where is our place as God’s people in King Jesus in the political process of this world?

Jesus is Lord. Neither Caesar, nor the current world power, the United States is. But since we live in a democracy which in theory is a government of “we the people,” normally we at least enter into the conversation on what is happening on the American political front. But we too often align ourselves on one side or the other, so that we’re known as Christians- not as those devoted to the politics of Jesus and God’s grace and kingdom come in him, but instead to the politics of the right, or the left (or even the center) of the world.

There are all kinds of problems in this, but first and foremost is our failure to grasp that the gospel itself is political, because the good news of God in Jesus is about a Messiah who is King of kings, and Lord of lords, and who reigns somehow in and through the church (Ephesians 1). This reign is destined to take over the earth only when he returns, but nevertheless is present now in a people who are to be marked as followers of the Way in the way of Jesus, the way of the cross, and who live by the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) in the grace and kingdom of God. That may seem like a tall, indeed impossible order, but it is possible by God’s grace, in fact that is to what we are called.

I for one hold not only a certain respect, but also appreciation for the United States of which I am a citizen. Yes, it has its faults as has always been the case, and some of them are quite serious. But in a fallen world, there is much to be thankful for when one can worship in freedom, and have the opportunities granted here. Yes, for some it’s much harder, no doubt. And we have to be careful not to idolize any state, so that we end up making Caesar Lord, instead of giving him the deference due under the Lordship of Christ.

We in Jesus will line up in every way possible on the American political spectrum, surely mostly due to our take on and evaluation of the issues. What we must not lose sight of is what’s most important of all, in fact what we in Jesus are called to live by as his followers and witnesses in this world. In doing so, we can help the kingdoms of this world the way the Jewish exiles of old were to pray for the good of the kingdom where they lived, so that in its prosperity, they too would prosper, of course through the blessing and mercy of God.

We care, but we are different. Read the Sermon on the Mount again (Matthew 5-7) if you doubt that. And read the entire New (Final) Testament, and keep reading it. Of course keep reading the Old (First) Testament as well. The more we do this, the better for our witness to Jesus and the gospel, the good news in him. And the better for the nation where we live. We are citizens of heaven, first and foremost, the heaven that is destined to come down to earth in Jesus, and is lived out now in the way of Jesus. A way counter to, yet for the actual good of the present order of this world. So that we hope for the good of the nation in which we live, as well as the good of all other nations. But live as those whose one Lord is Jesus.

what it means to follow King Jesus in a political world

Unlike those in Bible times, we live in a democratic society, which complicates our reading and application of scripture. If you read nothing more, read this, which is an excellent application of scripture in light of that.

When it comes to the politics of this world, I think we in Jesus need to apply the politics of Jesus, and the politics of the kingdom, and while that will surely impact our position on any issue, for example the refugee issue, it’s not as simple as either lining up with one party or candidate, or opposing another party or candidate. And in the end, though it may well affect the way we vote (or not vote, and if we vote at all), it ends up being solely about one thing for us: living for Jesus and for the gospel.

I do pay some attention to the politics of this world, and especially so, since I live in a democracy in which I can participate directly and indirectly in the process. While I think Christians can become unduly entangled in a mess when it comes to politics, I also think there might be some good we can do, especially as advocates for the poor, oppressed, and helpless. And we may want policies which help our families, all well and good, but we need to beware of making it all about us, what we want, what is best for us.

To understand what it means to follow King Jesus, we surely need to practice what John R. W. Stott advocated in his book, Between Two Worlds. He lived before the digital revolution, so he wrote of having the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in another. The problem in any age, but it seems particularly acute today, is the reality that the digital and news of the day can easily swallow up most all of our time, so that we end up being very little in the Bible at all. And after all, haven’t many of us read it through (or heard it read) at least a number of times?

But to follow King Jesus here and now, we need an interactive relationship both with scripture and with the world in which we live. But we must think of it, if we’re to follow King Jesus, not in terms of what the world wants, but what Jesus wants. And the root of that must be in the revelation we find in scripture of Jesus, and the good news in him. And we live that out from and within our communion as the church.

We must beware of getting caught up and entangled in either the Christian right or left, or the political right or left. Instead, we’re to follow Jesus. And in that communion, that fellowship, we are united to those who may see differently when it comes to the politics of this world, but with whom we’re united in the common goal of following Jesus, and obeying him, as well as living from and witnessing to the gospel, the good news in him.

That must be our goal, even our heart, and nothing less.

rest in a restless age

Sometimes after a rough and tumble, or sheer out and out exhausting week, all we need is rest, and nothing more. I love vacations of rest, just Deb and I, though to have the kids and grandkids with us would be quite alright with us, as well. But we all need those times of doing very little, or nothing at all. And doing it slowly, or as we please.

In the world today, there is a hyperactive sort of goings on, which has people’s full attention. We shouldn’t necessarily ignore it, or turn a blind eye toward it. But neither should we be in a stew over it. Instead we need to rest in the one who actually is King of kings and Lord of lords, who is over all, and who, from his throne at the right hand of the Father, has been given “all authority in heaven and on earth.”

We in Jesus from that rest and reality, are to go and make disciples of all nations, that is our calling. We are not to get caught up in the muck and mire of the world’s politics, but we’re to be taken up with “the politics of Jesus,” which certainly includes care for the unborn, those oppressed and in need, the refugee, etc. Yes, we should be speaking out on those issues and praying and contributing as we’re led.

But our main concern must be to follow the one to whom we’re called, to be in line with the commission given to us in this age until he returns. Our answer to this world’s problems, and to the question of how to approach them is not from any political entity or ideology of this world, but only from the politics of Jesus. We might well support with reservations and from a distance means employed to correct evil and reward as well as bring good. But we are believers in one hope, one good news, one kingdom, all in Jesus, and in God’s grace, mercy and peace in him. That is where we live, and learn to rest, come what may.

think biblically

In the firestorm of today’s news, some of which is exceedingly sad, and perhaps all the more in the political climate of today, and any day, for that matter, we need to aspire to learning to think biblically.

Just to look at the Bible alone, as if we could do so, as it were, in a vaccum, which is impossible, but again, just to consider the Bible alone is challenging. I resort to what has been called a redemptive hermeneutic (hermeneutic essentially means interpretation), so that the Bible is a story which points to an ultimate conclusion, which is a fitting end to the beginning, but takes seriously everything in between. So that, while there’s harmony in the sense that the story follows a certain path, we find unexpected twists and turns along the way, even in the First Testament alone, but especially so in the Second, Final Testament, when Jesus fulfills all of scripture in ways which were not anticipated by those who lived during that time, or prior. But the seeds of which one can arguably clearly enough find in the First Testament.

From there, we have to consider present day thinking, where that came from, how it is entrenched in society, and in our own thinking. If we’re beginning to get the first goal of arriving to good Biblical thinking, true to that text and its fulfillment in Jesus, then we are ready to consider how we really think in everyday life, what our thinking actually is, which likely will be a reflection of the thinking of the world in which we live. And we have to critique that in the light of biblical thinking.

Where I live, the United States, our language and thinking is derived from the Modernist Enlightenment. Even how we think biblically is in large part impacted by that, so that we actually end up imposing the understanding of the age upon the text of scripture. Rather, we need to remain in the text of scripture, so that we can more and more think truly biblically, and be able to critique our present day thought.

Does that mean we expect the world to conform to biblical thinking? Certainly not. But we in Jesus are not to be conformed to this world, but rather, transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that we might come to understand what is the good and perfect will of God (Romans 12:2). That is not something we’ll arrive to overnight, indeed it involves a lifelong process together with other believers.

I believe this is critical, mainly because I think we think in ways that are not so much informed and thus formed by the Bible, but more by society, with especially profound, and too often, I think, egregious/tragic results, especially seen in the political realm. Like everything else in life, this is surely a mixed bag. We do get some things more or less right even on this track, but are amiss in other things, I’m afraid. A big problem from our inheritance of the Modernist Enlightenment on which the United States was largely built, is the emphasis and insistence on individual rights. So that the rights of the individual, however that is manifested politically takes priority over everything else. While “rights” and the individual surely arguably have their place, we have to ask ourselves if that has the same place in scripture that it has in our world. And if not, then what informs it, or what context in scripture might we say it exists, its place.

This is not a proposal to imagine that biblical thinking can be imposed on the world, but to seek to be true to it ourselves, so that we can better live in it, through learning to think and therefore live according to what scripture teaches, and its fulfillment in Jesus, rather than what any political party of this world insists on. The new way of thinking and living in the grace and kingdom that is ours in Jesus.

Christians should lead the way in showing unity in the midst of differences

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.

1 Peter 3

This passage in 1 Peter and elsewhere which says Christians are to be of one and the same mind, certainly doesn’t mean we’re going to agree on everything that’s important. What it does mean is that we’re in full agreement, and in lock step with what is most important of all, nothing else being on the same level: the gospel, the good news of God in Jesus.

To be like-minded, or of one mind means nothing less than that. I see Christians divide over their consideration of the politics of this world. And that can be a distraction, even worse, a departure from what actually does unite us in and through Jesus by the one Spirit. It is nothing less and nothing more than the faith of the gospel. To put anything else in that category is plain and simply idolatry. When I refer to the gospel here, I’m referring to God’s message about Christ, which leads us to God and our lives of worshipping him. Nothing else should be on the radar with that.

I am glad that I’m among Christians who think very differently than I do on the politics of this world, and yet with whom I can have just as close of fellowship and enjoy their company just as much as if we did think alike on that issue. Does that mean that the politics of this world doesn’t matter? Of course it does. But in actuality, regardless of how that shakes out, we find that our unity is fully and completely never in that, but only in the one Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Jesus is our Lord and Messiah, our one hope both in this present life, as well as in the life to come. And this reality should help us negotiate well, and even influence how we look at the lesser things. So that we can learn to work toward a common goal, and even compromise to see it achieved. Not that we can arrive to perfection in that, or even always in our faith and understanding be able to do so.

Again, the appeal to having the same mind given to Christians numerous times in the New/Final Testament is in terms of God’s revelation in Jesus and the gospel. We are going to disagree on a whole lot of other things. We bring different perspectives and insights to the table, and therefore need to listen to each other well. But we must not let anything be in the category of first importance besides the gospel itself. And since that is the case, it will help us know how to negotiate what differences we have. Of paramount importance among other things will be peacemaking, first between ourselves over differences, and for those of this world. And first in that will be the peace that only the gospel brings in the midst of it all. In the truth and love which are in Jesus.

our focus no matter what

No matter what happens in life, our focus needs to be on the one true hope and salvation, our Lord Jesus, and God’s promises in him. That means we need to be in scripture night and day. We need to draw from the gifts and tradition of the church.

But it doesn’t mean we withdraw and not be concerned about this or that which is happening in the world. One example for me is the concern over climate change, but there’s a whole host of other issues besides. A biblical emphasis would be on the plight of the poor.

We do need to see both final and present solutions first and foremost in terms of the gospel and through the church which is the living reality of the gospel. But we need not scrap the place that government has in the world, and concern over that. And Democracy presents itself with a picture which needs to be grappled with seriously by Christian theologians and scholars, but is all too easily dismissed as irrelevant. It is important in its place. Yet for far too many of us, maybe most all of us to one degree or another, the politics of this world is the politics we identify with. And we have failed to see that there’s a greater politic at work in the world through the gospel, the good news in Jesus, and played out in the body politic, the church. So that while we should be concerned about what is happening in the politics of this world, they in no way should impact the politics of the church in and through King Jesus, a cross-shaped, death and resurrection reality, grace-oriented, and no less than a kingdom, the kingdom of God in him.

So while I’m a bit implicated as a US citizen in what happens in an election, and in the political process and policies of the United States, my one allegiance is to the Lord, through whom is the promise of new creation, which begins even now, and is to be completed at his return, when heaven and earth become one in him. We in Jesus through the gospel are the answer for the world. Not this or that politician, or political party. Even while we seek to be wise in appreciating the place they do have. Certainly in praying for them. But Jesus is the one to whom we bow. And the one hope of the world who makes good on all of God’s promises through the gospel.

the problem with American politics

Alright, there’s all kinds of problems with the politics of the United States, money and special interests a good start. Today is election day here, when we elect a new president, among a host of other offices and things.

The biggest problem I see with American politics is just how much Christians are caught up in it all. If we don’t see it, it’s all because we’re smack dab in the middle of it. It is so much a part of our identity, of who we are, that we simply take it for granted. It’s the way things are, in our mind. But we fail to see the idolatry likely inherent in that.

I will step back a bit, because I know truth ordinarily is anything but simple, and there are good Christians very much invested in the United States. That is not necessarily bad, depending on what one means. The question remains, does our commitment to Jesus as Lord challenge this, and find it at least questionable at times? Do we draw any lines as to when our allegiance to Christ nullifies what the state might be doing, or telling us to do?

A big problem in this is that we have no criteria for judging. The words of scripture should help us, reading and rereading, and continuing to read the Book. We have to turn to Christ for Christian teaching and understanding, to be sure. And whatever we do, we have to do it with all of our hearts as to the Lord.

A good place to start is Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. He is setting forth in that what it means to be the society of God’s kingdom under his authority here on earth. Our identity is not in any nation state, or in any politics of such, but only in God’s kingdom come in Jesus.

That said, we still hope and pray for the good of the nation in which we live (cf.: Jeremiah 29). We hope for God’s mercy and even blessing on it, but we don’t see national interests in the same way it is typically seen in the governance and politics here.

Our presence in Jesus is the politic by which we live (Stanley Haerwas). Everything else is measured by that, but nothing else is even close to that in importance for us. But it’s an importance which doesn’t deny the significance of the state, but puts it in the one light of the world, from the one city on a hill in this world (again, see Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount for this, which has nothing to do with the United States of America).

We hope and pray for the best this election day. But above all, we are committed to the one Lord and the one God in Jesus. And to the Cross, the life in Jesus to which we’re called. What unites us in him in the one Good News/Gospel, not only for us and at work in our lives even now, but also for the world, in which every knee will eventually bow and confess the Lord Jesus’s Supremacy, to the glory of God the Father.