In the midst of the end of a presidential election campaign, which is most contentious and divisive, we find Christians divided, yet also set in ways which might and in many cases does beg for what hopefully is a clarifying question, Where is the kingdom of God? Scot McKnight in his groundbreaking book, Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church, points out that God’s kingdom to many today resides in actions and agencies given to good works for the poor, such as well digging in Africa, or the fight against human trafficking, works like that. And such people hardly find it in the church at all.
In another ground breaking book, The Politics of Witness, by Allan R. Bevere, we are helped by seeing how the union of the church and the state begun in the Constantinian era, continues on in the United States, in a different way, yet essentially with the same basic result that the state is seen to be where the action takes place in regard to the lives of people, while the church is essentially the religious arm of the state.
And so for many today, at least Christians in the west, God’s kingdom is present in something other than the church. Granted that for many who are more traditional, God’s kingdom is present in the works of God through Christ by the Spirit in salvation, and in healings and miraculous powers. But for many the election and politics in general is of the utmost importance in determining God’s work in the world.
McKnight and Bevere help us see through the error of our way and to a better understanding, essentially to a better view of God’s kingdom in the world today. It is always in Jesus, found in the church through God’s redemptive work in Jesus, and begun in the church in and through royals sons and daughters through King Jesus. So that the function of the state is not only below that of the church, but doesn’t partake of the kingdom aspect which if found only in Jesus.
But this is where the tricky part comes in. So the kingdom of God work is confined to those within that kingdom in and through Jesus, that is, the church, fundamentally within the church itself, and out from the church in the proclamation of and witness to the gospel, along with the many good works accompanying it. And this happens in and through the church in the world, oftentimes at least appreciated, if not partially supported by the state. And the church in its kingdom ethic can influence the state as we have seen in the twentieth century through the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and with the end of apartheid in South Africa.
Voting or participation in the political process of a nation state is not necessarily inherently contradictory to one’s allegiance to God’s kingdom come in Jesus. And much can be at stake in terms of the good of people. And surely the state will be judged as to how it fulfilled its God given role of protecting and providing for the basic good of its citizenry and people within its borders. But it is so judged in the light of God’s kingdom found in Jesus within the church, so that the church is the outpost of God’s kingdom now present on earth in and through Jesus, with the responsibility of living that out with each other as a witness to the world the difference the gospel of God’s grace and kingdom in Jesus makes. So that we see the state as in a subsidiary role, and not the place of God’s kingdom, again found only in the church. So that come what may in November and beyond, the church will carry on in that reality and work in Jesus.