by Al Maxey

Issue #370 ------- October 23, 2008
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of
America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation
under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Francis Bellamy {1855-1931}

The Pledge of Allegiance
Is it Appropriate for Christians?

A young minister in the state of Texas wrote me back in August about an issue that has come to trouble him to some degree, and he sought my advice on the matter. His email, in part, states, "Brother Maxey, It is absolutely amazing how parenting forces us to look at various theological issues anew. My current dilemma comes from the fact that my young daughter is about to start kindergarten. It is the practice of her school to lead the children in the Pledge of Allegiance as they begin each school day. There was a time when I would have given no second thought to this practice, and, if forced to defend the Pledge, I would have placed great weight on the idea that the 'under God' phrase modifies the Pledge in such a way as to indicate that national allegiance is subservient to our allegiance to God. However, I am now questioning the propriety of Christians pledging their allegiance to anything other than God Himself. So my primary question to you is: does our citizenship in the kingdom of God preclude our allegiance to the 'principalities and powers' of this world, thus making one's reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance a conflict of interest (at best) or something akin to treason (at worst)? Brother Maxey, I know that your ministry, both locally in New Mexico and globally via your Reflections, consumes a great deal of time, and that my posing of this question to you demonstrates a degree of presumption on my part. However, if you should see fit to entertain my question, I will read your response with gratefulness. Thank you!"

Although there is some evidence to suggest that James B. Upham [1845-1905] penned a rough draft of a patriotic pledge in 1888 that was later adapted, most historians credit its composition to Francis Bellamy [1855-1931], a Baptist minister and a Christian Socialist. Many considered Bellamy too radical for the pulpit, as he preached such sermons as "Jesus the Socialist" and "The Socialism of the Primitive Church." Bellamy was ultimately removed from the pulpit of the Bethany Baptist Church in Boston for his views. This man was also very much interested in public education, which he strongly believed to be the responsibility of the state, and was an official with the National Education Association. Bellamy composed the Pledge of Allegiance to be a part of a greatly anticipated school flag raising ceremony marking the 400th anniversary of the historic arrival of Columbus in America. It was written in August, 1892 and first appeared on September 8, 1892 in a magazine titled "The Youth's Companion." It was first recited in public at the flag ceremony on October 12, 1892. In its original form, the words were: "I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." He thought about adding the word "equality" to the phrase "liberty and justice for all," but eventually decided against it because he felt some would object since it would seemingly suggest that women and blacks were to be regarded as "equal" to men and whites.

Over time, the Pledge has undergone several revisions. Immediately after its first recitation, for example, the word "to" was added prior to the words "the Republic." In the year 1923, the First National Flag Conference changed the wording from "my Flag" to "the Flag of the United States." The year following that, the Second National Flag Conference added the words "of America" to the phrase. Then, on December 28, 1945, Public Law 79-287 declared this combination of words to be the official "Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag." In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower encouraged Congress (as did the Knights of Columbus and other religious groups) to add the words "under God" to the Pledge. By a joint resolution of the United States Congress, Public Law 83-396 was signed by the President on Flag Day (June 14, 1954), thus giving us the Pledge of Allegiance as it reads today. In August, 1954, Eisenhower wrote a letter in which he said, "These words ('under God') will remind Americans that despite our great physical strength we must remain humble. They will help us to keep constantly in our minds and hearts the spiritual and moral principles which alone give dignity to man, and upon which our way of life is founded."

Interestingly, the original "hand salute" to the flag during the recitation of the Pledge, which was adopted in the late 1800's, was an outstretched right arm toward the flag. This was known as the "Bellamy Salute." However, when the Nazi forces adopted this same gesture as their salute, President Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated the hand-over-the-heart gesture instead (for civilians), and the regular military hand salute for those in uniform. Needless to say, there have been many challenges to the Pledge over the years, with such legal challenges continuing even to this present time. Atheists, for example, object to the phrase "under God," and want it taken out. Some religious groups, such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, believe that swearing loyalty to any power lesser than God and showing reverence to an object (like the flag) constitutes "idolatry." They contended that their freedom of religion was being violated. In 1940 the Supreme Court ruled (Minersville School District vs. Gobitis) that students in public schools could be compelled to recite the Pledge, regardless of religious convictions. This ruling, as one would certainly expect, was later overturned, and the reciting of the Pledge is now optional.

Patriotism is a very personal, and also a very subjective, emotion. This remarkably intense, and even zealous, love for one's own people and/or nation has moved men and women to astonishing acts of self-sacrifice and feats of heroism. It is a deep-seated devotion, dedication and consecration to a cause infinitely greater than oneself. There are patriots in every country, not just our own, as this noble fervor truly knows no national, cultural or racial barriers. But true patriotism goes much, much deeper than mere emotionalism or nationalistic zeal; it is emotion expressed with a sense of the ultimate good of one's people. Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) wrote, "The noble kind of patriotism aims at ends that are worthy of the whole of mankind." Richard Aldington (1892-1962) described patriotism as "a lively sense of collective responsibility." Simply stated: patriots are zealots, but not all zealots are patriots.

In every nation under the sun there are emblems that give visible and audible expression to these feelings, both individually and collectively. We have special days that commemorate meaningful times in our nation's history. We have monuments, both to individuals and events. We have symbols. And we have banners or flags. They tend to be rallying points for a people; they help us focus, especially during times of national challenge or crisis. Without them the sense of cohesiveness of a people is greatly diminished. Yet, if one's patriotism is not firmly established upon greater eternal Truths than mere nationalism alone, one's patriotism is misguided at best. The above mentioned Aldington noted, "Nationalism is a silly cock crowing on its own dunghill." John Morley (1838-1923) stated it this way: "To deride patriotism marks impoverished blood, but to extol it as an ideal or an impulse above truth and justice, at the cost of the general interests of humanity, is far worse." Let me phrase the concept thusly: true patriotism will motivate one to die for his country and countrymen if called upon to do so, but it will also move one to speak out against and actively seek to reform one's people and nation when they have collectively chosen to pursue a course that is leading them toward great harm or even destruction. There have been times in the history of every nation when some of its greatest patriots were, at the time of their acts of patriotism, perceived to be it greatest traitors. Only much later, through historical hindsight, is the value of their sacrifice seen for what it actually was. Needless to say, the same has been true in the church of our Lord Jesus Christ throughout its history. In other words, it's not always the "party parrots" who are the spiritual patriots ... quite often the true spiritual patriots are the ones deemed to be the "heretics."

But, returning to our topic -- I personally have no problem with expressions of loyalty to one's people or nation, as long as these expressions are undergirded with greater eternal principles. I can personally, with a clear conscience, pledge my loyalty and allegiance to a country that truly seeks to be a united nation "under God." Indeed, all of God's people, throughout the world, in every nation, should seek to influence their own people to achieve this goal: a people truly committed to living "under God" ... under His sovereignty. I have no problem pledging my allegiance to such a God-focused people. I also have no problem speaking out against my people and nation should they abandon that resolve (and I have done so). A nation that is seeking "liberty and justice for all," is a nation seeking to promote divine principles. I can support such a people and cause. When a country loses its way, the patriots will rise up to direct it back onto the paths of righteousness; when a country is walking those paths, or at least seeking to do so as best it can, such a nation is worthy of our loyalty ... and patriots will give it.

Yes, spiritually speaking, we should consider our citizenship as being in the kingdom of our God, rather than in any earthly kingdom, and our ultimate loyalty is to the King of kings, rather than to any earthly ruler. Thus, our submission to any authority lesser than GOD is conditional in nature. Indeed, it can be nothing else!! We submit to all lesser authority only to the degree that such submission does not violate our primary allegiance to our Sovereign. Therefore, I can easily pledge allegiance to my country as long as such allegiance does not in any way diminish my allegiance to the Lord. I may serve my country as long as such service in no way takes away from my service to the kingdom of God. It is my conviction that one can, to a large degree, do both (although this will clearly vary from nation to nation). Some of you may differ with this perception, and to you I would simply say -- you must live by the dictates of your own conscience, not by the dictates of mine (and vice versa).

I was born in this great country (in Arkansas) and I love it dearly. It has been good to me personally. I was very proud to serve my nation for six years in the armed forces (in fact, I volunteered, while others sought deferments). I spent two years in Vietnam, and many times was not sure I would ever return alive to my homeland. I looked into men's eyes, both friend and foe, as they died on the field of battle, and those images will stay with me the rest of my life. And yet, I would not change a moment of any of it, for these experiences have all contributed to making me who and what I am today. Whenever the "Stars and Stripes" pass by me, even to this very day, my hand goes immediately over my heart and my eyes tear up. And yet, my love for my people and my country is so great that it genuinely pains me when I see this nation turning increasingly away from God, and I have spoken out publicly against such dangerous and deadly national trends. I have the same concern for the Family of God whenever and wherever I discover my beloved brethren increasingly abandoning grace for law and freedom for bondage. And, yes, I also speak out publicly against such dangerous and deadly trends. Some of my brethren tend to regard my actions as "traitorous;" I prefer to see them as "patriotic" (spiritually speaking). Jesus informed His disciples that there was no greater love than for a man to be willing to lay down his life for another (a love which Jesus showed). Right up there with it is the love that motivates one to live for another in such a way as to reform and/or save their life from certain ruin. That kind of love and devotion is just as "patriotic" as the former, both nationally and spiritually.

The historical reality is: we are a people who initially founded our great nation upon the premise that united under the leadership of God Almighty we would pursue and protect our right to liberty, justice and the pursuit of happiness. As a child in the public schools I remember daily pledging allegiance to the flag which not only stood for our nation, but also for the many hopes, dreams and divine principles of our people. My own personal conviction is that such a Pledge should continue to be part of the daily routine of our school children, and I would encourage the above reader who emailed me his concern to consider allowing his young daughter to recite this pledge at school, as millions have done before her, and will do after her. In conclusion, let me share with you a Christian pledge of allegiance that I wrote back in 1995 while preaching for the Honolulu Church of Christ in the beautiful state of Hawaii. I pray that, just as we the people of the United States of America daily recite the aforementioned secular pledge, that we, as the beloved people of God, might recite the following spiritual pledge as well. May God help us to live by it every day of our lives.

I pledge allegiance to the Father
of the united saints of the kingdom,
-- and to the Redeemer
by Whom we stand --
One Body, unified in Spirit,
indivisible, with liberty
and love for all.

Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce and Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

A 200 page book by Al Maxey
Publisher: (301) 695-1707
Readers' Reflections

From Daniel Denham in Virginia:
(sent to his Contending for the Faith cohorts)

Folks, As many of you already know, I am in the process of writing a book on MDR (marriage, divorce and remarriage) that is principally based upon the Hebrew and Greek texts that are central to the subject. I have decided that one chapter, because that is all it will take, will be dedicated to Al Maxey's book of lies [Down, But Not Out], and I am going to title the chapter "Down for the Count." Al Maxey misrepresents (and I believe knowingly so) the sources and references he cites in support of key points in his "argument." It is clear that either the man cannot read or he is dishonest.

From a PhD in Texas:

Bro. Al, I read your Reflections often, and have recommended them to many, who now read your thoughts regularly. I pray for your work and rejoice in its solid solutions to legalism. I pray it flourishes. I really enjoy your work, my fine brother, and always look forward to your next offering. Also, and I hate to even ask you to take up your time reading anything I write, but I am working on some material that I plan to publish one day, and I am requesting of a few independent thinkers whom I trust, such as yourself, Lynn Anderson, Max Lucado, Rubel Shelly and Leroy Garrett, that you review this material and advise me. I know that I shouldn't ask this of you guys (as you are so busy), but there are so few whose insights I trust.

From a Minister in Florida:

Brother Al, I was reading through the readers' comments at the end of your last Reflections and noticed that another minister from Florida commented on those who use Colossians 3:17 to forbid fellowship halls and eating within the church building. I just wonder how these legalists justify going to the bathroom in a church building!! It seems strange to me that one cannot eat in a church building, but they can ... pee! That is a real brain-buster! By the way, we have a kitchen and two bathrooms (a his and hers) in our building, and we don't require the women to be silent in there, either!!! (Hey, you have got to laugh sometimes, don't ya?!!)

From a Minister in Mississippi:

Brother Al, I want to thank you for writing your most recent issue of Reflections -- "The Assurance of Faith." I understand what you mean when you say "saved by faith." I thank God you are my brother in Christ, though we don't really know each other. I thank you for your struggles and your writings, and for trying to provide balance to the extremes of the faith vs. works groups. Yes, brother, you have been very clear that it is the faith that evidences itself that is truly the faith that saves. Thank you!!

From a Minister in California:

Right on, Bro. Al. "The Assurance of Faith" was beautifully stated -- my thoughts precisely. I love it when great minds agree with me!!

From a Reader at Oklahoma Christian University:

Brother Al, I believe that "The Assurance of Faith" was your best issue of Reflections yet!

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Brother Al, Your response in your latest Reflections to the question of "faith only" is the best I have ever read!! You have made it crystal clear from the Scriptures that salvation is a love/heart matter. Certainly, the act of baptism is important, but without that saving love and faith it is nothing more than a bath. I have seen way too many "Christians" who have been "baptized" who then spend the rest of their days hating any and all who have the gall to disagree with them. You, for example, are constantly being attacked by these ignorant "brethren" who have set themselves up as the "defenders of the faith" --- yet they don't have a clue what faith really is!! Keep up the good work, my brother, we need men like you to shine a light on a very dark world.

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

Brother Al, "The Assurance of Faith" was a great article! Very good. I hope you don't mind, but I've been posting your work on my web site along with your web address. God bless you and your ministry. Also, may God bless John McCain and Sarah Palin. We need to keep them in our prayers every day!!

From a Minister in Kansas:

Brother Al, One Cup man here. How could anyone actually believe that you teach a "faith only" salvation?! I've been reading your material for several years now, and I have never noticed that view being presented in any of your writings. As for Daniel Denham, I didn't realize his name was really Jesus!! He and Darrell Broking should stop attacking you and simply try to answer the arguments you've presented. Keep up the good work, brother, and may God bless all who seek unity.

From a Doctor in Kentucky:

Brother Al, I haven't written you in a while, but I still read your Reflections. You are doing a great job, by the way. With regard to the brother in the Independent Christian Church who rebuked you because he thought you were teaching salvation by faith only, let me just say that I completely understand and agree with your position regarding salvation. You may remember that I was a member for 10 years of the Non-Institutional Churches of Christ, but I left that tradition and started assembling with the Independent Christian Church. For the past several years I've been a member of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. This congregation, which those of us living in Louisville simply call "Southeast," is the largest Restoration Movement congregation in the United States. It grew from 53 members meeting in a basement to 18,000 members today. Southeast preaches the same message that Al Maxey does regarding salvation!! Brother, I was blessed to have met you at a time in my life when I was struggling with leaving legalistic patternism to a more grace-centered walk with Christ, and then I was blessed again to be led to a group that was very grace-centered. I simply write to let you know that you are doing a great job, and that the largest of the Independent Christian Church congregations lines up exactly with you on this topic of salvation. In fact, I firmly believe that you proclaim what the original leaders in the Stone-Campbell Movement proclaimed.

From a Minister in Georgia:

Bro. Al, Great information in your last several Reflections. I enjoyed them tremendously. With regard to Darrell Broking, I do not think he can touch you as far as this debate on patternism goes, so Broking has decided instead to accuse you of saying things you never said. His attempt to shift to different gears is simply not working, at least not with those who have an open and intelligent mind. I sent him an email, which he did not respond to, asking why he assumes the role of GOD in pronouncing judgment on you, when it is clearly not Darrell who decides our eternal fate. I also asked him why he misquotes you in almost every document he has written in this debate. His complete silence to you, and to me, and I'm sure to many others as well, is a sign of his certain demise. Thanks for all you do, Al, and for all you stand for.

From a Minister in Kansas:

Brother Al, It seems to me that LOVE is the ultimate litmus test in Scripture. When John says "test the spirits," it seems that, in context, love is part of that test. For John, baptism was just "assumed," because no one back then would have argued with it. It wasn't an issue. Love is also a fruit of the Spirit. Out of faith, hope and love, love is the greatest. If the object of one's faith is baptism, then that becomes the center of one's theology, and it will probably be a works-based theology. If the object of one's faith is Scripture, then one will probably descend into what some have termed "bibliolatry," which leads to the legalistic, patternistic Pharisaism Jesus dealt with in His ministry. Jesus said that the Scriptures testify of Him, and so it is in Him that we have life. The object of our faith is supposed to be Jesus, the One who gives life, the One who immerses in the Spirit, the Way, the Truth and the Life, the Creator, Redeemer, Lord, Savior, the I AM. I believe that if the object of our faith is Jesus, then not only will our faith be based on a proper relationship with our Lord, but everything else will start to fall into place. I believe that God is inherently relational (one of the implications of a Trinitarian theology), and that all He does is unto relationship, and so in order to reflect His character we need to do the same. Thanks so much for your writings!!

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Brother Al, Your fourth affirmative in your debate with Darrell Broking was powerful. One of the arguments I have proposed is what I call the "common sense" argument. Without any regard as to technical situations, just ask yourself: "Do you think God really cares how many cups we use in the Lord's Supper, or how we feed and clothe the orphans, or whether or not we clap in the worship assembly? Do you really think that matters to Him?" I think not. May God bless you in your work, brother.

From a Reader in Alabama:

Dear Brother Al, I wonder why people say that you teach a "faith only" doctrine?! I have been reading your material on salvation for years, and I have never, ever gotten the idea that you taught a "faith only" doctrine. By the way, you are doing a great work. Thank you!

From a Minister in New Mexico:

Brother Al, It is truly amazing that anyone would suggest that any person is saved by faith alone. That is a view that is false on its face. What is true is that we are saved only, solely by the grace of God. No one but God has the ability to grant the gift of His grace ... period. Failure to recognize we are saved only by the freely given grace of God lets one think of salvation as something within the power of a lowly human being, which is ridiculous. Let us give God all the glory. He deserves it. The "saved by faith alone" doctrine unintentionally denies the sovereignty of God and therefore is unequivocally false. Salvation is all God's doing, as He pays the debt that He assigned for sin through the gift of His Son, and He thus grants resurrection to Life in union with His one and only Son!

From a Reader in Florida:

Brother Al, I was astonished that Darrell Broking devoted twice as much space to various emails (mostly filled with garbage) than to any substance pertaining to the debate. It made me think of Col. 4:6 -- "Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt." Much of what he included was "salty" speech, alright ... but not in the sense Paul was urging! I was also astonished when he spoke of things that he would have more to comment about within his 4th (and final) rebuttal. Isn't one of the "rules" of debate that the final summation does not introduce new material?!

From a Reader in New Mexico:

Brother Al, You have done a great job in this debate. As I see it, Darrell Broking has not analyzed any of the points you have made in this debate, and thus can't see the validity in what you've said. May he take your comments to bed with him, and think upon them, and may he see the error of his ways so that he might come back to the Light. Al, you've hit another home run in this debate with Broking, and the comments from your thousands of followers have shown that you are on the right track for sure! Continue to keep on keeping on. May God continue to bless you and Shelly. We love you both!

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Al, It is evident by your comments in your debate with Darrell Broking that you do not believe the Scriptures. Either that, or you cannot count to one. Ephesians 4 says there's only "one God." So, if there can be more than one church, then there can be more than one God. So, which God are you serving??? Even little children know more than you do, Al. At least little children can count to one. Church of Christ and Baptist Church make two churches, not one. So, the Baptists are false. You should probably go back to school, starting in the first grade, and learn to count.

From a Minister in Kentucky:

Brother Al, I just read Darrell Broking's third rebuttal. Wow! Just, wow! That's all I can say. That's the saddest, poorest excuse for a response that anyone could have possibly offered. All I can say is: this response speaks volumes to Broking's character and intellectual capacity. I find it difficult to believe that anyone would subject themselves to this man's preaching and applaud his example. Blessings on your work and life.

From a Reader in Florida:

Brother Al, In your fourth affirmative in the Maxey-Broking Debate you stated, "'God is not the author of confusion' (1 Cor. 14:33, KJV), which passage alone ought to inform us that the whole legalistic, patternistic system, in all of its vast, confused complexity, is fallacious. Divine expectation is simplicity itself --- love God and love one another. This, according to both Jesus and Paul, is absolutely the fulfillment of all law. By embracing those two divine specifics, all else becomes truly unnecessary. Indeed, to formulate law around and impose law upon these two basic eternal principles only serves to hinder, limit and ultimately restrict the full and free expression of our love and the evidence of the indwelling and empowering of God's Holy Spirit in fruit produced in our daily lives (which is precisely why the apostle Paul declared, in Gal. 5:23, that 'there is no law' given by our God that arrays itself against such daily spiritual expressions of love and devotion to God and our fellowman)." Bro. Al, you've just answered my most recent prayer for wisdom. This is exactly what I have known in my heart, yet could never put into words in the way you have. It says it all. Anything that the opposing camp wants to debate is trumped by your paragraph above! CHECKMATE!!

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