Pledging The Right Kind of Allegiance

Earlier today, R.C. Sproul Jr. posted an article on Christians pledging allegiance to the United States’ flag.  He gave some true and necessary concerns in defending his position that we shouldn’t, but I’d like to offer a friendly, iron-sharpening-iron critique in defense of the affirmative view of national allegiance.

I should begin by saying that I deeply respect RC and the work he does, and love him as a Christian brother.  He is a faithful father and servant leader.  That, of course, does not mean that I necessarily agree with everything he thinks or says, but if there’s anything I value most about RC, it’s his desire to hold a friendly and charitable discourse over potentially controversial topics.  It is my intent to keep this response in line with such charity.

Also, I would like to highlight that I, like RC admits in his last paragraph, love my country.  Not only that, but I also weep for her and fear the judgment of God because of our sinfulness and idolatry.  I, too, “look for that city whose builder and maker is God. I love my country, but because I, by His grace, have been made a part of that royal priesthood, my commitment is to that holy nation (I Peter 2:9). I love my country, but my allegiance, my loyalty is to Jesus Christ.”

So where do I disagree, you ask?

Allow me to begin with that last paragraph, and to offer a more general critique.  RC spends a large portion of the post defending his negative response to “pledging allegiance” by pointing out that we, as a country, are no longer any of the things we’re claiming in the Pledge (a Republic, under God, liberty and justice for all…), but then negates all of that by saying in his last paragraph: “The truth of the matter, however, is that were we what we once were, were we what I hope and labor that we will be again, I still could not in good conscience pledge my allegiance.”  If this is the case, why spend all that space talking about how we shouldn’t be pledging our allegiance because our country is no longer any of the things we’re pledging? This final admission would appear to indicate that RC’s actual holdup is “pledging allegiance” to anything other than Jesus Christ and that holy nation, not whether our country meets the standards of said Pledge.

But for argument’s sake, let’s evaluate whether or not we should ever bother pledging allegiance when the object of our allegiance fails to meet the standards set before it.  This leads me to ask whether or not we should bother with our marriage vows, knowing that we are going to fail them at some point, being sinful and imperfect beings.  Should we not promise our spouses (and then remind ourselves regularly) that we pledged to one another, “I, ____, take you, ____, to be my lawfully wedded(husband/wife), to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.”?  I’d hate to think what might happen to the sacrament of marriage if that was also tossed out the window.  The point being – we shouldn’t merely refuse to pledge allegiance (or stop reminding ourselves of that pledge by repeating it) because the object is no longer living up to the appointed standards.  Rather, I would suggest that because we have so pledged, we have a duty and responsibility to resolve our failings and renew our covenant with the reformed object of our pledges.  That’s what Jesus does time and again in our worship services – He renews His covenant, His pledge to us – the objects of His pledge who have failed miserably to meet His standards.  After all, nations will fail, kings will fail, and spouses will fail.  Only Jesus will not.

Next, we should ask whether it is good and right to even show loyalty and devotion to an object like our country.  Remember how the Gospel came to be spread – remember what Paul says in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.”  This is a national association.  There was an allegiance, an identification according to which country you belonged to, whose ancestors came before you.  Even Jesus showed a love for His country, weeping over her. (Luke 19:41-44)  This love for Jerusalem, a particular city with a particular people, wasn’t His primary allegiance – it wasn’t the primary object of His devotion, but that doesn’t prevent the Son of God from showing affection for it.  I’m not advocating an unholy, primary allegiance to the United States by any means, but we can have a love of country that is manifested in things we do and say.  In this day and age we have borders that are defended and monitored.  We have processes by which immigrants can “become Americans.”  Having a “pledge” by which Americans identify with one another and show their devotion to the land they live in does not prohibit or take precedence over the allegiance that we should all have to our Father in Heaven and the Heavenly Kingdom.  All such allegiances are secondary.  To use the marriage analogy again – our allegiances to our spouses are secondary to our allegiances to our Bridegroom – Christ.  In fact, our allegiance to Christ betters and improves all our secondary allegiances.  The one does not preclude the other.

But does all of this mean that we can go on our merry way, happily chanting the Pledge of Allegiance and singing the Star-Spangled Banner without any further thought?  Of course not.  All things require the proper perspective.  If we say the Pledge five times a week in our schools but fail to say the creed more than once a week, then something’s seriously out of whack.   Like it or not, such actions indicate either a conscious or unconscious idolatry.  The same thing applies if we celebrate all our national festivals (President’s Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving) and fail to remember the season and feasts of the Church calendar.  We need to recover an attitude that prioritizes our allegiance to Christ and His Church.  But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Let’s end our idolatry and show allegiance to our country and to our leaders in a way that honors the One who holds our ultimate allegiance.  Then we can wave our flags, shoot our fireworks, and pledge our allegiance to the United States … because the King of Kings knows that all our loves of country are subservient to our allegiance to Him.  After all, in Him is true justice and liberty, and in Him we as Christians are indivisible and one united Nation.

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  1. Daniel,

    Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

    I am afraid I am inclined to agree with RCJr. My approach is pretty straightforward, and perhaps even simplistic. And I think it is less existential than his.

    And, of necessity, there are some lexical issues involved. If “allegiance” is merely a duty of submission to the sovereign/state, then, with Daniel, let us shout out “O king, live forever!” If however, we are properly guided by the original meaning, that of the absolute fealty of allegiance owed by vassal to liege lord, then I think the issue is quite real. I also think that it revolves around the concepts of “covenant” and “corporate.”

    I am guided by the words of Christ as set forth in Luke 20:25 (also Matthew 22; Mark 12) “And He said to them, ‘Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ ” I draw not only from here, but also from the Epistles (Romans 13; 1 Peter 1), that such ‘rendering’ is not done as a matter of ‘allegiance’ to ‘Caesar,’ or whatever other body politic the Christian might find himself in. It proceeds, instead, out of allegiance to King Jesus who, by tongue and pen of prophet and apostle, commands us to be in submission to the authorities which are placed over us by God Himself…whether in home, in church or in body politic. My duty owed, whether in my home as husband, father, wife, mother, son, daughter…in the church, as pastor, elder, deacon, congregant…in body politic as ruler (whether elected, appointed or employed) or subject (the one in submission) is not voluntary but commanded…bought and paid for on the cross. I render in each of those as due to the one I render to. Whatever loyalty is owed…is owed to Jesus, and the duty flows out of that obligation.

    The vassal was covenantally bound to his liege lord, was as an appendage. It was perhaps, in human terms, the closest thing to Paul’s ‘body’ analogies with regard to Christ’s church. The liege lord was ‘head’ in the covenantal relationship. “Allegiance” was the right term.

    That is not the situation we have in this country…at least it isn’t supposed to be. Our situation is supposed to be corporate. There are some who seem to think it is more covenantal (reference Chris Brown and his reference to Obama as ‘Dad,’ and Jamie Foxx’s blasphemous comments at the Soul Train awards), whether with ‘president’ or ‘state’ as the covenantal head. They are clearly wrong-headed.

    “Allegiance,” as that term is properly understood is clearly something that belongs in a covenantal context. It is our covenantal allegiance to Christ that yields our godly submission in all other relationships where we are called to ‘render,’ including that of our relationship with our corporate body politic.

    Past that, I have to take strong theological exception to one of your thought streams. The tears of Jesus over Jerusalem are the farthest thing imaginable from tears of ‘allegiance’ or ‘loyalty.’ They are not the tears of son over mother. They are the tears of Father over wayward child. It’s the other end of the telescope from the one you’re looking in.

    Christ’s blessings on you and your family.

  2. Pastor Brainerd,

    Thanks for the comment and the wise words. Two things:

    I had considered getting into what is meant by “allegiance,” but I put it off. I disagree that the pledging of “allegiance” to the flag is a relationship that equals what allegiance had originally referred to – the duties and covenant between a vassal and his lord. Rather, I think it is (or at least should be considered) a devotion and loyalty. We have the freedom to leave whenever we like. We do have rules and laws to abide by as citizens, but it is not the type of relationship that such a medieval term implies.

    Secondly, I recognize that Jesus’ tears over Jerusalem are tears of a Father over a wayward child, but they are tears for a particular child. Not tears over Egypt, or Rome. I think they are tears for Jerusalem because Jesus recognizes the association that He has to the city as a Jew. I don’t mean it as a sort of allegiance or loyalty to the city. I see it as a connection that He shows to it. Is that idea *completely* off-base?

  3. Difficult to look into Matthew 23:37ff, the parable of the evil tenants, Luke 19 and its parallels, Isaiah 1, etc. and think that there is a matter of corporate identity involved so much as covenant headship and fatherhood. Jesus is not coming to judge from within…that was the vocation of the prophets whom Jerusalem killed. It is clear that Isaiah conceives of himself thus in Isaiah 6.

    As for the meaning of “allegiance,” one might wonder what meaning the original author, Bellamy, a Christian Socialist and Socialist Utopian, might have intended. As in “Federal Vision” it is a term with widely variant meanings. And itis very posible that RCJr carries that meaning around in his bag. This might have been better adddressed with consideration of the lexical issues. The Devil so frequently resides in those kinds of details.

    What would your response be if the word “allegiance” were univocal and carried only the meaning I have ascribed to it above?

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