A Journey to Allegiance

Over the last couple of years, I have noticed a shift in my own language when talking of discipleship to Jesus, and I thought I would take a moment to explain some of those shifts. Someone asked me recently why I refer to relationship to Jesus as “pledging allegiance” and not “believing in” Jesus. The reasons are many for a shift, and as I assured the person asking the question, I still do see “belief” as an important element of faith. It is common for Christians to call themselves “believers” and to ask such questions as, “is he or she a believer?” I think those type of questions are fine, I am trying to get to an issue however when I say “allegiance.” Some of the reasons for shifting my own language are:

1. In speaking to a generation of teenagers/college students, many of whom have no concept of God, “believing in” something isn’t language they are familiar with. Even if we believe in certain things, love, etc, we never articulate it that way. Translating the gospel to the audience is important, and making sure that you aren’t dropping a series of phrases and insider language on them, is important.

2. On the other hand, for 18 years, we wake up and go to school and the first words out of our mouth are, “I pledge allegiance to the flag…” in school. Allegiance is a concept that makes sense to anyone listening that attended school. It denotes that something important is taking place, the word evokes images of placing your hand over your heart and standing in honor.

3. Now, the obvious problem here that you may have already come to is that famous John 3:16 passage where it says, “Whosever believes in Him shall not perish…” The question I’ve wrestled with is, am I violating this “golden text” by shifting the language to allegiance when referring to Jesus? After some wrestling, I’ve concluded that no, I’m actually doing the phrase more justice. When John penned the phrase, it was the word “pisteuo.” in Greek, the original language. Pisteuo appears 98 times or so in the gospel of John, and it means several different things, but it never means, “to check a box” and move on. When we use the word believe, we often interpret it as a way to organize some historical facts about Jesus in our brains, a way to arrange some spiritual furniture, as if the mental assent is the goal. The mental, head part of faith is important, but it isn’t all encompassing of John’s (or Jesus’ for that matter) intent. The word “pisteuo” definitely has head, heart, and body implications, not just mental ones. It entails an abiding in, an obedience to, a bearing towards Jesus over other ways of life one could choose. The word allegiance seems to do justice to what John was getting at.

4. When we use the word “belief,” it seems to me that we are referring more to the latin word, “assensus” than the greek word “Pisteuo.” The Latin words are more imbedded in the English language than the Greek. Assensus mean “assent,” or to believe that a claim is true. “Assensus” is needed in our faith, but it is probably over emphasized as the primary definition of what abiding faith in Jesus is. Furthermore, belief as mere “assent” is pretty powerless, because you can “believe” in the “assensus” sense and still be in bondage. You can “believe” and not be following.

5. The Latin word I find to be the most relevant is “fidelitas.” It is faith as “faithfulness”, in the same way when a husband or wife is un faithful, we say there has been “infidelity” in the relationship. It refers to something in the heart and our actions, rather than just a simple shift toward mental agreement. I find allegiance to sum this up quite nicely. It is also a much more relational word and concept than belief.

6. In Mark 8:38 Jesus refers to a “sinful and adulterous generation,” which seems odd. He isn’t accusing them of cheating on their spouses. Neither is he accusing them of not factually agreeing with him. He is rather referring to an unfaithfulness to God and God’s words to them all through out the old testament. So fidelity is important to Jesus.

7. More so, when the emphasis is on mental assent, the opposite of assent is to doubt, or to have some sort of mental disagreement with the historical facts of Jesus. If I say the goal is to “believe” and the gospel is about being mentally precise, then a astute mind will no doubt question their own faith and relationship to God when they begin to doubt or wrestle with faith. As I have said on this blog before and publicly, I do not find doubt to be an enemy of faith, rather an important tool to really wrestling with God. If we believe doubt is our enemy, then we will live in fear of our own questions. The goal isn’t certainty, as if we are in a courtroom, rather the goal is faith. Faith has room for doubt and questions, where certainty does not.

8. More so, if Jesus stays in the head as facts and belief, the enemy becomes doubt, not idolatry or unfaithfulness. I believe idolatry and unfaithfulness are way bigger problems on the journey of discipleship to Jesus, more so than doubt. Therefore, when saying allegiance, it properly sets up unfaithfulness to God in our heart and life as our enemy, not doubt in our head.

9. Too many times I have seen wonderful teenagers, adults, and college students leave their faith because they have doubts and hard questions. Unfortunately, those doubts and hard questions often have no place in their faith community. This shift towards allegiance may seem small, but I assure you it is important. Unfaithfulness to God and idolatry is where our problem is, not tough questions.

10. In closing, I find allegiance to be a better reflection of 1st century discipleship to Jesus, more so than just believing in Jesus. Make no mistake, I do find belief to be very important, but perhaps inflated. I find allegiance a good word to correct a long standing emphasis on faith that checks a box on a card, stands up at an event, and then moves on. Our minds are important, but it seems clear than our hands, heart and feet are too.