review of “The Politics of Witness: The Character of the Church in the World,” by Allan R. Bevere (part one)

There are few things taken less seriously yet at the same time more seriously than politics. What I mean is that while we disdain so much of the political process, understandably so, given all the questionable gamesmanship which seems part of its routine, we also take few things more seriously than some of politics’ most important aspects, such as the upcoming presidential election here in the United States.

Allan R. Bevere, in his book, The Politics of Witness: The Character of the Church in the World challenges us to take another look at what we’ve long taken for granted. He wants us to see that for followers of Jesus, the politics that matter most, in fact that will go on while worldly political systems come and go is the politics that come from the kingdom of God in Jesus played out in the church.

That may seem counterintuitive to us, after all it seems like the church is either a non-player, or subtly aligned in the political process on one side or the other (speaking from the American standpoint). To think that the church itself is the center of politics as far as God’s rule is concerned, makes no sense to us, who are trained to see the church as completely nonpolitical.

We should attempt to define politics. I would say it is the way humans order themselves in a society. The order requires some kind of organization and impulse to govern the society in its domain. Of course how that’s worked out in the world, and even in the church can vary in all sorts of ways. It certainly was different in Israel of old  in David time, from the Roman empire in Tiberius’ time (during Jesus’ ministry and crucifixion), from America today, from the church in the beginning at Jerusalem, from the church with all kinds of differences in its various churches throughout the world yesterday and today,  etc.  The Free Dictionary online  defines politics as, “The art or science of government or governing, especially the governing of a political entity, such as a nation, and the administration and control of its internal and external affairs.”

Allan Bevere is not challenging the nations’ responsibility to govern. But he is challenging the understanding that God’s kingdom rule is through the nations. Instead he is insisting that God rules the world in his kingdom come in Jesus through the one holy nation, the church. This is not to deny that something of God’s sovereign rule is at work among the nations. But his kingdom consists of those in Jesus, under the authority of King Jesus. The church through Jesus is carrying on Israel’s role as God’s people. And that role is to be a blessing to the nations through Jesus the Messiah as the one through whose rule the nations are blessed. In other words, the church inherits the blessing of Abraham which is not meant just for itself, but for the world.

The church does this in significant part by being the light of the world, God’s light in Jesus shining on the nations in regard to both its inworking as church, and its outworking to the world. The good news or gospel is that Jesus is King. God’s grace and kingdom is present in King Jesus’ rule which is mediated now by the Spirit through the church. It includes the proclamation that Jesus is Lord and King. And in Jesus there is salvation through his death and resurrection, his ascension, and the sending of the Spirit, and his return when at last he will turn over the kingdom to the Father, that God may be all in all. But until then God reigns by the ascended Jesus in the Spirit through the church on earth. We don’t always or even often understand how, but we accept by faith that this is so, understanding this from God’s written word, scripture. That through the church God’s manifold wisdom will be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, even if this is not as evident to earthly rulers and authorities.

If this is so, why has it not been understood and practiced by the church especially in places like Europe and America? That we will pick up tomorrow, in the second part of the review of this book, as I further attempt to lay out my understanding of what Allan is saying.

part two
part three
part four
part five, the conclusion