good news for all the people

If only people in general –and Christians in particular– could grasp just a few key things that makes Jesus who He is… then I’m convinced not only that Christianity would have a better reputation, but –even further– those who aren’t Christians might be far less against the growth of Christianity…

People are scared about the growth of Christianity because they (often) think (and not without reason to) that this could eventually lead to a Christian state. All those voting Christians, voting in all those ‘religious’ laws, taking away our freedom, taking away our shopping on Sunday, etc. Many Christians are not at all hesitant to affirm that this is, in fact, precisely what they are working toward…

Now, this post is not directly about how Christians should relate to politics, but it does relate. I am convinced that the Christian faith is to be lived out in the public world, and not simply in private. However, the question is: “What does this look like?”

For many Christians, the technique seems to be to work for change by attempting to secure a place of influence and power and then use that to implement the changes they want – in a kind of ‘top-down’ way. Whether it be in a school, a community, a marriage, a work-place, a state or even a nation, they seek to play the ‘power game’ and ‘win’ for Jesus. The more power and influence, the better. This is their way of working to bring the Kingdom ‘on earth as it is in heaven’, and it makes many people nervous (including me at times!)…

Other times, the approach is to work for change by withdrawing from all things you think are wrong, and build your own version of them. Whether it be in music, bookstores, political parties, schools, greeting cards (or other places where the word ‘christian’ become an adjective), the strategy is: withdraw and build a ‘christian’ version. If you can’t secure the world’s places of power, and bring the Kingdom here, build your own ‘Christian’ thing and make it powerful somewhere else (and then try to attract others to it)… This approach also makes people nervous (including me)…

So how is it supposed to be done?

My answer would be: like Jesus and the Apostles did it…

First a quick summary of the setting: For centuries, the Jews had lived under the rule of one empire or another; Persian, Egyptian, Greek and finally Roman. This was –to put it lightly– not enjoyable. There was a reason Romans were good at crucifixion. It was their brutal answer to anyone who would resist their rule.

Now then, Jesus was a Jew, and he had several types to choose from in his day. For some Jews, the Essenes, (probably the community behind the texts found at Qumran – the Dead Sea Scrolls) the response to Roman oppression was to escape out to the hills and start an alternate community. Many other Jews before (and after) Jesus knew how to revolt. The Maccabean Revolt had won them freedom from the Persians, and many Jews of Jesus time (they were later called ‘Zealots’) were more than ready to do the same with the Romans. Matter of fact, Jewish hope for a ‘Messiah’ figure was precisely to do with a leader who would lead such a charge.

Jesus, however, was not that kind of a Messiah.

He wasn’t building that kind of kingdom.

Make no mistake, the kingdom was most certainly not some private thing to be lived out by private prayer rituals and scripture reading. It was indeed a public thing. And it also certainly wasn’t some compromise with the Roman way of life. The early Christians hailed Jesus as Lord (Greek – ‘kyrios’) instead of Caesar.

For the early Christians, the kingdom of God coming ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ meant being an alternative community which cared for those the Roman system neglected (the poor, the sick, slaves, abandoned pregnant women, etc.). A community in which –in the shadow of an Empire built on rank and status– all were equal, whether Jew or not (Gentile), slave or free-born, male or female.

It was not political maneuvering.

It was not power-grabbing attempts to take ‘control’.

It was the power of embodied love.

Most places in the world I know about, and most times I’ve heard of, that sounds like good news to most everyone I know…

9 thoughts on “good news for all the people”

  1. No question nor criticism comes to mind Dale – and that’s something for me ; ). Great post.

  2. Great outline, Dale, that hints at the sad history and dilemma that has hounded Christians and their faith from the early days . . . Peter’s denial and re-affirmation, Paul’s struggle with the self (Roman’s 7).
    But where did it go so apparently wrong? Was it the dislocation from main stream Jewish culture? Was it Constantine’s semi-embrace of Christianity and it becoming a state religion? Was it the formalisation of doctrine through the creeds that eventually co-opted a day to day living faith? Was it the rationalisation with Greek philosophy? Was it the formulisation through rites, symbol and ritual of the medieval church? Was it the open conflict during the rise of Protestantism which helped the rise of the Enlightenment? Was it the rise of deism in reaction to Christianity being side tracked by revolutions of the late 18th century? Was it the fundamentalism that arose as a reaction to science and deism? Was in the rise in colonisation, semi-christian sects and eastern religion in the 19th century. Was it the empty drumming of liberal theology?
    It sounds like Christianity sided with the empire-of-the-day and to a greater extent it seems to continue to do so. So do the general public have a rightful fear of a Christianity that wishes to take over the state, a la Bishop Tamaki? Is it really Christianity or is it imperialism with a ‘christian’ facade?
    To me it is amazing that anything of the original face of Christianity has survived, and hints at the incredible power of God’s Word to work out through the history of the world, in the lives or ordinary people.
    I think it was C.S. Lewis that said something to the effect, that the greatest political act any individual Christian could do was to play their part in seeing their neighbour become a true Christian.

  3. #5

    “I think it was C.S. Lewis that said something to the effect, that the greatest political act any individual Christian could do was to play their part in seeing their neighbour become a true Christian.”

    Amen to that quote by CS Lewis! Just think if everyone would taste of the goodness of the Lord!

    Here’s the question: how do you think we as Christians can “play the part” in seeing our neighbors become Christians?

    http://www.graceforgrace.com

  4. BC,
    Good thoughts, once again. Indeed, for some, the ‘Christianisation’ of Rome a-la Constantine was a triumphal and ‘successful’ climax, but I am inclined to see it as the formalisation of a compromising trend that was snowballing for a century or more…

    BC and ama49,
    I’m curious as to what you both mean in reference to the C.S. Lewis quote. Do you mean the same thing? What is the difference (if any) between seeing someone become a ‘christian’ and seeing someone become a ‘true christian’… And in what way is ‘playing your part’ in that seen as a ‘political act’???

    -d-

  5. The reference to CS Lewis was taken from a conversation he was having about whether or not a Christian Party is an effective way for Christianity to be represented in society, and in particular in the House of Commons. He was wary of Christians using the same political mechanisms as the rest of the world in achieving aims, no matter how altruistic or ‘Christian’ those aims were. That the way to effect Christian calling is as important as its goal.
    His thinking, I presume, comes from a background of the rise in socialism in the 30’s, where many of the apparent Christian ideals were, in a way, being co-opted by non-Christian movements. Of course, it was a superficial co-opting, but for most, it was one effective way of sidelining Christian involvement in society.
    This, then, has bearing on the difference between becoming a Christian and becoming a true Christian. Much of our Christian heritage has been caught up in our culture, which was greatly shaped by a form of Christianity that was taken as genuine. The Westernisation of Christianity has been found wanting, with two world wars and the demise of colonial empires, that form of Christinisation of empire has disappeared. With it, in most people’s minds, has Christianity. So too, being Christian was to a have the characteristics of Christianity, whereas being a true Christian is understanding and obeying the calling of God on the whole of life, not just a outward cultural one or just an individualistic, private spirituality. Being involved in public academic life, CS Lewis articulated well the difference between the essence and the form of Christianity.
    Since his time others have continued to articulate this in almost every area of human endeavour, in bringing those areas under the scrutiny of Word of God. This, together with readjusting the focus of Christian work in relation to church activity, mission and the Kingdom, the gospel requires us to reshape these as much as it requires us to reshape and re-create our world. All this I count as a political act, as true politics is the way we are organise society and administer to its needs, and not the corrupted view of politics as a process of retaining power.
    Underpinning all this, in fact, is the recognition of the One in whose hands true authority of political power lies.

  6. As always, the context is helpful. Thanks BC.

    Kingdom of God, Power and Politics. Three things that mean very different things to different Christians, aye… ;)

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