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Posts Tagged ‘separation of church and state’

A Christian Pledge of Allegiance

I pledge allegiance to Jesus Christ,
And to God’s kingdom for which he died—
One Spirit-led people the world over, indivisible,
With love and justice for all.

—June Alliman Yoder and J. Nelson Kraybill, Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary

Mennonites 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.  We believe that the church is the spiritual, social, and political body that gives its allegiance to God alone.

We also believe that the governing bodies of the world have been instituted by God for maintaining order in society.  These government bodies are called to act justly and provide order.  Mennonites believe that we are to respect persons in authority.

In giving allegiance to God alone, many Mennonites have a problem pledging allegiance to the US flag.  Mennonites are to respect government authorities, but we do not pledge allegiance to anyone but God.

—Taken from the Third Way Café

Read the article, “The American Flag: Pledge of Allegiance,” here. The author challenges the reader to evaluate the recital of the pledge, particularly in light of the phrase, “under God,” which was added to the pledge in 1954, 62 years after its creation. The author also briefly traces the history of Christian refusal to recite a pledge to any ruler, nation, or to any symbol of the same, including the moving story of a Christian, Marcellus, who was killed on Oct. 30, 298, on account of his refusal to pledge allegiance to the emperor and the empire.

No one can serve two masters;
For a slave will either hate the one and love the other,
Or be devoted to the one and despise the other.

—Jesus of Nazareth, the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6:24


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Disciples Have Chosen UNDIVIDED ALLEGIANCE to One King, Jesus, and to His Kingdom. They are aliens in this world, collectively forming a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9) as citizens of Christ’s Kingdom (Phil 3:20; Eph 2:19). As a worthy King, Jesus demands exclusive allegiance (Matt 6:24; Matt 12:30; cf. James 4:4). Consequently disciples reject all thoughts, words, and actions that compromise their allegiance to Christ.

As subjects of Christ, then, disciples seek to live in allegiance to Him without interference from earthly lords. For example, they deny that any political authority, including any religious authority, has the right to restrict the liberty of any soul. Every believer and every assembly of believers has authority to interpret the Scriptures and to formulate doctrine on its own. On the other hand, believers and their assemblies do not seek the protection or the endorsement of earthly kings. They neither interfere with the affairs of earthly kingdoms nor inappropriately participate in their affairs.

While disciples separate from earthly kingdoms, they are obligated to influence society as prophets. Each assembly of believers, or church, proclaims the Gospel of the kingdom, welcomes new members, nourishes their faith, and prophetically rebukes, by word and non-violent action, those practices of this world which depart from the values and principles of the kingdom.

Disciples Assemble with One Another in Counter-cultural Communities Analogous to both a Body and a Family. In other words, the community is characterized by unity, complementarity, and mutual commitment as well as functional diversity. The primary commitment of members to one another is to demonstrate faith through the consistent exhibition of good works. In this way individual progress in existential righteousness occurs through living in the company of virtuous people.

They also instruct, encourage, correct, discipline, and restore one another. The obligations one has to fellow members of the local assembly may be summarized as a debt to love one another (John 15:12; Rom 13:8) in the context of unity and peace (Eph 4:1–3). One specific example of this debt of love is the obligation to share resources, both material and spiritual. Effective sharing requires a commitment to hospitality and simple living, practices which also demonstrate and strengthen the disciple’s faith.

Another example of this debt of love is the obligation of mutual spiritual accountability. This accountability includes mutual interpretation of Scripture, discernment, and instruction. It also includes mutual encouragement, correction, and discipline, with the goal of confession, forgiveness, and restoration. When repentance is not forthcoming in these cases, however, the body must suspend fellowship with the erring member for the sake of the assembly’s purity and integrity before God and before the larger community. Nevertheless, even after suspending fellowship, the assembly prays for and holds out hope for the restoration of the erring person.

Baptism  is the rite of initiation into discipleship and into covenantal membership of a local assembly of believers. It symbolizes and recalls the baptism of the Spirit believers experience at conversion. It also pictures cleansing, death, birth, and resurrection, resulting from the pledge believers make to Christ at conversion. Therefore, only those who have exercised voluntary faith in Christ are fit subjects for baptism.

Disciples participate with other members of the assembly in regularly celebrating the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper symbolizes and recalls the initiation of the New Covenant and its promise of the forgiveness of sins achieved through the broken body and shed blood of Jesus.

Both baptism and the Lord’s Supper are signs that actively represent and commemorate the Gospel, thereby nourishing the faith of both participants and witnesses. In addition, both Baptism and the Lord’s Supper signify the believer’s identity with and commitment to the unified local body of believers (1 Cor 12:13; 1 Cor 10:17; Matt 6:33).

You may access Part 1 here.

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“Probably the biggest difference between most Mennonites and Baptists is that Mennonites do not participate in the military. Mennonites believe that peace is the will of God and the way our lives should be lived daily. Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective states: ‘Led by the Spirit, and beginning in the church, we witness to all people that violence is not the will of God. We witness against all forms of violence, including war among nations, hostility among nations, hostility among races and classes, abuse of women and children, violence between men and women, abortion and capital punishment.’”

“Another difference would be that Mennonites believe strongly in separation of church and state, and believe that allegiance to God takes priority over allegiance to country. Baptists wouldn’t sort out the issues in this way.”

“Again, quoting from Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective: ‘We believe that the church is God’s holy nation, called to give full allegiance to Christ as its head and to witness to all nations, government and society about God’s saving love. . . . In contrast to the church, governing authorities of the world have been instituted by God for maintaining order in societies. . . . As Christians we are to respect those in authority and to pray for all people, including those in government. . . . We may participate in government and 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.’”

Quoted from “Baptist and Mennonite Differences” in “Mennonite Glossary” on the “Who are the Mennonites?” page in the “Third Way Café” website. Third Way Café is a program of Third Way Media, a department of the Mennonite Mission Network, an agency of the Mennonite Church USA.

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Part four 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.”

Fourth Distinctive Anabaptist Affirmation

Undivided allegiance to the King: Believers reject any thought, word, or action that compromises their allegiance to Christ.

Notes

Believers have chosen exclusive allegiance to one King, Jesus, and to His Kingdom. They are aliens in this world, collectively forming a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9) as citizens of Christ’s Kingdom (Phil 2:20; Eph 2:19). As a worthy King, Jesus demands exclusive allegiance (Matt 5:24—“No one can serve two masters”; Matt 12:30—“He who is not with me is against me”; cf. James 4:4—“Friendship with the world is hatred toward God”).

As subjects of Christ and citizens of His Kingdom, composing a holy nation among the nations of the world, believers seek to live in allegiance to Him without interference from earthly lords. First, they deny that any political authority, including any religious authority, has the right to restrict the liberty of any soul. Every believer and every church has authority to interpret the Scriptures and to formulate doctrine on its own. In addition, believers and churches do not seek the protection or the endorsement of earthly kings. Furthermore, believers and churches do not interfere with the affairs of earthly kingdoms. Finally, they do compromise their allegiance to Christ through inappropriate participation in the affairs of earthly states. For example, disciples do not participate in military service or law enforcement, and they shun government employment. In addition, they refuse to pledge allegiance to earthly nations or any symbol which represents earthly nations (e.g., a flag). They also refrain from symbolic acts that venerate a nation or its symbols (e.g., participating in the playing or singing of a national anthem; note the word “anthem” implies some sort of worship).

While some people disagree with the following observation, the preceding logic seems to apply to voting. Voting amounts to participation in the governance of a kingdom that is directly competing with Christ’s Kingdom. Furthermore, voting implicates the voter in the sins carried out by the selected leader, e.g., declaring war, sending troops into battle, funding abortions, and legislating executions.

While believers separate from earthly kingdoms, they have an obligation to influence society. They do this by following the example of Christ, His apostles, John the Baptist, and the Old Testament prophets. The church proclaims the Gospel, welcomes members into Christ’s Kingdom, nourishes the faith of those who have joined His Kingdom, and prophetically rebukes, by word and non-violent action, those practices of this world’s governments which contravene the values and principles of the Kingdom.

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

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Bainton, Roland H. Christian Attitudes toward War and Peace: A Historical Survey and Critical Re-evaluation. Nashville: Abingdon, 1960. [The standard book on the subject]

Yoder, John Howard. Christian Attitudes to War, Peace, and Revolution. Edited by Theodore J. Koontz and Andy Alexis-Baker. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press, 2008. [Overlaps with and expands on Bainton]

Yoder, John Howard, with Joan Baez et al. What Would You Do? A Serious Answer to a Standard Question. Expanded ed. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1992. [Addresses the following question and those similar to it: “What would you do if a criminal pulled a gun and threatened to kill your wife?”]

Yoder, Nathan E., and Carol A. Scheppard, eds. Exiles in the Empire: Believers Church Perspectives on Politics. Studies in the Believers Church Tradition, 5. Kitchener, Ont.: Pandora Press, 2006. [Addresses the arguably apparent paradox of “being committed to proclaiming and living the gospel authentically, while also being citizens in an imperial superpower.” (taken from the back cover of the book)]

Lewis, Ted, ed. Electing Not to Vote: Christian Reflections on Reasons for Not Voting. Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2008. [The title is self-explanatory.]

“Polls Apart: Why Believers Might Conscientiously Abstain from Voting,” by John D. Roth appears in both of the last two books (Exiles, 243 – 51; Electing, 1 – 9). A draft of this essay also may be found here.

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