We people are fond of making allegiances. Schoolchildren are required to daily recite a pledge to the “United State of America and to the Republic for which she stands. One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Millions of boys have taken the Scout’s oath: On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight. (One of the items auctioned off in the collapse of Bernie Madoff’s evil empire was a Boy Scouts “Be Prepared” medal. Apparently, Madoff forgot that bit about helping others and being morally straight.)
For generations physicians have pledged all sorts of things they never intended to honor. They promised to partner with the ones who taught them and to financially support them if need be, and to act as healers only: “I will apply measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and judgment; I will keep them from harm and injustice. I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody if asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect. Similarly I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy. In purity and holiness I will guard my life and my art.”
And politicians of every gender, race, age and theological persuasion swear to upholding the laws of the land to the benefit of the people.
Isn’t it disturbing to consider how little meaning these oaths really have when it comes to the day-to-day job of living?
Believers the world over have been reciting the words of the Apostles’ Creed for centuries as a public confession of their allegiance to the babe born of the Virgin. The Creed affirms what makes a Christian a Christian.
The Apostles’ Creed
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. He descended into hell. The third day He arose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy catholic church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.
But there he stood, the pastor in that stumbling church, on a Sunday morning, trying to explain the thing he figured he’d never have to be explaining.
“I’ve received so many phone calls this week about the book we are studying leading into Lent that I need to address this,” he said. “The holy catholic church mentioned in the Apostles’ Creed in the first page of this book does not refer to the Roman Catholic Church, but rather to the universal church.”
A woman from the back row shouted: “It’s not capitalized, right?”
“No,” the pastor answered. “It’s not capitalized.”
As the age-old Protestant-Catholic Elephant violently reared back its mighty head, the worship team called the congregation to order:
Savior I come
Quiet my soul remember
Where Your blood was spilled
For my ransom
Everything I once held dear
I count it all as lost
In their midst stood a woman singing who has endured a lung-transplant and kidney failure, the result of taking too many anti-rejection drugs. And another woman, two seats over, wondering why instead of fussing, people weren’t praying for this one among them.
Then she remembered something another pastor wrote recently:
Things that followers of Jesus, perhaps meeting in caves and forests, in places like China and Pakistan — knowing that their faith may cost them their lives — are not discussing:
Can I go to a club on the weekends and drink and still be a Christian?
Should I go ahead and buy that $70 sweater at American Eagle? (It would be my 15th sweater.)
Should we put my old, widowed mother in a home or let her live with us?
Should I go to the prayer meeting this Friday night? After all, I don’t have to be at the meeting for God to hear me. And it IS four miles away. Plus, where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom, so I’m free not to go; and, after all, I might only be going out of performance.
Should we upsize our house? I had another kid, and if we don’t move, two of my kids will have to share a room.
Should I get my teeth re-enameled? Whitened?
What tattoo best expresses who I am as a Christian? The real me?
The list goes on.
Yes. We Americans, we Christians, consider our oaths sacred cows that we hold dear.
We’ll argue them to the death.
We just don’t have any intentions of living by them.