: University Press, 1972. (pp. 273-79)
  3. ** Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective (1995), see: What We Believe – LMC – a fellowship of anabaptist churches (lmcchurches.org)