We don’t pledge allegiance to a religion, but to a Savior.

Do we ever think about what it means to “pledge allegiance” to something?

I admit that when I say the Pledge of Allegiance at certain events, I don’t really think too much about the words I’m saying. I just go through the motions.

If we can step back and not take it too seriously for a moment, let’s examine the first phrase — “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States.” I know there’s more to it than that, and I don’t want you to take this as me being unpatriotic. 

Why are we pledging allegiance to a piece of cloth? Doesn’t that seem a bit silly? You don’t see me pledging allegiance to the towel that dries me off after a shower, or to the pants that cover my legs when I go to work.

I know the rest of the pledge says the allegiance is to the “Republic for which (the flag) stands,” so it’s not really that silly. It’s a representation of the nation and the group of people, and when we pledge allegiance to the flag, we’re really pledging allegiance to America. Fun fact: we didn’t have an official pledge of allegiance until 1942, so we spent 166 years as a nation without an official pledge. I kinda like that idea.

Did you know there’s also a pledge of allegiance to the Christian flag and to the Bible?

My point is not to write a treatise on whether or not we should even have those — I could get on a bad rabbit trail there — but to examine the very idea of allegiance. Did you know that there’s not an official Pledge of Allegiance to Jesus?

If we have a pledge of allegiance to our country, our faith and our book, why shouldn’t we promise fealty to our Savior?

Apollos, Paul or Peter? 

The idea of “allegiance,” to my knowledge, isn’t discussed much in the Bible. After all, the New Testament followers of Jesus were under the rule of the Roman Empire and didn’t have much choice in the matter. 

But we do see 1 Corinthians 1, where Paul discusses divisions in the church at Corinth. Now, this is a church where there’s TONS of divisions and difficulties and problems, but the first one he chooses to address is who people pledge their allegiance to. Verses 10-12 say:

“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ.’”

Reportedly, the people in Corinth were associating themselves by what teacher or important leader they aligned themselves with. Paul, of course, was the writer of a ton of important letters. Apollos was a powerful preacher. Cephas/Peter was a disciple of Jesus. Christ was, well, Christ. Each had some claim to allegiance or listeners. But as Paul emphasizes in v. 13, only one is worth following: “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” 

Paul wasn’t the one who died on the cross. Paul wasn’t the Son of God. He was simply, as he states in v. 17, sent “to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” 

Jesus was the One. He was the One they were to pledge allegiance to. The Greek of v. 12 literally says that they were saying they were “of Paul” and “of Apollos” and so on. Just like Paul being a man “of Tarsus.” It’s who you’re associated, who you belong to.

No, Paul says. We don’t belong to a man. We belong to Jesus.

Where Do You Go to Church?

I’ve heard in a couple Christian comedy routines or other places that, in the south, after someone asks you their name, they ask you where you go to church. While I must say I’ve never had that exact conversation, it seems to be possible.

We often take great pride in where we go to church. As a journalist that covers small-town politics and government in North Carolina, I will often hear or read elected officials proclaiming that they’ve been a member of such-and-such church for this many years. The same information shows up in obituaries and bios of speakers at big events.

And that is not necessarily a bad thing. Churches can be amazing things that point people to Jesus.

We can often be loud in proclaiming that we are a Christian. Politicians do it all the stinkin’ time, saying that they’re a “Christian first, conservative second and Republican third.” There’s even some Democrats running for the 2020 presidential nomination that have begun to spoke about their faith. I remember having some conversations in high school and college where I would say, with some internal pride, that I was a Christian.

And that is not necessarily a bad thing. We should not be ashamed of being saved by the Savior.

We’ll often list the preachers we listen to and the authors that we read. We have our favorite authors and favorite musicians, and whenever they release a new project, we’re buying it as soon as possible. 

And that is not necessarily a bad thing. We have learned from those men and women and can point others to them for learning, encouragement and help in growth.

Pride in our church or religion or favorite pastors and authors becomes a bad thing when that’s how we primarily identify ourselves. It becomes a bad thing when we’re not willing to admit or see flaws in those things. It becomes a bad thing when those things take precedent over our true allegiance: Jesus.

Defending the Hope

Apologetics and I have had an interesting relationship. I feel that I’m an intellectual guy, but far too often, apologetics can be an aggressive and hostile approach. 

I know plenty of people that enjoy apologetics and do it well and aren’t aggressive and hostile. They’re people that have a passion for Jesus and want others to know Him, and they’re awesome. We need more of them.

One of the primary base verses for apologetics comes in 1 Peter 3. Peter is writing about those who would think ill of Christians, who might even want to harm them. He writes, in verses 14-15:

“But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”

The Greek for “make a defense” is “apologian,” the root of which is “apologia.” The literal translation is “from intelligent reasoning” (“apó” + “lógos) (https://biblehub.com/greek/627.htm). Peter instructs his readers to use intelligent reasoning for the purpose of something. But what is that?

A reason for the hope in them. They were not called to defend their faith as an institution. They were not called to defend their particular church. They were not called to defend their favorite pastor. 

I think the same principle, the same wisdom, the same logic, applies to us.

If our institution, church or pastor are being misunderstood, then sure, we can and probably should defend them. But the outworking of this is that we shouldn’t be afraid to admit that those things — Christianity as a social institution, our church, our pastor — have been, are and will be wrong at times. Why? We’re not ultimately aligned with them. We’re ultimately aligned with Jesus. He is the reason we have hope, not our faith as a societal construct, our church or our pastor.

Jesus deserves our allegiance, more than our country, our pastor, our books, our church, our institutions, etc. Committing to those other things is not inherently bad, and those things can be and have been incredibly helpful in helping us see Jesus.

But if they takes precedence over our allegiance to Jesus, it becomes bad. Jesus is worthy of our allegiance. After all, He’s our Savior. What other reason do you need?

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The Gospel Flips Worldly Wisdom On Its Head. And The Result Is Amazing.

Wisdom is something most Christians find to be praiseworthy among men, and the Bible supports that.

We look at a man and say, “He is so wise, I’d learn from him all day.” I look at my fiancée and say, “Oh man, she’s so wise, I’d listen to her all day.” We desire more and more wisdom. And this is a great thing! Wisdom is prized over and over again in the book of Proverbs, from chapter 1 to chapter 31. Through some quick Internet research, the word “wisdom” is written between 46 and 54 times in Proverbs, depending on your translation.

That’s why I find a section of 1 Corinthians 1 to be a bit on the confusing side. Verses 18-25:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

God will destroy the wisdom of the wise? God made foolish the wisdom of the world? The foolishness of God is wiser than men?

As I read this, it made sense to me: the cross, the Gospel, is foolishness to people who aren’t believers. But then this idea struck: knowing the Gospel, believing the Gospel and speaking the Gospel is much more important than any other wisdom out there.

The Gospel, as Romans 1:16 says, is the “power of God for salvation to all who believe.” It’s a pretty powerful message – Jesus came to earth, lived a perfect life, died, rose again, went back to heaven, all to earn the opportunity for us to be restored to a right relationship with God that humanity lost when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. That’s a message that brings more power than any wisdom of this earth, more powerful than any other spiritual wisdom out there.

This message is so powerful that it’s folly to those the world might consider wise. It doesn’t make sense in how the world sees wisdom in a number of ways. It promises a reward for no work whatsoever; simply accepting the reward is enough. It’s God lowering Himself, not man reaching up to something higher than himself.

That’s not how the world would choose it. It doesn’t make logical sense. But that’s one of the many beauties of the Gospel. Worldly wisdom goes out the window.

That doesn’t mean that worldly wisdom has no place in our lives. It’s crucial to be wise in a worldly sense sometimes. We must be wise in how we conduct business, raise a family, things that are not inherently spiritual, even though being a Christian means Jesus and the Bible penetrates everything we do.

But the Gospel > wisdom, each and every time.

Agree to Disagree: When Christians Argue

I hate disagreements. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this. But it sucks.

I feel like a phrase I’ve been uttering a lot recently is “agree to disagree.” It’s a good way to diffuse or end a tough argument. In Christianity though, this is super hard. Christians often disagree over things they very strongly believe.

For instance, I had a disagreement with a friend recently over the legitimacy of some feelings I was having. I almost yelled at this friend. It was difficult because I wanted to avoid an awkward situation, but it was something I had to do, something I had to say.

I think it’s partly human nature, but there’s an aversion most of the time to peaceful disagreements within the body of Christ. We want to stick to our guns and how we feel and think, but we can’t seem to be friendly about it. There’s always frustration, and even bitterness sometimes.

I was thinking about this and wondered how the early church handled disagreements. 1 Corinthians covers this in a few places. Paul writes, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and judgement” (1:10). He was referring to the Corinthian church’s tendency to disagree on who they followed – Paul, Apollos, Peter or Jesus. In this matter, Paul insists that there be agreement, and I’m pretty sure the agreement is over following Christ.

Shouldn’t we be the best at disagreement? Not in an intellectual sense necessarily, but in a loving sense. God loves us in spite of our many daily disagreements with Him. And because He loves us, we love others (1 John 4:19).

I think of myself and how little I love people I disagree with. Even in the moments of disagreement, my love of people turns into contempt or, at worst, disgust. For example, I don’t always agree with everything my pastor says. I can get frustrated when he handles a piece of Scripture differently than I would. How petty is that?

When you talk about anything religious, it’s difficult to agree to disagree because it’s usually a very strongly held belief. Sometimes those convictions are well-founded and sometimes they’re not. If it’s something that the Bible is explicit about, I won’t back down. But if it’s up in the air, there’s not need for me to be so stringent.

Or is there? For instance, I’m on board 100 percent with Christians being honest and transparent in ministry settings. My main reason: why not? When we’re transparent, Christ is made much of and the grace of the Gospel is more practically understood. I struggle in a lot of areas. I feel like being real and authentic about it will be much more beneficial.

But not everybody agrees with that approach. And I suppose that it’s OK to feel that was since the Bible doesn’t explicitly say to be transparent in all ministry settings. We shouldn’t put up a front, but there’s nothing that says it’s OK to sugarcoat things, which happens far too often when it really shouldn’t be happening at all.

See? I get thinking about a deeply held conviction I have and I disregard everything else anyone thinks. We are hesitant to even admit that we could possibly be wrong. I could be wrong. I don’t think I am, but I could be. It takes humility to admit you could be wrong, and I am very often in short supply when it comes to humility. We don’t need to cave and always assume we’re wrong, but we need to be willing to be wrong.

So what’s the solution? The solution is that I need to be transferring more of God’s grace to me towards others and not be so mean and arrogant. There’s a difference between stubbornness and arrogance. Stubbornness is believing what you believe and sticking to it, while arrogance is believing no one else has even a small chance of being right.

We need to agree to disagree, but not in an avoiding or begrudging way. In a loving and gracious way, the same way God treats us when we disagree with him. Like in our relationship with God, we should share our honest thoughts, opinions and feelings on situations. We’re free in Christ to do that.

But let’s be nice about it.