1 Corinthians 15:30 And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour?
The First Christians were incredible people. They came from all walks of life. Some were slaves and others were slave owners. Some were fishermen and others were merchants. Some were Jews and still others were Gentiles. Most were common folk who just wanted to get through life as peacefully and quietly as they could. But when they found Jesus, all of them had this in common – their lives were endangered.
Why did they do that? What made them public enemy number one as far as the authorities were concerned? Why did they put their lives on the line, as well as their families, throughout the Roman Empire? What was so important to them that made them stand up and be counted? What caused them to be harassed, hunted down, arrested, tortured, and executed in town after town, city after city, region after region?
After all, there were hundreds of religions that were tolerated throughout the Roman Empire. People of different faiths could live peaceably under the wings of the Roman eagle. What made these Christians so exclusive that brought down the wrath of the Emperor and his regional rulers across the vast Empire? If other religions could do it, then why couldn’t these followers of Christ? Why couldn’t they just be like everyone else?
They couldn’t do it because they were unlike other people. They endangered their lives because they wouldn’t swear loyalty to Caesar. Their loyalty was to Christ. They were His servants. He was their Lord. Their fealty was not to mighty Rome or its powerful Emperor. The First Christians pledged their allegiance to Christ, and they did this publicly, unashamedly, and uncompromisingly. Nothing stood between them and Jesus. It was all or nothing. It was His Way or none at all.
Fifteen hundred years later, Christianity had become a European institution. The Roman Empire was gone, but in its place a monolithic, monstrous, and corrupt hierarchy had arisen. Christian fealty was replaced with Church Law. People were being led astray from the original tenets of the faith. Salvation could be purchased with gold and positions of power were established through nepotism, cronyism, and bribery.
A few concerned Christians like Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Knox longed for the Church to shed its sinful ways, in order to return to New Testament Christianity. Their loyalty was to Jesus and so, like their First century counterparts, they and their followers endured criticism, harassment, arrest and imprisonment, injustice and execution. Their allegiance was to Christ alone, and only faith in Him brought them salvation. Their courageous stance and theological endeavors brought forth the Reformation, which set people free from the scourge of medieval Catholicism and its ubiquitous corruption of Christ’s ways.
Four hundred years later, another group of courageous German Christians, spoke out against their Church. The people were guilty of pledging their lives to Nazi ideology and idolizing their insane leader as a militaristic and racist Messiah. The Reformed German Church was in danger of becoming apostate, and so a group of theologians, preachers, pastors, and lay people formed the Confessing Church. Once again, these Christians suffered for their uncompromising beliefs and complete allegiance to Christ. They would not surrender their faith to the predominant culture, nor would they sacrifice their fealty to Christ in order to live peaceably with their neighbors. They were beaten up and arrested, tortured by the Gestapo and sent to die in concentration camps. They were betrayed by the ecclesiastical authorities and ruthlessly silenced by the Fascists. Those who survived still persevered. After the war, their complete allegiance to Christ was vindicated and recognized throughout the entire world.
Just sixty years later, an American Presbyterian denomination, in an effort to be politically correct, to be socially acceptable, and culturally comfortable, rejected the courage of these past Christians, staunch Reformers, and German Confessors. When given the opportunity at the 218th General Assembly to publicly confess their loyalty to Christ in an overture from Sequoyah Hills Church in the Presbytery of East Tennessee, the commissioners twice deleted the word “allegiance” because they were uncomfortable with it. Instead of proclaiming their allegiance to Christ, they were more comfortable in saying that they shared a common faith. With the stroke of a pen and the scoring of a line through the word “allegiance,” the PC(USA) forsook its Christian heritage and capitulated to socially acceptable expressions.
In other words, had the PC(USA) been amongst the First Christians, they would have gladly thrown off their allegiance to Christ and paid their respects to Caesar. If Luther had been amongst these bold commissioners, he would have accepted the institutional shackles and given up any allegiance to Christ alone. And sadly, the same Assembly would have been like-minded with the majority of German Christians, giving way to what was politically correct under the Nazis, instead of confessing with the minority that their true allegiance rested in Christ alone.
Finally, the scriptures give us this warning from Christ Himself: If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. Luke 9:26
Prayer: O Lord, we may have stepped over a dreadful theological, ecclesiastical, and historical line that is offensive to You and detrimental to our Christian heritage. Help us to understand that allegiance is not simply a word that can be cast aside, but it is a condition of truly accepting You as Lord and Savior. Forgive us for cowering under social niceties and politically correct pressures. Grant us the courage to publicly pledge our allegiance to You, instead of embracing our stubborn pride and collective ambivalence. Give us the opportunity to stand with our courageous and noble predecessors, for whom allegiance to You was a costly and sometimes fatally commitment to make. In Your Holy Name alone, we pledge and pray. Amen.
John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee.