I just finished writing a paper yesterday afternoon for one of my doctoral cognates on the importance of loyalty. I should share it with you. However, I can’t. Each paper written gets fed through a plagiarism tool that searches the internet. If I share it with you, and then, as is my custom, I post it online, if it hasn’t been checked by the tool before the professor grades it, I risk getting tagged unjustly.
In the meantime, know that I find the topic of loyalty in the Church interesting.
As Christians, while we might understand the essential benefits of loyalty, it may also seem counterintuitive to faith. I say this only as I hear the echoes of Saint Paul’s warning, “For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not being merely human?” (1 Corinthians 3:4). His point: blind devotion to anyone is a carnal craving. Human beings are fallible. To hang on to everything any single person says or does without discerning their adherence to truth is simply foolish. Humans are fallible—sometimes by accident, and other times, willfully. In this sense, loyalty is a tricky business.
During our Thursday chapel, I spoke with the children about the benefits of celebrating All Saints Day. I first explained what a saint is according to the biblical definition (a believer, a person set apart by the power of the Holy Spirit in faith). I then continued to share with them why it’s a good idea to remember and give thanks for those who’ve gone before us into the nearer presence of Christ in heaven. Our practice here at Our Savior is to say the names of the Christian members of our congregation who’ve died since last All Saints Day. We aren’t talking to them. We’re remembering them. And why? Well, because we’re loyal.
By loyal, I mean something Christological. It’s the kind of loyalty the world just can’t seem to figure out.
The ones we’ll mention during worship are believers who remained faithful to the end. They closed their eyes in the sleep of mortal death, having never stepped away from loyalty to Jesus, no matter the consequences. While on earth, such loyalty sometimes bore a hefty price tag. Some lost their friends and reputations. Some lost the love of family members. Some lost their jobs. It could be argued that during the time of Covid, because of what our government imposed, some even lost their lives. We want to remember that loyalty. We want to devote ourselves to giving it the attention it deserves. We want to give thanks for steadfast conviction, not only because it stands as proof of what the Gospel can do in the lives of frail human beings, but because we want the same courage for ourselves. We want to emulate these saints. We want to be as fiercely loyal to Christ until our last breath as they were. We want, as they wanted, to be living testaments of trust in Jesus so that one day we’ll be found before His throne as ever-living acknowledgments of His divine confession that “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13).
But there’s more we can learn here about loyalty.
I saw a meme that showed a zebra running alone while being chased by a lion. In the background stood the other zebras in the herd observing from afar. The words to the meme went something like, “A Christian who believes he doesn’t need the Church.” The point is well made. The Church is not only God’s chosen means for disseminating the Gospel of forgiveness throughout the world (Ephesians 3:10), but it is His body—His herd, with Him as its Shepherd (John 10:11-18). Apart from His herd, we’re more easily hunted and killed. But within the herd, we are among others who are devoted to our wellbeing (Acts 2:42), fellow saints put in place by Christ to build one another up (1 Thessalonians 5:11), parts of the same body that need the other parts and will protect those parts from harm (1 Corinthians 12:12-14).
In other words, as a herd, as a body, as a like-spirited family, the Church runs together. There’s a loyalty among us that’s born from our loyalty to Christ. While not the primary focus of the Lord’s various mandates for His Church to gather together, I hope you at least sense Christian loyalty in the current of its undertow. He knows that standing together—upholding one another in word and deed—meets with our ability to endure. Indeed, our God says as much through Saint Paul’s insistence that “when each part is working properly, (it) makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:16). God continues to encourage Christian loyalty when, through the writer to the Hebrews, He declares, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-3).
Notice he encouraged the reader to endure the race of faith after first reminding him of the great cloud of witnesses surrounding him. Also, take note of what the runners are doing during the race. As individual team members, we’re looking to Jesus, the One who endured through the perpetual night of Sin, Death, and hell as none of us can. Next, and as a team, it’s assumed we’re cheering one another on, encouraging each other to keep his or her eyes on that same victorious Jesus. There’s loyalty to be seen in this imagery. It’s a loyalty that functions when the race is easy. It’s also working overtime when the race is hard. It is far from what J.R.R. Tolkien described through Gimli to Elrond in The Fellowship of the Ring, “Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.” For Christians, it’s when the road is darkest that our loyalty beams most brightly.
Again, the world doesn’t understand this stuff. We shouldn’t expect it to understand. But we get it. Christian loyalty is genuine loyalty and bears a potency that, not-so-strangely, moves us to celebrate All Saints Day. And why? Because in its essence, All Saints Day is an opportunity for us to dig directly into that loyalty and say to one another while running, “Do you remember Lorraine? How about Tom and Donna? Brothers and sisters in the Lord, keep your eyes on Christ, just as they did. Don’t give up! Keep going! Endure by God’s grace! You’re almost there!”