I am reticent to write on American politics for a good number of reasons. But the current debacle in the election process to the upcoming November 2016 presidential election is making me think and wonder.
I wonder if many of us Christians either already have, or are in danger of losing our souls over American politics. I’m not necessarily referring to our ultimate salvation. But I’m referring to the heart of our faith and the gospel in the present. Although I don’t think the deviation I perceive helps us at all to remain on the straight and narrow.
I see this tendency as equally a problem among Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthoodox, not just the evangelicals who routinely are picked on and beaten up in the press and by each other. There is a tendency to see the state as the vehicle for the good life, for flourishing, in American terms, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The right, the left, and everything in the spectrum of American politics have plenty to say on this. It’s not my intention in this post to address any of that. I have my own opinions in regard to such politics, certainly subject to revision, but that’s not the point of this post, either.
My point is simple: Christians are to live and die for nothing less than the good news found in God’s grace and kingdom come in King Jesus, realized and lived out through both the sacramental and common life of the church. Within and from and through that is our answer to the problems of society: the problem of abortion, helping the poor, racism, stopping the slave trade, etc. Our answer is unique, grounded in Jesus Christ and the gospel.
Our mouth belies what is in our hearts. When all we can talk about is what is going on in American politics and what we think the answer is, and even how Christians ought to vote, we need to wonder, I need to wonder. One person, who I’ve admired for some time, and by whose ministry I’ve been blessed has all but lost their voice with me, because of their strong words which cannot be mistaken as to how Christians in their tradition and I imagine elsewhere ought to vote.
Our problem in significant part is that our gospel is too small. It is not the gospel found in the Bible. To really understand that gospel, we can’t just read the passages in which euaggelion is used, translated gospel, or good news. We need to read from Genesis through Revelation, to see the entire story and scope in that context. And how God’s answer to the human dilemma, and ultimately to everything is found in Jesus and begun in the church albeit ever so humbly, yet ever so real through the good news in him.
Instead the gospel is relegated to one’s personal relationship with God through Christ, or it’s made to fit into the agenda of a nation-state, specifically a political party. And surely other ways as well. It’s not pretty, because in all of that the world sees something other than Jesus. The world doesn’t need to see us at all, nor our ideas about how it ought to be run politically. Instead it needs to see Jesus. In doing so, it can begin to see the unique politic found only in and through him, begun now in the community of the church, hopefully impacting the politics of the world for good, but never as part of “the state.”
And Jesus is seen through the good news in him in no less than the church, his body in the world. We witness to a salvation which is meant not just for us, but for the world, to be realized at King Jesus’ return, but begun now in one place, in the church through the gospel. Hopefully impacting the world in the present, but that will always remain a dubious matter until Jesus returns and in judgment overturns the world-system, getting rid of the systemic evil once and for all in the salvation and love of God in and through him by the Spirit.
Until that comes, we need to be much more humble about the place of a nation-state’s politics in this world, learning to give our full allegiance to Jesus and the gospel in the fellowship of the church, and working on what that means in our witness through our life changes and good works. Not easy, but the needed change comes through that good news. The politics of this world having only a provisional place, important to be sure. But not at all fulfilling what only the gospel can fulfill not only for individuals’ lives, but ultimately for all of life in God’s good will in Jesus for the world.