Before the kids participated in the Lord’s supper, I researched and we did a week long “unit study” about it. We did the same before the kids were baptized. It was very important that they not participate in these ordinances “unworthily” (without understanding the complete meaning and context of what they were doing and being able to participate willfully and knowingly).
I had planned to do this concerning things like the “Pledge of Allegiance”, since I had brought up the question at one point in a past conversation — but, had not gotten around to this. This is the start of correcting that. Hopefully a conclusion can be prayerfully reached that is subject to the authority of scripture and the guidance of the Holy Spirit toward all truth. (I continue to dig into this though, and welcome input from anyone who has found examples from the Bible that I have not yet run across, and all assertions are subject to what the entirety of scripture has to say about it.)
Does the Bible direct us to make pledges or explicitly say that oaths and pledges are OK?
There are many examples where God creates covenants such as the covenant of marriage, the covenant between God and Abraham, and the multitude of promises throughout scripture.
Most of the oaths made in the Old Testament initiated by men were made without God’s direction and turned out badly. Since God holds us accountable to our oaths, the biggest lesson is not to enter into an oath lightly and not without considering the cost and/or consequences. A good example includes where God held Saul and all of Israel accountable for a promise Joshua made to the Gibeonites several generations before.
So far I have not found any New Testament examples of oaths or pledges initiated by believers. (Although, people are still held accountable for what they say — just ask Ananias and Sapphira).
I realize that there were various confessions of belief (probably not the same thing as an oath) developed in later times by the church to counter various heresies that crept in; but, for the purposes of this study, I am mostly concerned with what God has revealed in scripture and not inventions of men.
Are pledges and oaths such as the Pledge of Allegiance (to the U.S. Flag), the Pledge to the Christian Flag, the Pledge to the Bible, or even by extension the “vows” said in a marriage ceremony the same as to “swear by” as referenced by Jesus and James?
Again, ye heard that it was said to the ancients: Thou shalt not swear falsely, but thou shalt pay to the Lord thine oaths; but I — I say to you, not to swear at all; neither by the heaven, because it is the throne of God, nor by the earth, because it is His footstool, nor by Jerusalem, because it is a city of a great king, nor by thy head mayest thou swear, because thou art not able one hair to make white or black; but let your word be, Yes, Yes, No, No, and that which is more than these is of the evil.
And before all things, my brethren, do not swear, neither by the heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath, and let your Yes be Yes, and the No, No; that under judgment ye may not fall.
It seems that the actual sin here is blasphemy by taking of the Lord’s name in vain. That “swearing by God” or by “anything” at all (since it all belongs to God and isn’t yours to swear by) is the problem and not as much making the oath, pledge, or promise.
In context, Jesus is demonstrating several instances of the law being followed “to the letter”, but additionally God looks on our hearts and motivation. For example: adultery and murder are not just the physical acts, but start in the heart with lust and hatred. Of course, Jesus did not say it was “OK” to commit murder if you didn’t hate. Murder is still a crime, but so is hatred of other people (we should still hate sin – Rom 12:9).
Similarly, we will still be held accountable by God for breaking oaths, pledges, vows, covenants and promises — but even beyond that, it is sinful to casually invoke God as surety that what you are saying is true, or that you will do what you say. We are instructed to simply keep our word and let our “yes be yes, and no be no”.
* Could the “so help me God” in some oaths of office or service possibly be the same as “swearing by God”? (question to ponder and address at some future date; initially I would say “not unless the oath is taken casually” which is all too often the case)
1) I currently do not see in the Bible where God expresses commands, encourages, or says it is “OK” to make pledges
2) Pledges that include a “swear by ___ ” clause are not to be made.
3) I currently do not see in the Bible where God explicitly tells us not to make pledges (except in the case of #2 above)
4) We should not make pledges casually, lightly, without understanding, and/or without counting the costs and consequences.
5) We will be called into account for every idle word and held accountable for every pledge we break (Matt 5:33, Matt 12:36)
Part 2 coming (eventually)…
Future installments will look into the history behind the Pledge of Allegiance, what it means, and other questions including…
– Can you be a Christian and choose to say the Pledge? (Yes)
– Can you choose to opt out of saying the Pledge and still be a Christian and a patriot? (Yes)
– Someone who opts out of saying the pledge should respectfully, attentively, and quietly stand without drawing attention to themselves with their hands at their sides or held in front of them (not in pockets or moving about).
– Why bother about this at all?
– Can the words pledge, oath, vow, promise, covenant, etc be used interchangeably or are there sufficiently significant differences in the scriptural meanings?
– Is it idolatry to pledge to a flag, book, or anything other than God?
– What is the true origin and purpose of the Pledge of Allegiance? Is the pledge a patriotic duty or socialist indoctrination tool?
(No kidding, look it up for yourself. When was it written? Who was the author? What was the purpose?)
– Should children who do not yet understand the meaning, purpose, and consequences of the Pledge be led to say it?
– We are to train a child in the way they should go. Does this mean train them how to think or what to think (or both)?
– Some people say “positive peer pressure” is a good thing. The problem is that it is still conditioning kids to go along with the crowd. It works fine while they are in a “good” crowd, but then they do not have any personal character to guide them in times when they are in a “bad” crowd.
– Is having children mindlessly parrot a “pledge” really teaching “patriotism” or conditioning them to go along with the crowd?
– Anything done without faith is sin (Rom 14:23). If someone is not fully convinced in their hearts and minds (consciously, confidently, knowingly, and willfully) concerning the pledge, they should not be made to say it. (Romans 14). This should not be an excuse in the long term, a person who is not fully convinced one way or another is still responsible to “do their homework” and make a decision.
– A person who puts God first can still be proud to be an American, proud of our nation’s history, heritage, and accomplishments, yet disagree with some of the actions of segments within our culture and government.
– If you want to be a true rebel, take a stand for God against the corruption of the world system which is at odds against Him. (James 4:4) Jesus said, “you are either for me or against me” (Lk 9:50, Mt 12:30) and you “cannot serve two masters” (Mt 6:24, Lk 16:13).
– Should we just blindly follow the flag wherever it goes or would a true American patriot be willing to stand (nonviolently) against a tyrannical government that is godless, lawless, and/or when it takes actions contrary to God’s law?
– The only way to make a lasting impact on a culture is to change hearts. The only way to change hearts is to share the Gospel.
– I do not know of any groups or movements among Christians to stop saying the pledge. I am given to understand that Jehovah Witnesses abstain from any pledges other than to God. They may have a point, but I’m not Jehovah Witness, nor am I an authority on what they do or do not believe.