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U.S. citizens generally receive citizenship in one of two ways. Most of them become citizens due to the circumstances surrounding their births. Many others, however, choose to become citizens. Even though they are not natural-born citizens, they have the same rights and responsibilities. They have been “naturalized.”

The naturalization process culminates with an oath of allegiance to the United States.1, 2 The contents of this oath describe the allegiance that governing authorities expect and enforce for all citizens. In sum: this allegiance is undivided and absolute.

U. S. Naturalization Oath

I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the armed forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.

One affirms this undivided and absolute allegiance every time one recites, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands.”3

Natural-born citizens obviously have no say in becoming citizens. Nevertheless, governing authorities still expect and enforce a natural-born citizen’s allegiance to the U.S. On the other hand, one can decide whether or not to affirm that allegiance through reciting oaths like the Pledge of Allegiance. Is this a decision that should concern Christians?

The word “allegiance” is an apt synonym for faith or belief.4 Faith is not merely assent to something’s historicity, truthfulness, or relevance to oneself. Rather, faith is trust or loyalty that is inseparable from obedience to that in which people place their trust. To illustrate: You do not have faith in your physician merely by acknowledging his diagnosis’s truthfulness or relevance to your life. No, faith in your physician is measured by your obedience to the action which he or she prescribes for dealing with the diagnosis. In other words, you don’t believe (believe in) the physician, if you don’t take the prescription.

But, can a Christian pledge allegiance—choose to have faith in or believe in—more than one sovereign at a time? The Bible’s answer to that question appears to be “No.”

King Jesus inaugurated a kingdom of peace and reconciliation during his earthly ministry.5 Christians are people who have chosen to be citizens of this heavenly kingdom or holy nation. They continually affirm this choice or pledge, by their allegiance—their lives of faith. The kind of allegiance King Jesus expects from the citizens of his kingdom is the same allegiance all rulers expect: undivided and absolute.

Examine some evidence. Undivided: “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24). Absolute: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24, 25).

The Kingdom of Christ and the kingdoms of this world are in competition with one another, each vying for every person’s absolute and exclusive allegiance. Who is winning this contest in your life? To which one—and remember, you can only choose one—of the two kingdoms do you pledge your allegiance?

1Oath: A solemn usually formal calling upon God or a god to witness to the truth of what one says or to witness that one sincerely intends to do what one says. A solemn attestation of the truth or inviolability of one’s words.

2Allegiance: The fidelity owed by a citizen to a government.

3Pledge: A binding promise to do or forbear.

4“Faith” and “belief” both translate the same word—pistis—from the Greek language in which the New Testament was written.

5King Jesus is an accurate way to understand the common title “Christ Jesus.” “Christ” (a Greek word, from the language of the New Testament) translates “Messiah” (a Hebrew word, from the language of the Old Testament). Both words mean “anointed one.” “Anointed one” is another way of saying “chosen king,” since a man’s selection as king was confirmed by anointing his head with oil.

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The Old Testament promises a REIGN OF GOD that will ESTABLISH SHALŌM. Shalōm is wholeness or complete-positive-peace, particularly personal and relational harmony. This harmony is based on reconciliation, the integration of forgiveness and friendship. Forgiveness removes debts caused by offenses, resulting in the elimination of enmity and strife. Friendship imputes right standing, resulting in restoration that includes progressive healing, holiness and communion. God intends Shalōm to characterize one’s relationship with God, the state of one’s being, and the states of relationships among individuals and among groups of people.

God made Jesus of Nazareth Lord and Christ, whose reign would achieve Shalōm. Jesus inaugurated his reign by initiating the New Covenant, ushering in a perpetual Jubilee marked by reconciliation. The forgiveness or liberation upon which this reconciliation is based, includes liberty from sin as well as liberty from oppression, including its economic and social forms.

Believers look forward to the day when Jesus returns to earth to consummate his reign.

God freely grants kingdom citizenship—and the reconciliation it entails—through FAITH APART FROM HUMAN MERIT. The object of this faith is God, based on the promises of forgiveness and restoration contained in the Gospel. One must exercise faith consciously and freely. One may not exercise faith for someone else, nor may one passively receive faith through participation in a religious rite.

Faith is trust or dependence that necessarily INCLUDES REPENTANCE AND DISCIPLESHIP. In repentance one departs from sin. In discipleship one follows Christ’s example and teaching as well as the teaching of His apostles. In this realm of faith, there is no distinction between the sacred and the secular. Christ’s Lordship impinges on every area of life.

This integration of faith and ethics is abundantly affirmed in Scripture, but with particular clarity in James, 1 John, and Hebrews. Synonyms for faith which convey its inseparability from good deeds include surrender, yieldedness, devotion, commitment, allegiance, and loyalty.

Ever increasing faithful discipleship is made possible by the new birth granted by the Holy Spirit. Consequently, as one continues to place faith in the Gospel, the Holy Spirit progressively deepens the believer’s relationship with God and progressively increases the believer’s resemblance to God or holiness.

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Menno Simons

True evangelical faith is of such a nature that it cannot lay dormant; but manifests itself in all righteousness and works of love; it dies unto flesh and blood; destroys all forbidden lusts and desires; cordially seeks, serves and fears God; clothes the naked; feeds the hungry; consoles the afflicted; shelters the miserable; aids and consoles all the oppressed; returns good for evil; serves those that injure it; prays for those that persecute it; teaches, admonishes and reproves with the Word of the Lord; seeks that which is lost; binds up that which is wounded; heals that which is diseased and saves that which is sound. The persecution, suffering and anxiety which befalls it for the sake of the truth of the Lord, is to it a glorious joy and consolation.

Taken from “Why I Do Not Cease Teaching and Writing,” by Menno Simons, 1539.

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READ THIS:1

  • Pledge (n): a binding promise or agreement to do or forbear. Pledge (vt): to promise the performance of by a pledge. Synonym: commit.
  • Allegiance: devotion or loyalty to a person, group, or cause. Synonyms: faith, fidelity, commitment. Faith: allegiance to duty or a person: loyalty. Belief and trust in and loyalty to God.
  • Anthem:  a song or hymn of praise or gladness.
  • Vote:  a usually formal expression of opinion or will in response to a proposed decision; especially: one given as an indication of approval or disapproval of a proposal, motion, or candidate for office. Approve:  to give formal or official sanction to. Synonym: endorse
  • Indoctrinate:  to imbue with a usually partisan or sectarian opinion, point of view, or principle
  • Imbue: to cause (someone or something) to be deeply affected by a feeling or to have a certain quality. Synonym: inculcate.
  • Inculcate:  to teach and impress by frequent repetitions or admonitions

PICTURE THIS:

  • Millions of children every day, before the commencement of their school work, hand over heart, making a binding promise of trust and loyalty to a worldly political entity.
  • Millions of people every week, before the commencement every athletic contest, singing a hymn of praise to a worldly political entity.
  • Millions of people, the first Tuesday after the first Monday every even-numbered year, endorsing rulers of a worldly political entity.

CONSIDER THIS:

  • From Jesus of Nazareth:2

Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only. No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. My kingdom is not of this world. Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

  • From the first-century missionary, Paul of Tarsus:3

Our citizenship is in heaven. God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.

1Source for all definitions: Merriam-Webster, publisher of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary—America’s best-selling desk dictionary—and Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged.  Merriam-Webster is the direct lexicographical heir of Noah Webster, owning the rights to Webster’s magnum opus, An American Dictionary of the English Language, Corrected and Enlarged, including the rights to create revised editions of the work.

2The contents of this paragraph are taken from the Holy Bible, New Testament (NIV) at Matthew 4:10; 6:24; John 18:36; and Matthew 7:22.

3The contents of this paragraph are taken from the Holy Bible, New Testament (NIV) at Phil 3:20 and Col 1:13.

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Mrs. Mary Conover (this is a true story, but that’s not her real name—she wouldn’t forgive me if I used it) is a tenant, together with about 150 other people, in a New York City apartment building. A widow of five years, she lives with her employed daughter.

New York apartment houses aren’t especially friendly places. People have been known to die in them and not be discovered for days. In this particular building, the entrance doors have little mirrored peepholes. You can look out of them into the hall without being observed, and if you don’t want to talk to whoever has rung the bell, you just don’t open the door.

But when Mrs. Conover rings the bell, doors are opened promptly. For she may be bringing a freshly baked apple pie, or some home-made laundry soap. Or she may be returning Mr. Poletti’s shirt, which the retired barber asked her to turn the collar on because his wife doesn’t sew.

Pie-baking and soap-making and sewing are carryovers from Mrs. Conover’s growing-up days in a small town. But that background doesn’t explain her kindness to other people. A lot of New Yorkers come from small towns, but one or two years in the big city are enough to dry up any milk of human kindness. (Mrs. Conover has lived in New York for close to 30 years.)

In addition to her small-town background, Mrs. Conover is a Christian. And this is known by many people in the apartment building. So they’ve come to accept the small kindnesses, and even call on her in times of crisis. For instance, when Mr. Kraemer had his heart attack, which turned out to be fatal, they asked Mrs. Conover to come down and stay with Mrs. Kraemer until the doctor came, and while the funeral arrangements were being made.

And during the long months when elderly Mrs. Scott was so sick, she gratefully accepted Mrs. Conover’s help, even though it was constantly accompanied by a simple Christian witness.

If you asked a number of people in that apartment house what a Christian is like, they’d probably reply, “Mrs. Conover. She’s been a Christian friend to me.”

Not that she’s always on the giving end. Last Mother’s Day, for instance, Mrs. Conover was swamped with cards and gifts from people in the house: Barricini chocolates, stockings, hard candy from Italy, cosmetics.

There’s a little Jewish lady—87 years old—from another house, about a block away, who stops at Mrs. Conover’s door almost every Saturday night with a bag of baked goods. Pastry, rye bread, bagels: the contents of the bag changes from week to week.

Mrs. Conover has difficulty understanding the old lady’s German-accented speech. But she knows that her son-in-law has a bakery, and these baked goods come from there.

A few months ago the little Jewish lady came to her door with a box.

“This is my birthday,” she explained, opening the box to show Mrs. Conover a beautiful birthday cake. “My son-in-law made this for me. But I don’t eat cake any longer. My cake is for you.”

After she left (her visits are always brief), Mrs. Conover decided to take a piece out of the cake, and to give most of it to two small boys in another apartment. Their father had just undergone surgery for a malignant condition, and their mother was away from home in another hospital having a baby.

Taking the cake, she went to up to the apartment, where a young Negro girl was staying with the children in the absence of their parents.

“How wonderful!” the girl exclaimed, when she opened the door and saw the cake in Mrs. Conover’s hands. “I felt so bad that I didn’t have time all day today to make a cake for Bobby’s birthday. It was so nice of you to remember.”

Mrs. Conover said she hadn’t remembered. She hadn’t know. But she’d wanted Bobby and his brother to have part of this cake that had been given to her. And she was so glad it was Bobby’s birthday.

Christian love is possible, even in a New York apartment house. And love begets love . . . and hope . . . and sometimes, faith.

Joseph Bayly, “Out of My Mind,” Eternity, November 1961, 49.

The preceding column was the second installment of a series that ran continuously in Eternity magazine from October 1961 to October 1986.

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Part three in a series of brief, succinct summaries of common, distinctive Anabaptist affirmations followed by notes that clarify, expand, and interpret them

See Part One for “Introductory Remarks on Anabaptism.”

Third Distinctive Anabaptist Affirmation

Faith and works: Works are inseparable from faith. Faith without works is not biblical faith.

Notes

Salvation is freely granted by God through faith apart from human merit. The object of biblical faith is God on the basis of the promises contained in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Gospel of the Kingdom. Biblical faith may be denoted by several different words, for example, trust, commitment, surrender, yieldedness, dependence, allegiance, and loyalty. Inherent to faith, then, is repentance, and discipleship or obedience to Christ, that is, following Christ’s example and teaching as well as the teaching of His apostles. In other words, ethics are an inseparable component of salvation.

Believers have received new birth or regeneration (“re-genesis,” i.e., new beginning) from the Holy Spirit. Consequently, believers will experience ongoing renewal or progressive transformation characterized by greater levels of discipleship and obedience to the will of God as well as growth in knowing God.

The disciple’s progressive transformation, which includes a growing relationship with Christ and increasing holiness, entails separation from evil, particularly from forms of worldliness constantly vying for the disciple’s allegiance, for example: naturalism, individualism, hedonism, materialism, utilitarianism, ethnocentrism, nationalism, militarism, racism, classism, sexism, and, particularly, that set of behaviors which governs virtually all social relations: desiring, pursuing, acquiring, maintaining, and using power, with the hope of receiving popular glory and praise. See also part nine notes and and part ten notes.

The Scriptures abound with references that validate the affirmation that faith and works are inseparable. In other words, disciples integrate faith and ethics. Put yet another way, for the believer, everything is spiritual—there is no distinction between the sacred and the secular; the Lordship of Christ impinges on every area of the believer’s life. This teaching is put on prominent display in James, 1 John, and Hebrews.

You may download a document combining all ten parts of the series,  “Distinctive Anabaptist Affirmations,” here.

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Part two in a series of brief, succinct summaries of common, distinctive Anabaptist affirmations followed by notes that clarify, expand, and interpret them

See Part One for “Introductory Remarks on Anabaptism.”

Second Distinctive Anabaptist Affirmation

Voluntary faith: Faith is a gift from God that individuals must exercise consciously and freely.

Notes

One person may not exercise faith in behalf of another person, nor may one passively receive faith through participation in some rite such as baptism, the Lord’s Supper, or hearing the Gospel.

You may download a document combining all ten parts of the series,  “Distinctive Anabaptist Affirmations,” here.

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