Politics And The Kingdom Of God

politics: The art and science of government; public life and affairs as involving authority and government.

Question: Should Christians, aka citizens of the Kingdom of God, be involved in politics? Or even interested in it? Answer: Of course. If politics is the art and science of government, what is the Kingdom of God if not a system of government?

Christians are citizens of two political realms. First and foremost, we are citizens of the Kingdom of God; that is where our primary loyalty lies. Jesus the King wields authority in the lives of Kingdom citizens to the same degree He would if He ruled in power and glory from an earthly throne. That is why we talk about the Kingdom of God in terms of “already, but not yet.” God has already established His Kingdom, but for the time being the King exercises authority within and among His people from His throne in heaven. His authority is not yet universally acknowledged on earth, and the Kingdom is not yet fully revealed and fully constituted as the dominant political force on this planet. That day will come, when the King, whose second coming we await, returns.

In the meantime, Christians, of all people, should be concerned with politics, to the extent that political power and governmental authority touch upon those issues and values that matter in the Kingdom of God—things like justice, equality, human dignity. Our responsibility as followers of Christ is to live as conscientious citizens under the jurisdiction of our national government. Generally speaking, that means that we conform to the “law of the land,” whether we agree with it or not, and do what we can to bring about changes to laws that are unjust. On rare occasions, the New Testament makes clear, a human law may contradict the law of God to such an egregious degree that Christians will need to follow the example of Peter and the apostles in Acts 5.

 27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name (the name of Jesus), yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.” (ESV)

Owing to the influence of N. T. Wright, among others, I am now convinced that the earth we currently inhabit will figure prominently in the Kingdom to come. That is, God intends to establish His Kingdom, and the throne of His Son, the King, on this earth. That truth has profoundly influenced my awareness of my responsibility as a citizen of both realms. For example, when it comes to voting, for candidates or issues, I ask myself, “Which of the available options most consistently reflects or advances the values of the Kingdom of God?”

By that I do not mean to suggest that I look for candidates or support initiatives which overtly attempt to institute the Kingdom of God by means of human governmental authority or political process. Rather, I mean I compare the various proposals that are before me with the standards and values that are, or will be, operative in the Kingdom of God.

Where, in Scripture, do we find guidance as to what the standards and values of the Kingdom really are? Mainly in the Gospels, the teaching of Jesus, and primarily in the Sermon on the Mount. So, when I read the Gospels, in general, and the Sermon on the Mount, in particular, I draw some conclusions about the character of the Kingdom and the values reflective of it.

When Jesus returns to the earth and establishes His Kingdom in its fullest and most universal sense, justice will prevail. No group or individual will prosper at the expense of others. Honesty, prudence, compassion, equality… these are terms that will describe the government of the Kingdom and the society which it produces. In the Kingdom to come, the earth will not be mistreated, its resources stripped away with no concern for the consequences, simply to advance an economic agenda.

Using a “Kingdom sensibility” as a guide for my decision-making as a citizen of earth right now means that the market will not always be the major consideration when I cast my vote. (And with that statement, I just lost my conservative readers.) It also means that I will not assume that human government can always resolve all of society’s problems. (And there go the liberals.)

I repeat—a “Kingdom sensibility” does not mean that I will seek to bring in the Kingdom of God by way of human political process. It means that, as much as possible, I will support candidates and policies which promote and advance values consistent with those that characterize the Kingdom of God.

As you might imagine, I have much more to say on this subject in this year of presidential politics in the US. So I’ll leave it there for now. And I welcome your response, to this post and to anything that I write. We’re all in this together.

The Kingdom Is The Thing (Part One)

Thirty-one years ago, while I was a student at Wheaton Grad School near Chicago, I had an “epiphanic moment.”  Owing to a variety of influences that converged on my life in 1980, I became convinced that the most important theme in the Bible was not grace, love, mercy, forgiveness, or salvation.  It was the Kingdom of God.

Over the next three decades I explored and examined that theme and that conclusion from every conceivable angle.  I am even more convinced today than I was then.  The most important theme in all of Scripture is the Kingdom of God.  Everything else, as vital and essential as it may seem, finds its place somewhere in relation to the central theme, the unifying motif, of the Kingdom.

I mention this topic so early in my career as a blogger because virtually everything else I will say from this moment forward will be affected and influenced by my convictions in this area.  I read the Old Testament, with its creation narrative and its historical record of the people of Israel, through the lens of the Kingdom.  I interpret and apply the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles from the perspective of the Kingdom.  My view of life after death and of the ultimate future purpose of God for the earth is shaped by my belief that those ideas can be understood only in relation to the Kingdom of God.  Salvation is the way of entry into the Kingdom.  Love is the controlling principle for life in the Kingdom.  Even my political views are shaped and influenced by Jesus’ words in the Lord’s prayer:  “Father,… may Your Kingdom come, may Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Nowhere does this principle have more practical application than in relation to the church.  I still believe that the best description of the purpose for the church in the world is that put forward by George Eldon Ladd more than a generation ago:  the church is the agent of the Kingdom of God.

The church is where the distinctives of the Kingdom are supposed to be cultivated, where we learn how to live by Kingdom values in the face of the pressure—which comes from the world, the flesh, and the devil—to succumb to the influence of the prevailing culture.  The place where we encourage one another to hang tough, be consistent, don’t surrender, don’t lose heart.

The church is the place where we embrace and comfort and bandage and console those who are battered and bruised from their confrontation with a hostile culture—a culture under the control of a power opposed to God and intent on frustrating every attempt on the part of the citizens of the Kingdom to live according to the priorities and directives of the King.

The church is supposed to be a living example of the gospel of the Kingdom.  As Lesslie Newbigin has written:   The church is not an end in itself.  “Church growth” is not an end in itself.  The church is only true to its calling when it is a sign, an instrument, and a foretaste of the Kingdom.

I wonder how many  pastors perceive their role, in large part, as fostering an environment where the values and priorities and principles of the Kingdom of God can be lived out.

More anon.