Confession of Faith or Pledge of Allegiance?

The recent NFL controversy—which is spreading to other venues too—concerning the appropriate posture during the national anthem got my mind running in so many different directions.

First, there is the liturgical path I went down. We are liturgical beings and therefore we need structure and order and routine. It’s just what we do. It’s who we are. It’s all around us if we will look around and see. We need it. We crave it. As such the national anthem serves as the liturgical call to worship of all American sporting events. Very interesting.

Second, I got thinking about the nature of this national anthem itself—this cultural call to worship—and what protests to it signified. Far more than a set of beliefs one is called upon to affirm intellectually, the protests to the national anthems reveal that the American anthem that signals the beginning of the contest is actually a declaration of allegiance to the country. As one stands at attention, with hand over heart, one is not just listening to a song but pledging allegiance to the nation who is represented by that song. And hence the protests—“I won’t pledge allegiance to this nation”—and the response to the protests—“how dare they not pledge their allegiance to this nation?”

From here my mind was drawn back to an interesting book I had read some time ago by Mark Bates: Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King. Those reading the book from a reformed perspective will find plenty to quibble over, but they will also find some very interesting insights and provocative suggestions. One such suggestions has to do with the use of the Apostles’ Creed in worship services.

I have written about the use of creeds generally and about the use and meaning of the Apostles’ Creed specifically elsewhere. When I have done so I have usually done so from the perspective of a confession. In other words, this documents is an expression of what I believe to be true. These are the facts of Christianity to be affirmed. And that’s good and right.

Mark Bates, however, encourages us to take the use of the Apostles’ Creed a step further and think of the creed and use the creed in a manner something akin to a Christian pledge of allegiance, “…the creed is not a mere statement of common belief but is the allegiance-demanding good news” (p. 211). To that end his suggestion.

Each week children in the United States place their hand over their hearts, face the flag, and pledge allegiance. Other countries have similar allegiance ceremonies—and all of us who participated in such ceremonies as children…can attest to their power for creating and maintaining loyalty. The Apostles’ Creed needs to be mobilized so that it functions like a flag pledge—to become the Christian pledge of allegiance for the universal church (p. 210).

Rather than merely parroting some words passed down through the generations, our confession of faith is a pledge of allegiance to king Jesus. This is what we believe. This is what we live for. This is what we die for. This is what we stand for. Used in this way, the Apostles’ Creed has the power to create and maintain loyalty to King Jesus and promote unity among his followers.