The most dangerous lies are the ones that are most believable, and to be believable they should be mostly true. Casual fact checking will give them a pass, and once past the gates of our mental defenses they are free to unpack their deadly payload. Then they will affect our thinking, and ultimately compromise our behavior. Consider today’s title: Ultimate Allegiance of Christians—A Most Unique Error.
It contains two significant errors. If you paid attention in middle school English class you should have caught at least one. Unique means one of a kind—you cannot legitimately attach a comparative to it. If something is truly unique, one of a kind, it cannot be more, less, or most unique. It is either one of a kind or it is not.
The second error is far more insidious, and scarcely a day goes by that I do not see this subtle but potent error wreaking its havoc on the church. An excellent example is found in both the title and contents of a book I just finished reading: Ultimate Allegiance: The Subversive Nature of the Lord’s Prayer, by Robert D. Cornwall. This post is not intended as a review of the book. You can read that on my goodreads page. I will however say that if you keep in mind the caveats that follow, it is well worth reading.
But Wait—Isn’t God supposed to have the ultimate Allegiance of Christians?
So what is the problem with the phrase “ultimate allegiance of Christians?” It is that it evidences a profound lack of understanding of what allegiance is. Allegiance, in the way it is commonly used can no more be ultimate than unique can be “most.” Consider the primary definition given by most dictionaries and exemplified here by dictionary.com. It is, “loyalty of a citizen to his or her government, or of a subject to his or her sovereign.” It is immediately apparent that this type of allegiance cannot be divided. A sovereign is one’s highest authority. You can have many authorities, but only one can be highest.
That Robert Cornwall is referring to this sense of allegiance is apparent throughout the book in his consistent use of “ultimate allegiance” in relation to a Christian’s stance towards the State. He uses it in relation to issues where Christianity and government might find themselves in opposition. Consider this statement from the afterword of his book;
“As I consider the nature of this prayer and its call to give allegiance to the God of Jesus Christ, I can’t help but think of other statements of allegiance that I’ve made in life. I may not live in the midst of the Roman Empire, an empire that demanded the worship and veneration of the Emperor, but I do live in a country that requires my allegiance.”
While there is a second definition of allegiance (loyalty or devotion to some person, group, cause, or the like), this is clearly not the intention in this context. The issue at hand in this discussion is, who is sovereign—who is the highest authority in my life? To use the word ultimate as a modifier to allegiance in this context introduces a serious error when we consider Christian allegiance.
It suddenly demotes the word from the primary definition to the second sense. It holds out the possibility that a Christian can have allegiance to more than one entity. It makes Christianity a mere club—one of many entities with demands on my multiple loyalties. Unfortunately, neither the words of our King Jesus, nor of temporal governments allow for such a demotion.