The kingdoms of this world are the national states. “All this I will give you if you worship me” – meaning the dragon who gave the beast power. “You shall serve God alone,” says Christ. You shall serve him absolutely and not only relatively as in the state. Jesus refused to become a Roman emperor like Nero. He became Jesus Christ, and love was fulfilled in Him.
— Eberhard Arnold, Christians and the State
All the nations are as nothing before Him, they are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless.
— Isaiah 40:17
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“Christ is all, and in all,” wrote Paul, epitomizing in a single sentence the essence of Pilgrim perspective.
It was some four centuries later that St. Patrick gave a decidedly Celtic twist to the same idea. His Lorica, though lyrical and loquacious in style, lacks none of the punch of the apostle’s terse six-word summary. Here’s a brief excerpt:
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me.
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise.
Christ in the heart of every one who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every one who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
Patrick and Paul agree. There is only one way to describe the Master’s claim upon His Pilgrim follower. It is total. It is absolute. It brooks no rivals and admits of no qualifications. It fills up the Pilgrim’s field of vision from horizon to horizon. How could it be otherwise when the Lord Himself stated the case in such uncompromising terms? “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.”
This is the meaning of the word allegiance. In its Latin derivation the term suggests the bond between slave and master. In its historical context it conjures up the image of a vassal knight, kneeling, palms together, swearing fealty to his liege lord. It denotes complete submission and unwavering loyalty. It is exclusive, all-consuming, and obligatory.
Allegiance is next on our list of distinctive Pilgrim values. It is unique to the connection between Christ and His disciple. For every other relationship there is just one standard of measurement: “Owe no one anything except to love one another” (Romans 13:8).
Make no mistake about it. There is a place for love of country, just as there is a place for love of one’s hometown, one’s alma mater, one’s neighborhood or clan; father and mother, wife and children, brothers, sisters, friends. But these loves, as Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms, are only relative. They have to be kept in perspective. In no sense can they be compared with the all-inclusive thing we call allegiance.
It is difficult to imagine loving the state. That would be like loving a machine. But the state is not thereby prevented from demanding our allegiance. This it does in varying degrees according to the particular form it takes; for totalitarianism is a graded continuum, and every state in every form falls into place somewhere along that sliding scale. It is precisely to this extent that the state merits a response of gentle but firm resistance on the part of the Pilgrim.
Such is the presumption of the state that in its quest for absolute dominion it does not shrink from requiring those beneath its sway even to kill and die on its behalf. Thus in one bold stroke it makes a total claim upon the life of the individual, neither knowing nor caring that in so doing it sets itself up as a rival to the One who is all in all.
For the Pilgrim, meanwhile, there can be no question of pledging allegiance to anyone or anything but Christ. After all, no man can serve two masters.
Not God and Mammon or God and Country.