Guest Werner Mischke did a blog series on some key books in New Testament studies related to allegiance, or “relational loyalty”. This concluding post summarizes and applies the key ideas. Reposted with permission.
- Post #1 introduces the topic of allegiance to “THE CHRIST”—Jesus as King.
- Post #2 was on allegiance and GRACE, referencing primarily Paul and the Gift by Prof. John M. G. Barclay.
- Post #3 focused on allegiance and FAITH, in which we referenced Matthew W. Bates’s Gospel Allegiance: What Faith in Jesus Misses for Salvation in Christ.
- Post #4 and post 4b focused on allegiance and BAPTISM. We looked at R. Alan Streett’s Caesar and the Sacrament: Baptism: A Rite of Resistance.
In this post, I want to summarize the main ideas. I will also consider several questions and some possible applications.
Summary of Key Ideas
- Christ is King of kings; his followers give ultimate allegiance to Christ.
- Allegiance and GRACE
In the ancient world, grace and allegiance were understood as a package deal. As a Christian, you received a magnificent gift (Gk., charis) from a great Patron (God). To receive an undeserved gift was deeply counter-cultural. In reciprocity, you return to the Patron praise, obedience, loyalty—allegiance. This reciprocal aspect of grace was in keeping with the culture.
- Allegiance and FAITH
The Greek word pistis in the New Testament can be translated variously depending on the context as faith, belief, faithfulness, loyalty, allegiance. When it is used in relation to Jesus “the Christ,” that is, Jesus the Anointed One, Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the King, then pistis often conveys the meaning of allegiance or loyalty.
- Allegiance and BAPTISM
Baptism expresses one’s identification with the Christ in his death and resurrection (Rom 6:3–5). Baptism is also an oath of allegiance to Jesus the Christ and his kingdom. This oath of allegiance to the Christ may be considered an implicit denial of allegiance to other social structures, which may be inconsistent with the values of the kingdom of God.
Questions and Possible Applications
- Identity: To whom do we belong?
How should believers navigate multiple allegiances under their ultimate allegiance to Christ the King? In every Christian community, believers have multiple allegiances. Allegiance to your family is rightly considered basic. In many nations, allegiance to your country is considered a sacred duty. Among some peoples, loyalty to one’s tribe or extended family carries greater obligations than civic law or national identity.
Serving in the American military requires an Oath of Enlistment. Servicemen and women “solemnly swear” to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic;” and to “bear true faith and allegiance to the same; . . .”
The company you work for can also engender profound allegiance from its employees. A person can belong to a sports team, or be a die-hard fan of that team. A political party often requires allegiance from its members.
In what ways might allegiance to Christ benefit or enhance these various other relations? In what ways might allegiance to Christ serve as a critique to these relations?
- The church
How does allegiance to Christ impact one’s allegiance to the local church? This relates to the question: To whom do we belong? In a culture of choice and radical individualism, how should believers express the primacy of their allegiance to the body of Christ?
Regular attendance, regular serving with your spiritual gifts, and regular financial support (tithing) are expressions of allegiance. People who call themselves “Christian” but are not committed to a local assembly of believers do not show allegiance to Christ.
Does the Lord call people to simple repentance and allegiance? How do we navigate the tension between simplicity and fierceness in the call to follow Jesus? The simplicity of following Christ may be referenced in these verses: Mat 18:2–3; 19:14; John 10:27–28; Rev 3:20; 22:17. The fierceness of following Christ may be referenced in these verses: Mat 10:38; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23; 9:26; 9:62; 14:27–28; 2 Tim 2:3.
What if the church’s teaching on the subject of baptism included the early church perspective of an oath of allegiance to Jesus the Christ? In America, I have witnessed many celebratory baptisms. Should the baptism service be less celebratory and more solemn? What might make a baptism service more solemn? Considering the idea of allegiance as an oath, should children make oaths of allegiance? How might this affect our thinking about baptism of children or of infants?
Christ’s glorious Being transforms all secondary identity factors of the believer. If this is true, what are the practical results of one’s ethnicity, tribe, race, or social status being subsumed within one’s allegiance to Christ? How might allegiance to Christ lead you to rethink your social obligations, where you choose to live, or where your family worships?
- Spiritual transformation
Because of “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord,” Paul identifies all of his social capital (all of his Jewish moral and ethnic honor), whether ascribed or achieved honor, as “rubbish” (Phil 3:3–8). His experiential knowledge of Christ gives him the honor surplus that fuels his allegiance to Christ even unto suffering: “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3:10–11).
Paul’s allegiance to Christ is integral to his participation with Christ. This glory of being in Christ relativizes all other aspects of his identity. How do believers get to the place in their journey where they share in the experience of “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord?” Should the suffering of believers be emphasized as normal rather than exceptional? Should everyone who pledges allegiance to the Christ expect to suffer?
If allegiance to Jesus the Christ is:
- an integral part of the reciprocal nature of God’s grace,
- a vital aspect of faith in Christ, and
- the oath publicly proclaimed as part of the sacrament of baptism,
then it follows: Allegiance to Christ should be regularly proclaimed, taught, and modeled as a normal part of the Christian life.