Faith, Fidelity, Loyalty and Allegiance

Out at the prison we were in the book of Hebrews and reached the famous Chapter 11, described by some as the "Hall of Fame" of faith.

The chapter concludes with this:

And what more can I say? Time is too short for me to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the raging of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength in weakness, became mighty in battle, and put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead, raised to life again. Other people were tortured, not accepting release, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Others experienced mockings and scourgings, as well as bonds and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they died by the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, destitute, afflicted, and mistreated. The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and on mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.
This is a text that deepens what we mean by "faith." We often assume that the Greek word pistis means something thin, as in "belief." To have "faith" is to "believe."

But pistis (faith) means something much more than "belief." Pistis is better translated as fidelity, faithfulness, loyalty, and allegiance. To have faith means to keep faith -- to hold fast, to endure, to remain, to stay, to never falter or betray. Faith is an inseverable bond. An unbreakable promise. An unshakable commitment. An unwavering loyalty. Faith is courage, endurance, and steely resolve. Faith is the blood of the martyrs.

Another way to think about this, especially faith-as-allegiance, is that, in the Biblical imagination, there is no space for free moral agency. Every space has a Power or a Lord. The only option before you, therefore, is to whom you will swear allegiance. As Bob Dylan sang, "You've gotta serve somebody."

This is why the opposite of faith isn't "unbelief" but idolatry -- betraying your love, breaking your promise, serving another lord. And again, the issue of idolatry isn't here a mental game, a game of "believing" in this or that. Idolatry, says the theologian William Cavanaugh, is less about your metaphysical or ontological beliefs than a lifestyle that betrays your fundamental allegiances:  
Idolatry is not primarily considered to be a metaphysical error, a question of ontology. The key question is not what people believe but how they behave. What constitutes idolatry is usually not the mistaken attribution of certain qualities to material objects, but the attitude of loyalty that people adopt toward created realities ... Idolatry is primarily a way of life, not a metaphysical worldview ... the Bible appears to consider allegiance most commonly to be the decisive factor in separating idolatry from true worship.

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