Dan's Thoughts on Oaths I've Taken

Lately I've been thinking on some of the oaths I've taken throughout my life. I think the interest has been brought on by Allen's and my participation in Boy Scouting. At the Scout meetings we recite the Scout Oath, and I think of saying it when I was a Scout myself, some 30-ish years ago. I think of what it means to me now. And, as I watch Allen recite it, I think of the character qualities I'm working to instill in him, and in the other Scouts in our troop.

The Scout Oath (also called the Scout Promise), originally published in the first Boy Scout Handbook, in 1911, is as follows:

On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.

It strikes me, now after all these years, that this is a profound statement of character principles, and a significant obligation to take, all in just a few simple words. I'm sure young Scouts don't analyze it very deeply, but the constant repetition sinks it deep into their minds. It certainly did for me; at my first Scout meeting with Allen, after 26 years away from Scouting, it was all still there, verbatim.

By the way, since the Scout Oath references the Scout Law, the Scout Law is:

A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.

That's a pretty tall order, too, but a good concise way of summing up all the admired and respected principles we want for ourselves and expect from others.

So, since I got thinking about that, I thought of other oaths I've taken. Two come to mind:

The first is also Boy Scout related. I was elected, as a Scout, to become a member of the Order of the Arrow, the national honor and service society of Boy Scouting. In the process of membership, I took the Obligation, as it's called:

I do hereby promise on my honor as a Scout that I will always and faithfully observe and preserve the traditions of the Order of the Arrow, Wimachtendienk, Wingolauchsik, Witahemui. I will always regard the ties of Brotherhood in the Order of the Arrow as lasting and will seek to preserve a cheerful spirit even in the midst of irksome tasks and weighty responsibilities, and will endeavor, so far as in my power lies, to be unselfish in service and devotion to the welfare of others.

So, another very substantial promise, but one certainly worth aspiring to. (The Indian words in the Obligation simply mean "the Brotherhood of Cheerful Service.")

The other oath I think of is my Oath of Office as an officer in the U.S. Air Force. It, too, is a solemn promise, signifying a willing adoption of responsibilities and obligations.

I, Daniel E. Bullock having been appointed a Major, United States Air Force, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States, against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter, so help me God.

One thing I notice as I write these down...there's no end point. When I took these oaths -- when I made these promises -- it wasn't just for that day, or week, or year. Even in the USAF Oath of Office, the "office upon which I am about to enter" is my rank. In my case, as a retired officer, I still hold the rank of Major. Oh, my duties are different now, of course, but I still have a promise in effect to "well and faithfully discharge" them!

I take all of these promises seriously, too, even now. I can't argue with the value of any of them, and I still strive to live according to them.

One other thing left to mention, though, is that some of my fellow believers in Jesus choose to avoid taking oaths. I think Christians of good conscience can differ on this point, and I will not try to dissuade anyone from their prayerfully held convictions.

The basis for this choice is found in Matthew 5:33-37. the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one."

That's pretty clear. In fact, the Air Force allows those who will not swear to say, "...do solemnly affirm..."

God himself swore oaths, but of course, he keeps his promises. "Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham." Gen 26:3 NIV

My conviction on it, after study and prayer, however, is that Jesus has instructed me through his Word that I am not to swear by anything. I am not to use an oath to try to convince anyone I am being truthful. I must not take an oath carelessly. And, of course, if I take an oath, I must honor that commitment. (References in Leviticus 5:4, Numbers 30:2, and Psalm 15 are left as an exercise for the reader.) To me, the oaths I've quoted here are simply promises to do certain things.