Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Pledge of Allegiance, 2 Reasons Why Christians Should Not Say It

The Pledge of Allegiance was originally composed in 1892 by Francis Bellamy. Originally the Pledge was composed of these words: 
"I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." 
 Interestingly you don't find the controversial phrase "under God",or even "of the United States of America". Both of these phrases were later additions to the Pledge, leading to the final version that we all know today:

"I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

So, enough about history. I'd like to propose that there are two primary reasons (if not more), why Christians/followers of Christ should NOT say the pledge. Before we get into those reasons I'd like to start with defining some of the key words in the pledge so we are all on the same page as to its meaning.

Pledge: To offer or guarantee by a solemn binding promise, similar to an oath.

Allegiance: [1] the loyalty of a citizen to his or her government or of a subject to his or her sovereign. [2] loyalty or devotion to some person, group, cause, or the like.

Flag A usually rectangular piece of fabric of distinctive design that is used as a symbol.(In this case, a symbol for the Republic of the United States of America)

From these definitions we can understand a couple of things. Making a pledge is basically the same thing as an oath. And, giving your allegiance to something or someone is basically committing your loyalty to that entity. Also, the flag stands for something more than itself. It stands for the country/government it belongs to. In short, to pledge your allegiance to the flag means that you are making an oath of loyalty to the country, the United States of America. 

Now for the two reasons why I think Christians should NOT be making an oath of allegiance to the United States or any other earthly government. 

#1 Jesus directly and without any qualifiers condemns making an oath to anything for any reason. 

 "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’  But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne;  or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King.  And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black.  All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one." (Matthew 5:33-37)

The people in Jesus' day had a practice of making oaths for almost anything. The practice of making oaths was to guarantee before men and God that the person making the oath would fulfill his obligation or carry out a promise. It was looked on as a criminal offense to break your oath. Thus, the Jews had been commanded to "fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made". Jesus, however, changes things. Notice that he does not say, " Do not swear an oath and then break it." No, he says: "Do not swear an oath AT ALL"!!! He says that as people who follow God, less words, more often than not, is better than more. Simply say 'Yes' or 'No', and do not swear an oath AT ALL

#2 Jesus also teaches that men cannot serve two masters at the same time. 

When teaching about worldly treasures, Jesus says we should be more concerned with the things of heaven and God's kingdom than those of this world. 

"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." (Matthew 6:24)
We can't give our loyalty to two masters and be pleasing to both. Whether the choice is between God and money, God and man, God and a government or nation, the choice is always the same, one or the other. It seems that Jesus is saying 'you can't have your cake and eat it too'. In light of this it just doesn't seem possible to me to give my loyalty to God, and then try and give it to a government at the same time. Jesus also said " My kingdom is not of this world". Jesus has a kingdom, and just like an earthly kingdom , I can't be loyal to two kingdoms at once. It would be impossible to be loyal to the USA and Iran at the same time! It's the same with being part of the kingdom of God. Jesus calls us to be loyal to his kingdom, and if we have given our loyalty to God's kingdom, how then can we try and give it to America or any other worldly kingdom? 
To sum up: Pledging allegiance to the flag equates to making an oath of loyalty to an earthly kingdom. Both acts are condemned by Jesus. I'm ready to stop pledging loyalty to the United States or any other kingdom other than the kingdom of heaven. How about you? 

May the peace of Christ be with you today, and in a small way his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Viva la Revolution! 


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Following Jesus, Yet Not A Christian

"I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ." Gandhi

I, like Gandhi, do not like a good deal of those in the Christian religion. 'Wait a minute!', you might say, 'YOU are a Christian too, aren't you Matt?'. It all depends on your definition of what a Christian is. If by Christian you mean, one who is like Jesus, well then thanks, I'm humbled that when you look at/think of me, it reminds you of Jesus. However, I don't consider myself as having arrived at the destination of being "like Jesus". Don't get me wrong, I want to be "like Jesus". I take his teachings seriously, try to follow his instructions and example, and may very well be like him in some regard. I don't want to be that presumptuous to say that I am like Christ. Like I said, if others chose to refer to me as being Christlike, that is well and good, that seems to be the way the term "Christian" was first used anyway ( see Acts 11:26). So, how would I describe myself and my spirituality? Simply as a "follower of Christ". That's what Jesus called people to do, to follow him. He called people to follow his example, his teachings, and way of life.

So, isn't being a "Christian" and a "follower of Jesus" the same thing? I think it can be. If by following Jesus others call you "Christlike", then yes they can be one and the same. However, it is also possible(as is often the case) to claim to be a Christian or to be a part of the religion of Christianity without actually following Jesus. Many people claim to be Christians (Go to church, say and do Christian things, give money to the church etc), they want the salvation that Jesus offers, blessings from God, a spiritual country club to be a part of, but they are not following Jesus.

On this topic Gandhi said:

                 "The message of Jesus as I understand it, is contained in the Sermon on the Mount unadulterated and taken as a whole......If then I had to face only the Sermon on the Mount and my own interpretation of it, I should not hesitate to say, 'Oh, yes, I am a Christian.' But negatively I can tell you that in my humble opinion, what passes as Christianity is a negation of the Sermon on the Mount"

This is the #1 reason why I don't want to call myself a Christian. For so long, the message of Jesus, his teachings and commands for how to live life in the kingdom of God, have been diminished, downplayed, and negated by the Christian community at large.

Some examples:

Jesus told us to, turn the other cheek, love your enemies, do good to those who hurt you, yet Christians have in the past (as in the Crusades, Inquisitions, Witch Hunts, Conquering new lands etc), and still today go to war and kill not only their enemies but countless innocents as well.

Jesus constantly spoke of the dangers of relying on money and possessions of this world. He said that a rich man entering the kingdom of God would be like a camel going through the eye of a needle. He said not to worry about tomorrow, but trust and rely on God to provide for your food, shelter, and clothing. Yet, Christians don't look much different than anyone else when it comes to how they spend and save their money, the importance they place on having enough wealth to retire on, and the time they spend worrying about food, shelter and clothing.

Jesus said that we can't serve two masters. He claimed that He alone was the one we should give our allegiance to, no other king, country or ideal. Yet, Christians have raised our nation, Constitution, political party, and guns, to near idols. They have trusted in and promoted laws over and against the teachings of Jesus.

And finally, probably the largest difference between the Christian religion and the teachings of Jesus,  the issue of judging. Jesus said, do not judge for by the standard you use to judge will be how you are judged. He said that those without sin can cast the stone of judgement. What have we seen in the Christian religion ? Christians picking out their favorite sins that they see in others, like homosexuality, abortion, or how to dress, and downplaying or ignoring others that Jesus says are more important like, how we treat our neighbors and enemies, greed, pride, self-righteousness, and ignoring the needy of the world.

I'm not judging Christians. I'm not trying to say who is going to heaven and who is not. All I'm saying is that when I look at the vast majority of the history of Christianity(including today), most of the time, people are not following Jesus. They certainly don't look very much like him, which is what they are claiming to be when taking the name of a Christian. So in short, I'm not particularly fond of calling myself a Christian for two reasons. First, I am not presumptuous enough to claim to be "like Christ". Second, the word "Christian", historically and currently has been associated with many views, ideas, and beliefs that are contrary to the teachings of Jesus.

So where does that leave me? With Gandhi...... If I follow the teachings of Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount, then yes... I am a Christian. Also, sadly I must say: I do not like your Christians, they are so unlike your Christ.