Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Child of God & Politics - Rome or Jesus?

Below is a post on Jesus Creed by Michael Kruse in which he is responding to statements from me. Also below is my response to his response. I encourage you to read his separate article through the link provided.

I believe you will begin to see a few dividing points between modern politics as practiced by many American Christians and that politics espoused by Christ and His Word.

Your thoughts would be appreciated.
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Benjamin #40

Jesus taught us to pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” I don’t take that as a command to set passively by, hoping it will come. I take it as a call to engage the world, always recognizing that the Kingdom will not fully come until Christ returns. We are to be an image of the future New Creation living in the present, giving witness of what is to come.

I wrote a post sometime back called Paul’s Subversion of the Empire. There were no police forces in Greco-Roman. Government entities and voluntary organizations for addressing the needs of the common people did not exist. The fundamental institution for keeping the social order was the household. The paterfamilias (male householder) was to rule over his household and compel order. He theoretically had the power of life and death over the members of the household (though this was changing by NT times.)

Paul introduces a new ethic. There is no longer the slave nor free, Jew nor Gentile, or male and female. We are made one body in Christ. He subverts the Greco-Roman model of order by domination with an ethic other-centered love and mutual submission (see my analysis of Ephesians 5 and 6 in the linked post.) Were this ethic to spread from household to household, the entire political and social power structure of the Empire would have been transformed. Regrettably, initial gains were reversed as the Church allowed itself to become re-infused with the power hierarchies of the age. But the initial implication of Paul’s teaching was deeply subversive and deeply political.

In our present context, we have the opportunity to have direct input into governance that Paul would not have dreamed of. Generally speaking, I think the role of the Church, with regard to the state, is not to compel Christian behavior (regardless of whether that compulsion is from the right or the left.) There is a legitimate role for state use of power. I think it is to restrain evil enough that it “creates room for good things to run wild.” (A little Chesterton there.) The changing of people’s hearts and minds needs to come from the other-centered love of Christians giving birth to more other-centered believers. Eventually society is transformed but never to the utopia that the world will be upon Christ’s return. That is how I see it.

Michael Kruse
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Michael,

First of all, Jesus said to pray "Thy Kingdom come." It is a prayer for God to do something, not a command from God to go and bring the kingdom to fruition.

When Jesus said, "The kingdom is among/within you," He's telling us the kingdom was already present. He also dealt with the present reality of the Kingdom when He spoke to the Pharisees in Matthew 21:24 saying, "....The Kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof."

This new nation is nothing more than the distinct dichotmy established with the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. Those who have chosen to obey God in faith have been at odds with those who have chosen to live outside the Presence of YHWH. The standards of both groups have been different and remain so today.

I believe it is a mistake to give the impression that what Paul was saying was completely new and, because of its newness, it was subversive. It wasn't. It was a continuation of the way of God for His People, a way which sinful rebellious man has always found to be contrary to what man wants to do. What is revealed in the NT is no different than what is revealed in the OT. Paul makes that clear with his numerous references to OT Scripture.

It is true that Paul dealt with scenarios in the Greco-Roman world of his day, which we essentially have today, scenarios which needed clarifying in the way they should be dealt with and lived out. But, for the most part, what Paul said was basic OT.

This is true also when Paul deals with the household structure. Your article deals only with one aspect of household relationships in isolation of the remainder of NT passages dealing with the same issues. (I simply point this out, not as a negative. You may deal with it elsewhere.)
You point out that Roman society had worship and voluntary organizations. Though you mentioned none specifically (maybe the synagogue), one was the Ekklesia. Interestingly enough, this was an assembly which called out the men to conduct the official business of the assembly. Though the household relationships of Romans were different (as you mentioned), this particuar Greco-Roman political entity fit perfectly God's structure of the household as well as government on a large scale for His Body. Once again see, see OT.

You also mentioned the exemptions the Jews had under Roman rule from the requirements of these organizations. That's true, but more interestingly, when they reorganized under the captivity from Babylon, they possess the ability to rule themselves, including the execution of sentances against criminal conduct, something they didn't possess under Roman rule. They could try a person, one of their own, then they must deliver that person up to Roman authorities for either the execution of the sentence or the determination & execution of the sentence. This is what happens to Jesus and Paul alludes to this process in 1 Cor. 5, dealing with the man committing fornication.

Most people don't realize that this has not changed in modern times. American Law gives these exact same exemptions to the true Ekklesia as well as the ability to govern themselves according to God's law, even in matters of criminal behavior among their own. Most of God's people are ignorant of this reality. I wonder why Christian Attorneys don't mention this?

The availability of God's people to live with their distinctives intact is there for us. As Christ said, the World and its citizens will always hate us because they hated Christ first. We are not called to change their society. We are called to live and preach to world citizens the message of reconciliation to a God whose political society is completely different. The most their society will have is reformation, the temporary reformation of sinners. Our political society is one of complete newness in The Eternal Lord of Lords. This is the narrow way of Christ.

Do we choose that narrow way....or......do we choose the broad way of the World?
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