The Meta-Politics of the Kingdom

We live in a time when Christians are struggling, perhaps like never before, with how to engage the world – the culture, the politics, society as a whole.  Are we to stand against the culture or be relevant to it?  Are we to engage politically or abstain?  What does faithfulness look like today?

Recently,  James Davison Hunter gave our modern Christian engagement a to change the worldscathing critique in To Change The World (Oxford Press, 2010).  He makes a strong argument that the way believers of all stripes – Evangelicals, Mainline Protestants, Neo-Anabaptists, and the rest – have engaged the broader American culture has been to the detriment of both the culture and the Christian message.  Consider these simple questions: When the average American thinks of a Christian, is it positively or negatively?  Are Christians generally considered loving or something less than loving?  Are disciples of Christ models in our society to be followed or not?

While it is certainly true that the values of the world do not always align with the values of Christ, and therefore being esteemed by the world is not the highest value, there is something to be said for having a good reputation among the citizens of this world (1 Peter 2.12).  W1-Peter-2.12hat has happened to the view of the Church in such a short period of time that an institution that once was seen as a good place to send your kids (even if you personally wanted nothing to do with it) is now seen by many as the primary promulgator of bigotry, racism, homophobia, and general falsehood in our world today?  Whether people are wrong in there assessment is basically irrelevant.  The question at hand is, “WHY?”.

The answer lies somewhere in our inability to speak truth in the world without losing our voice of love (Ephesians 4:15).  It lies somewhere in our inability to engage the world without becoming inextricably linked to the world’s systems and ideologies.  We have put our hope in political parties (varying, depending on the era and which branch of the Church you identify with), in passing certain laws (again, varying depending upon which church you worship in), and public figures/celebrities.

While these problems are real, the alternative sometimes posed is to remain apolitical.  If political engagement is creating as many problems as its solving (is it really solving any of them?) why not simply disengage?  But the Gospel does not allow Christians to be apolitical because the Gospel is about the kingdom of God.  Like any kingdom, this one has political realities attached to it.  When Jesus paid his tax to Caesar, that was a political act of obedience (Mark 12:17).  When the disciples spoke about following God instead of following the Sanhedrin, that was a political act of rebellion (Acts 5:29).  Whether you acquiesce or rebel, your actions will have a political element.

Not only is it impossible to be apolitical, it would not be allowed if it were possible.  Each believer is a citizen of the kingdom of God, a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20).  We are also ambassadors of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20).  As such, we are called to engage this political reality with the political reality of the Kingdom.  This isn’t politics as usual.  Nor is it apolitical.  This is a meta-politic.

religion_politics

Is there really no right way to turn in this highly charged political season?

I’m using the term meta-politics not for the political discourse about politics, but rather as the politics from above – the politics that rise above the politics of the earthly kingdoms precisely because they are the politics of heaven.  This is not some “middle way” or balanced approach that blends the Democratic and Republican platforms.  This is a Kingdom way that obliterates these platforms because they are not only wrong on so many particulars, but they are wrong in their very attempts to wield earthly power outside of the authority of God.  Because of this difference, even when the political parties get the details right, they still mess it up.

Of course, we know that this side of heaven, human institutions will always fail in this regard.  As believers, we must set our expectations properly.  There is no reason for us to believe that the politics of the world will ever correct all our problems.  However, there are degrees of distance from God’s best for us.  As Christians, we do well to search for ways to engage the systems of the world without becoming entangled in them.  This is the beginning of a meta-politic. This is the beginning of being the kind of ambassadors that, even when taking positions that the world hates, the world nevertheless must acknowledge our good deeds and glorify our Father in heaven.

I will be exploring what it would look like for believers to engage the world – politics, culture, our neighbors – in such a way that Christ is glorified, that actually makes things better instead of worse, and that allows us to have a good feeling when it’s all over.  I’m convinced that the politics of the Kingdom is the place to start.  Please join with me and share your thoughts below.

Advertisements

Finding The Key to Continuity

Growing up I knew the Gospel.  Or should I say the Gospels?

I knew that I was a sinner.  I knew that Jesus died for me.  I knew that if I accepted him as Lord and Savior, and prayed the sinners prayer, I would go to heaven.

I knew that the Apostle Paul taught about God’s work to reconcile all things to himself.  He planned to restore creation and make things right again.  I knew the lion would be best buds with the lamb, and the entire earth would be made new.  I didn’t know how this related to my life in heaven, but there it was.

I knew that Jesus preached the Gospel.  His Gospel presentation never asked people to accept his atoning death (of course, it hadn’t happened yet).  He never encouraged people to pray the sinners prayer.  He didn’t even talk about getting into heaven on the basis of someone else’s righteousness.  His Gospel included casting out demons.  He preached freedom for the captives and taught a message of hope for the brokenhearted.  I knew that somehow Israel was going to be blessed.

What I didn’t know was how any of this made sense together.  What did my prayer have to do with the future of Israel and the consummation of time?  Why were there multiple Gospels?

Then I learned about the thread that is woven through all these perspectives and teachings on the Gospel.  I learned about the Kingdom.  It is the teaching of the Kingdom that helped me to make sense of all of this.  To see how, first we need to know what the Kingdom is.

The manifestation of God's will is the manifestation of the Kingdom.

The manifestation of God’s will is the manifestation of the Kingdom.

I’ll forgo a prolonged explanation here. Simply put, the Kingdom is the rule of God over creation.  It is the fulfillment of the will of God.  It is the state of everything living in Shalom (a unifying peace, wholeness, and rightness governing creation).  The Kingdom is the manifestation of all the good things God intended for everything he made.

When Jesus preached the Gospel, he told of the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven (a euphemism for the Kingdom of God).  When he cast out demons or fed the five thousand or healed the sick and raised the dead, he was manifesting the will of God and so was manifesting the Kingdom.  This is how life should have been had sin not entered into the world.  People would be healthy.  There would be no hunger or injustice.  Evil spirits would have no power of humanity.  Prior to his death and resurrection, this was the sign that God was working to initiate his sovereign rule directly over Israel again.  These acts were signs that Jesus was the King.

Paul then made clear that this inauguration of the kingdom was not just for Israel, but for the whole world.  God was working through Jesus to bring this kind of renewal to all creation.  The ministry of reconciliation and redemption is the work of bringing people into right relationship with God and renewing all things.  Paul spoke of Jesus returning in triumph to finalize the work of the Kingdom and to ultimately rule.

The Ark of the Covenant is the throne found in the throne room of God's palace, the Temple.

The Ark of the Covenant is the throne found in the throne room of God’s palace, the Temple.

John’s Revelation also makes clear that the intended result of Jesus’ work is his rule over creation and the ultimate defeat of evil, sin, and death.  Jesus is the King.  His actions have socio-political implications that will result in peace and justice for every person and every created thing.  Finally, God will create a new heaven and new earth.  We will live out eternity on this newly formed earth that mirrors Eden, how God created everything in the beginning.

And my personal relationship with Jesus?  By accepting Christ and his work I am entering into this Kingdom.  I am called out of the Kingdom of Darkness and into the Kingdom of the Son.  I become a citizen of heaven.  I become a new creation.  It isn’t just about getting saved from fire and brimstone (which is also happening), but it is also about changing my allegiance from one Kingdom to another.  From one king to the King over all creation.

This Kingdom thread starts in Eden, courses through the Exodus and Conquest and Exile and Return, is profoundly foretold in the Prophets, gets prime attention in the teachings of Jesus, and are worked out in the rest of the New Testament with its final culmination in the last events of Revelation.

This is the key to understanding the ongoing work of God through time and how my life fits into it.

God Loves Dedham – Part 3

4.  We must rely on the Holy Spirit to guide us and empower us to fulfill the mission of the Church.  When Zechariah was prophesying to the exiled nation of Israel about rebuilding the temple, he received a night revelation from God saying, “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty” and “Who despises the day of small things?” Zechariah 4.6, 10  What Zechariah was calling us to do was to re-establish God’s throne (the Temple) on the earth.  What we’re called to do is not much different.  But we cannot do it by our own strength and our own wisdom.  We must be yielded to God’s vision and purposes.  If it seems like an impossible task, don’t worry.  It is!  But with God, nothing is impossible.  If it seems like we can’t do enough, don’t worry.  We can’t!  But God starts with humble beginnings.  The Lord will empower us, guide us, and make a way for us if we’ll only be faithful to step out and trust him.  “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him…” 2 Chronicles 16.9  Of course, in context, king Asa learned that those who are not fully committed to God will not receive that strengthening   He would be at war the rest of his days because he relied on his own ability and alliances instead of relying upon God.  Let us not fall into that trap!
5.  We must expand our vision to the size of the Kingdom.  Jesus was described in Isaiah 43 as a competent tool for God, the servant.  He was a sharpened sword and a polished arrow.  But he was ineffectual in his mission (Israel did not respond well to the servant in Isaiah, nor did they respond well to Jesus when he came).  He says, “I have labored to no purpose, I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing.”  Isaiah 43.4  His mission was futile.  But God responded in verse 6, “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept.  I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”  Of course, it wasn’t that Jesus was a failure or that he didn’t anticipate the broader vision of restoring the whole world.  The point is that sometimes the vision is too small and the Spirit does not empower the vision.  God has a bigger vision.  Once we catch the larger vision, the power of God is infused into it.  Then, both the larger and the smaller vision are accomplished.  As Paul makes clear in Romans 11, it is the salvation of the Gentiles that leads to the salvation of the Jews.
Sometimes we are so focused on the smaller vision of our own churches.  Our labor can seem fruitless, or at best limited.  We must catch the larger vision of the Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom vision is what makes the local church strong.  The reality of God’s will on earth as it is in heaven is what makes the reality of the church possible.  In the economy of God, anything spent on the Kingdom is repaid in the church.  Dream bigger dreams with God and the little dreams will come true.  God will empower the work that he calls us to, and he has called us to Kingdom work first (Matthew 6.33 “But seek first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”).  As the Kingdom of God expands and grows, the churches will all be blessed.  At least those that are mindful of the Kingdom will be blessed.  From my perspective, if my church fails while the Kingdom succeeds, I have faithfully executed my calling.  My hunch is that the aforementioned scenario is all but impossible.  If I’m faithful to the Kingdom the church will stand, and stand strongly.