What’s Wrong with Swearing Oaths? (Matthew 5:33-37; James 5:12)

Why is swearing a roadblock to honesty? What is the problem with swearing oaths (Mt 5:33-37; Js 5:12)?

Oaths divide speech into two camps — honest speech, and less honest speech.

It is not that the oath is in itself wrong, but that it divides speech into two levels. Some statements are sworn to and thus must be true, while others are just normal speech and may not be. … Oaths are dangerous, for they make some speech more honest than other speech. (Peter Davids)

As such, to use an oath (or to swear) is to admit that you are someone who is normally dishonest, someone who can’t be trusted. It is an admission that, outside of using oaths, you are a less than trustworthy person, that your commitment to truth is suspect and needs to be buttressed and strengthened. Oaths are only needed because your speech is unreliable.

Swearing (i.e., oath-taking) is really a pathetic confession of our own dishonesty. Why do we find it necessary to introduce our promises by some tremendous formula? … The only reason is that we know our simple word is not likely to be trusted. (John Stott)

Oaths seems to imply that some speech is more lax and less serious with regards to honesty. The use of oaths implicitly downgrades the expectations for honesty elsewhere. But we are a people who believe that all speech is binding — we are held accountable for the integrity all of our speech, not just sworn speech.

Thus, as people who are called to absolute honesty, swearing and oaths should have no place among Christians. Our commitment to truth should be so consistent and dependable that there is no need for us to buttress our speech with swearing or taking oaths. Our plain speech is good enough. It’s trustworthy as it is.

Question: Should Christians Pledge Allegiance to a Flag?

Recent events have rekindled an old question:

Should Christians — whose ultimate and only unqualified allegiance is to Christ — pledge their allegiance to a national flag, or similarly (but maybe a little different) participate in a national anthem? This in light of the fact that a nation’s interests and activities may — and quite expectantly will — in ways conflict with one’s Christian convictions? But also this in balance with Biblical imperatives to submit to our government and give honor and respect to whom it is do (e.g., Rom 13)? (But even this — at least the imperative to submit — is not unqualified [see, for example, Acts 5:29]).

And, to nuance this properly, if Christians were to abstain from such activities, would they do so as an absolute principle (e.g., never pledging due to its inherent inappropriateness, like many anabaptists hold) or only in particular cases and for particular reasons? And if the latter, in what incidences should we abstain (e.g., one could think of a nation’s legalization of the killing of the unborn as a potential legitimization)? What criteria should we use to determine these sorts of incidences?

It would seem that most Christians would draw the line somewhere. (For example, I can’t imagine that many of us would be comfortable giving our allegiance to Nazi Germany.) As such, I’m not sure we can blankety reject the idea out of hand. We can debate the when and where; but I’m not sure we should debate if or whether.

In other words, if our response is an unthoughtful, gut reaction of “[Bleep] no, ’cause… well, ‘Merica! I’m a patriot, gosh darnit!” I’m not sure that’s the best ethical system. These are definitely things to be thought through. And — personal confession — I’ll admit, I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with these things (i.e., pledge of allegiance, national anthem) out of principle.