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Who will you serve? -Washington Daily News

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Who will you serve?

Posted at 17:01, Wednesday, November 9, 2022

As an infant baptized in 1948, I have been a Christian for longer than I can remember. At least in name. (It was my parents’ idea to get baptized. I don’t remember being consulted.)

By the 1970s, I was mature enough to confirm their decision and become a serious student of Scripture and theology. Long enough to learn that as a Christian I had to put God first and rely on God alone – no need for competitors.

“Thou shalt have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3). The ultimate allegiance of Jews and Christians must be to God alone. Before any “power or principality” that would claim their ultimate trust and loyalty. The central prayer of Judaism is the Shema Yisrael: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” The Christian Nicene Creed begins as follows: “I believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty.”

God’s interest in the Bible in exclusive faithfulness is often portrayed as intense jealousy, like the jealousy of a husband for his wife. The prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Hosea called Israel’s worship of other gods spiritual adultery.

I went to grammar school in the 1950s. My classmates and I began every morning by putting our hands over our hearts and pledging allegiance to the “flag of the United States of America.” In middle school and high school, I was reminded of moments in American history when that “star-spangled flag” flew proudly and to this day it still flies majestically “over this land of the free and home of the brave.”

Public school systems across the country expect their students to honor the nation’s history by pledging their ultimate allegiance to its flag and traditions. A seemingly reasonable request for a nation whose forefathers fought and died for the values ​​of freedom and democracy.

However, this expectation became a problem for me when I began to study the Scriptures seriously and came to believe that God and God alone deserved my allegiance.

Perhaps now you can appreciate my dilemma. If I had to choose between America and God, which would I choose? If given a choice between the platforms of the Democratic or Republican parties or the political/economic dictates of the Bible, which is more deserving of my allegiance?

After more than 50 decades of studying and pondering these questions, I have come to the conclusion that all claimants to the throne of God are suspect. For those of the Jewish or Christian faith, trust and devotion to the God of the Old and New Testaments comes before allegiance to ANY other god – even the gods of one’s own nation. “Thou shalt have no other god but me.” Point. Microphone drop. Point.

I sometimes envy those for whom this is not a problem – those who believe that loyalty to God and loyalty to the Nation can always coexist, regardless of what the Nation may ask its citizens to do or believe. I doubt it’s really possible, but I understand the need to make an effort.

However, God could not have made it any clearer. Both God and Nation can be worthy of devotion. But not with is equal dedication The two should never merge to such an extent that they become indistinguishable.

What happens when local churches display flags on their property and patriotic drapes in their sanctuaries to the point that national symbols prevail over Christian symbols and the faithful forget that Jesus was crucified on an imperial cross.

After the crossing of the Jordan River into the Promised Land and the conquest of the land of Canaan, Joshua, the leader of the Jews, advised his people to confirm their devotion to Yahweh by choosing him and only him to worship: “…choose here and now whom you will worship…” The people were given a choice between Yahweh, the god of Moses, and the national gods of the land they now occupied. “But as for me and my family,” said Joshua, “we will worship the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15) And the people said: Amen – “We will also worship the Lord.”

The Holy Scriptures and the traditions of the Christian Church affirm without doubt that there is only one God. Only one Lord and Savior. And it is to this God that Jews and Christians are commanded to place their ultimate trust, obedience, and loyalty.

Polk Culpeper is a Washington resident and retired Episcopal priest.

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