If one lives in a vacuum, an empty space which is meant to be occupied, it will certainly sooner or later be filled with something: good, bad, or maybe a mixture of both. For example, the heart figuratively speaking, is meant to both have companionship, as well as to seek a fulfillment probably corresponding to what people would call happiness, or a sense of being content, and even satisifed.
Augustine said that the heart is restless until it finds its rest in God. In society at large, people end up having all kinds of idols, or things which replace God, even though none of those things actually can.
But if we in Jesus think we’re secure from this problem, even from idolatry itself, we’re mistaken, and just kidding ourselves. Ezekiel speaks of the idols of the heart, and Calvin rightfully noted that this is a struggle with believers, not just with those outside of the church.
The problem might not even end up being idolatrous, but may very well be about things misplaced, and yet tending toward being idolatry. I am thinking about the politics of this world, and of the church and state. Ever since the Constantinian change, the church has had a vested interest in the state. Before that, the church was a subculture, which at times was severely persecuted by the state, specifically by the Roman emperor. But after the change, the tables were turned, and only Christians, those who were baptized as infants, could be in the military. The Roman Empire became “Christian.” And so the church and the state were joined together, the state ultimately having the upperhand for the most part, although theologians, sometimes at great personal cost still exerting an enduring influence for the church itself.
Fastforward to the present day, and specifically to the United States of America. This new nation wanted to break the Old World mold of church and state, under the influence of the then trending worldview, the Modernist Enlightenment. They were determined to not have a church state, yet they also wanted the blessing of the church upon the state. And along with the Enlightenment, it was Protestant Christianity which by and large was the predominant construct giving meaning to life, including even for most who had no faith at all.
Even though this new nation was different, yet there was still a relationship of church and state which seemed more or less binding to both. Not as much for the state, as for the church. But the state wanted to benefit from the morality the church would provide. And the church depended on the state, not only for the religious freedom they had, but as an authority which gave the church legitimacy as a part of society. The church in many cases may have been better than that, standing well on its own. And it’s not to say, that the church shouldn’t be a part of a city, albeit a very distinct part, for sure.
The rub, or problem is evident when we consider the present day. The state may be so invested in the church, and the church invested in the state, that they end up being for all intents and purposes, essentially one again, even though not following the model of old Europe. That is why we have Christians, and even churches which today are known to be Democratic, or Republican; leaning left or leaning right. And acting as if the choice is a matter of life and death.
Now we need to back up a bit, and backpedal as it were to get our eyes off the “Constantinian turn” and aftermath, and back into the pages of scripture, specifically of the New/Final Testament. We need to read them over and over again, and attempt to let them speak for themselves. And if we do, I think we’ll find something like this: The church’s allegiance is to one lord, the Lord King Jesus. But under that allegiance, the church is told to honor those in positions of governing authority within the state. But the church does so out of obedience to one Lord, Christ.
And there’s one Good News/Gospel. Jesus is Lord, and God’s grace and kingdom are present in him. So that how we’re to live now as the church is how all people in the end will live in God’s kingdom destined to rule the world when King Jesus returns. Directives are given in that regard with reference to the present evil world (see Matthew 5-7, Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, as a prime representation of that). And read metaphorically, as the book itself largely is, and read sanely, the book of the Revelation (the last book in our Bibles) gives us the end of the story in which light we’re to live now (see especially the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3).
The problem in the present day is that too many of us Christians, and too many of our churches are invested, and sometimes heavily it seems, in the politics of this world, in what is going on in Washington, D. C., for example, rather than the politics of Jesus. When we think of politics, we don’t think New Testament and God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus. Rather we think of the politics of this world, as in the Republican or Democratic Party, or some other entity within that framework. And our ideology is derived very much from something of this world, which I know some would argue can be a part of God’s general revelation and gift to humankind, and understood correctly, in its place, I would agree. But such is never meant to replace the witness of the church in the world to the one Gospel, and one Lord, and the salvation in him which is not just a personal, moral salvation, but along with that a salvation which begins to impact all of life in every sphere beginning through Jesus within the church itself, and out from that as a light and in terms of service, impacting the world.
I may vote one way or another, or not vote at all when it comes to the politics of this world, though if anything, our participation especially in local as well as state elections might be more important than our participation in national elections, though surely both have their place. What we have to avoid, and I’m afraid we have to end up fighting to avoid, since it seems such an inherent part of who we are, is a dependency and corresponding allegiance to an entity of this world, essentially replacing what can only be found in and through Christ and within the church. Meant for the world, but not from the world. In and through King Jesus.
A book I would highly recommend on this, The Politics of Witness, by Allan R. Bevere. An eye opening, must read.