by Elizabeth Prata
I’m reading about missionary William Borden. The book is by Mrs. Howard Taylor called Borden of Yale ’09. William Borden was an extraordinary man, dedicating his life to Christ from an early age. I’m to the part now in the book where young Borden is entering his second year of college at Yale, and he has a decision to make.
At that time, (1906-07), sophomores needed to decide whether they would enter a fraternity or not by the beginning of their sophomore year. If they did not decide to go into a feeder frats in sophomore and junior year, then the senior frats automatically wouldn’t accept you. It was sophomore year or nothing.
Adding pressure to Borden’s decision whether or not to join, was the fact that his own uncle founded Wolf’s Head, considered one of the reputed “Big Three” societies at Yale, along with Skull and Bones and Scroll and Key. His own brother was a member of Wolf’s Head, too.
What’s the big deal? you may ask. It’s a standard activity for young men to join a fraternity. Why Borden’s hesitation?
Borden’s conscience bothered him. He had some thorny issues to work out. His best friend Charles Campbell recounted the questions Borden wrestled with as the deadline for joining a frat approached. Questions such as:
‘Could a Christian go into a secret society?’
‘Would such action harm or help our work for Christ?’
‘As a Christian, can we go into a society of which we know nothing of its activities and therefore understand nothing about it?’
‘Would this society be forming a clique that would exclude fellowship with others who may need the Gospel?’
‘Would this society come between him and God?’
‘Can I swear allegiance to a secret, man-made organization?’
Campbell was amazed at Borden's thought process. He wrote, "We had taken the the society system very much for granted, we had never questioned whether it was right or wrong for one of us to join a fraternity. But Bill took nothing for granted. He was a servant of Jesus Christ and everything must be tested and bear the stamp of Christ's approval before he would enter upon it."
Borden’s thought process affected his friends, as Campbell revealed he himself was astonished at such a humble approach to biblical decision-making. Laying everything down at Christ’s feet with careful thought beforehand, taking nothing for granted as a servant of Christ, was a transformative thought for Campbell and those in Borden’s sphere.
The notion of Christians swearing allegiance is not new but something that isn’t spoken of much these days. As I read the chapter about Borden’s decision whether or not to join a frat at Yale, I was remembering a similar scene that John MacArthur recounted from his own youth. MacArthur was about the same age as Borden at the time this incident happened. He related his experience as a member of a local labor union. Labor unions are also societies of people who are united with one purpose, committed to one another, and swear allegiance to the union. MacArthur said,
By the way, that’s not unlike some unions today. I remember when I was in a union for a brief time when I was working in school as a kid. I went down to the union hall because they said I had to be sworn in to the union. And so a man got up in front of about 600 people who were all there for this union meeting and he said, “I want all of the new people to stand up,” and I stood up and he said, “Now I want you to raise your right hand and swear.” Well, I don’t swear to anybody but the Lord. So I didn’t raise my hand and I didn’t say anything, I just stood there. And they said, “Do you swear to have allegiance to local 770, it was, the retail clerk’s union? Do you” – and it went on and on throughout all of this stuff and I didn’t put my hand up because in my simple understanding of my Christianity, I don’t swear by anything. My word is good. My yea is yea and my nay is nay. And I just felt that my conscience wouldn’t let me put my hand up, and I didn’t want to swear allegiance to anybody but Jesus Christ, and I had no idea what I was getting into and what I’d have to be held to if I did swear. So while I was standing there without my hand in the air, a man grabbed me by the neck and threw me out of the building and asked me why I didn’t put my hand up. And I explained to him that I was a Christian and my allegiance was to Jesus Christ and that I would be a faithful and dutiful employee and do everything that I was told, but I wouldn’t swear my allegiance to anyone other than Christ.
So, they picked me up bodily; the guy threw me on the street on Hollywood Boulevard. And then, of course, they came back next week to get my dues and get me back in again. And at that point I submitted, [without swearing] I was willing to be a part; I just didn't feel I could pledge my allegiance to any other than Jesus Christ. (Source 1; Source 2).
The takeaways this morning are two-fold. First, do we think like Borden, laying everything down at the altar of Jesus in consideration of how our decisions may hinder or help the cause of Christ, even something as seemingly insignificant or normal as joining a fraternity or a union? And secondly, how careful are we in swearing oaths and vows?
The scripture mentioned in MacArthur’s story is from Matthew 5:37, But make sure your statement is, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil origin.
MacArthur’s codicil about joining and swearing and making oaths: Now, that was my own conscience at that point; I’m not trying to set down a law for you. But I think that’s the rule by which you have to function in the economic political world in which we live. You’ve got to be responsible as a Christian. God doesn’t give you these kind of pat answers, “Don’t strike,” “Do this,” and so forth. You’ve got to work your own situation under the energy and the power and direction of the Holy Spirit
Do we test everything and lay it down at Christ’s feet for approval? 1 Thessalonians 5:21 says,
but test everything; hold fast what is good.