Tag Archives: politics

When Kingdoms Collide

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“Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”  “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”  John 18:33-37 NIV

The conversation between Pilate and Jesus is the most personal point of collision between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of the world.

In the past, I’m afraid we have read this text and seen its drama play out in such a way that is totally disconnected from everything Jesus had been teaching three years prior to his arrest. He has not merely used political language here to speak of heavenly things.

Jesus is not using political rhetoric here to simply ensure his brutal death on a cross for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus doesn’t whisper in Pilate’s ear, “Do me a favor, would you? I have to die for the sins of the world. I would appreciate it if you could crucify me for no reason.”  No, nothing of the sort!

Jesus was proclaiming an end to the power and glory of worldly kingdoms and the rise of a new order. The only way to miss this is to revel in ignorance of first century Palestine.

“And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”  Paul, Colossians 2:15

Unfortunately, the American version of the story is what we have been told. We have removed most (if not all) earthly implications of Christ’s words to his church concerning her relationship to worldly powers.

We have stripped the New Testament of all immediate implications on faith as it pertains to worldly politics. Where we find the Scripture opposes our own personal paradigms we must ignore its instruction, change its meaning, or compartmentalize it to fit our dichotomized faith.

This belief system promotes the idea that our discipleship does not carry over to all aspects of life. And when a person wants to meddle in worldly affairs that Christ himself did not concern himself with, out come the excuses as to why our situations and circumstances are different than those of Jesus.

“Perhaps in our well-intentioned efforts to bring all things under the lordship of Christ, American Christian culture has been guilty of baptizing unrepentant social systems and structures… Has American Christianity too often shelved its discipleship, compartmentalized its faith, and thus been blinded by unredeemed cultural forces that leave us prey to the principalities and powers of this world?”  Lee Camp, Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World, p.18

There is no denying this is indeed what has happened among the church today. The answer to our present dilemma is not to continue down the path of castrating the Gospel of Jesus with insistency upon getting our hands on the mantle of political power. It is to return to the way of the Master.

It is by renewing our Christology in a zealous pursuit of his heart. It can only come by taking another look at Jesus and rethinking the doctrine of the two kingdoms. It will call for a fresh interpretation of Scripture within its historical-grammatical context and a discovery of the indwelling Christ.

And it will come with great sacrifice.

Donald Kraybill writes:

“Kingdom ethics, taught and lived by Jesus, can be transported over the bridge linking the first century with our own… The Gospels don’t offer a full-blown system of formal ethics for every conceivable situation… Jesus, does however, clearly introduce us to basic principles of the right and good for the collective life of the Kingdom.  Making specific applications, of course, is the task of believers guided by the Holy Spirit.” The Upside-Down Kingdom, p.31

It is only the Person and the work of Christ that our entire faith is built upon. No level of human wisdom and ingenuity is relevant to issues that faced us yesterday, face us today, and will be facing us tomorrow.

If we want to understand the heart of Christ who is God, we must be willing to abandon human reasoning that is not first captivated by the words of Jesus. Are we willing to lay aside our preconceived notions and our cultural conditioning in order that we might receive the word of Christ?

Would we be so bold as to allow the Holy Spirit of Christ to invade our space and reveal to us the “foolishness” of the Gospel that Paul wrote about (1 Cor. 1:18-20)?

May the Spirit give us the ability to say, “Yes!” to Christ.

Baptism: Initiation into the Kingdom of God

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  ~ Jesus, Matthew 28:19-20 NIV

Baptism is symbolic for entrance into the Kingdom of God that Christ proclaimed. It is an outward picture of an inward reality. And it stands for much more than the forgiveness of sin.

Other religious groups practiced forms of baptism as sort of an initiation into that community of belief. For the Christian, it meant that a person was now dead to the things of the world. They were forsaking all systems and kingdoms of the world for new life in a Kingdom not of this world.

“The Kingdom of God is at hand!  Repent and be baptized!” was the cry of John the Baptist, cousin of Jesus.

Baptism was a call to enter in to a new order of living. In Jesus’ day, this most certainly would have been calling for a denial of Roman domination and a pledge to another existence in God’s rightful reign upon the earth. This was a proclamation that the Messiah was about to establish his law and politics that opposes those of the world.

The “Way of the Lord” was being prepared by John. And then Jesus steps into the waters of the Jordan. The Spirit anoints him as King, and the rest is history. Or is it that simple?

Is this all that can be gathered from this text? Is this just a neat story of Jesus dipping himself in a river so that people can reenact the ritual in baptistries everywhere? Could there be more?

Maybe history proves this rite of passage into the Kingdom of God is very much alive today. And I submit to you its power and its significance can’t be contained in a nice religious ceremony.

“As new believers confessed their faith and entered the community through baptism, they reconsidered and redefined everything about themselves… Some people left their jobs when their old lives collided with their new ones, when their allegiance to Rome collided with their new allegiance to God’s Kingdom.”  Shane Claiborne, Jesus For President, p.144.

What kind of people does Baptism call us to be? What sort of new living will result in our initiation into the Kingdom of God? I don’t believe that this baptism makes all things in the world sacred. (As many “emerging” theologians suggest.)  It makes only our lives sacred.

Once our entire lives have become consecrated unto the Lord, then we may perceive with heavenly wisdom what is redeemable in the world. All things become new through our own sanctification. Then and only then may we determine what Christ has called us to sprinkle our salt upon.

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.”  Jesus, Matthew 5:13 NIV

Will we allow something in our lives to not pass through the waters of the Kingdom? Will this repentance be complete or only partial? Will we push the Kingdom aside for another passionate agenda?

We must examine all aspects of our lives and ask, “Have all things in my life been eternally effected by the Kingdom of God?”

It is time to recognize that the Kingdom of God takes precedence over all issues facing us today. It was at the forefront of the secret message of Jesus. And Christ coming in his Kingdom ought to be at the core of our own.

“I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” Jesus, Luke 4:43 NIV

Not of this World

I have to believe that Pilate was a bit confused and curious as to the meaning of Jesus’ words, “my Kingdom is not of this world.” Perhaps, he believed Jesus was a few fries short of a happy meal.

It’s very possible he was only thinking of solving the matter without rousing a riot in the streets of Jerusalem.

This is for certain, Jesus’ words were treasonous. Pilate responds, “You are a king then.” It doesn’t matter what sort of king Jesus claimed to be. Caesar was a god in the flesh. Caesar rules the cosmos, not an unimpressive Jewish carpenter who has a death wish. There is no room in the world for two kings demanding ultimate allegiance.

pilatePilate understood that if he didn’t deal with this enemy of the state, word might get back to Rome. History proves that Pontius Pilate had no qualms with crucifying folks. Critics of the Gospels believe this portrayal of Pilate is not true to history.

No doubt, Pilate is unclear as to what to do with this strange prophet who speaks of “truth” and treason but shows complete serenity in his predicament.

So why the uncertainty? Did his wife’s dream faze him that much (Matt. 27:19)? There is clearly something out of the ordinary taking place here. He faces a major dilemma.

Dealing with the insubordinate Jews was no easy task. He needed to maintain the peace and the crowd was furiously chanting for Jesus’ blood. He knows his duty as procurator. His reason tells him he must kill this Jesus of Nazareth.

“In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.” Daniel 2:44 NIV

We don’t have a hard time recognizing that most first-century Jews clearly missed the Kingdom that was foretold by the prophet Daniel. They were expecting a political king that would establish a worldly kingdom rule and release them from their Roman captors.

“If you are the Messiah, come down off that cross!” they cried.

No, Jesus of Nazareth didn’t even come close to what they wanted in a ruler. But before we scrutinize the Jews for their rejection of a suffering Messiah (Isaiah 53), we should take a look in the mirror.

For we too have a difficult time choosing a king whose Kingdom calls for power-under people instead of power-over them.

The church has been guilty of rejecting the upside-down Kingdom of God that demands a rejection of the methods of the kingdoms of this world. We have not understood that the nature of the Gospel is to win by dying, not by killing.

We simply can’t imagine the advancement of God’s Kingdom without the aid of the nations and their politics. We refuse to trust in the power of the Gospel that Christ proclaimed.

We would rather trust in “necessary evils” and all manner of ungodliness than in the way of the cross.

We are guilty of resorting to methods that Jesus and the apostles taught against. We would rather address our personal feelings of passivity and “duty” with picking up the sword instead of the cross. This should not be.

“The crucial distinction between the two kingdoms is how they provide antithetical answers to the questions of what power one should trust to change ourselves and others: Do you trust “power over” or “power under”?  Do you trust the power of the sword, the power of external force, or do you trust the influential but noncoercive power of Calvary-like love?… The Kingdom of God consists of all those who choose the latter rather than the former who act accordingly.” Gregory Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Nation, p.33

Jesus responds to the disciples and their request to have a form of leadership like the systems of the world. You can almost hear the same cry that you heard from Israel a thousand years before, “Give us a king to lead us!” (1 Sam. 8:6)  In other words, “We want the same order that we see in the world.”

Christ replies to their confusion and leaves no ambiguity as to how we too should view this matter.

“Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Mark 10:42-45 NIV

Not only does this beg to question our desire to rule with power-over others in the world, but in the church as well. Much of American Christianity has evolved from years of ignoring the teachings of Jesus and pragmatically applying methods and systems of the world upon those things that are supposed to be “not of this world”.

We are guilty of adopting methods of the world to advance the Kingdom of God and have not seen how our efforts are self-defeating. We can’t see how we have mixed the two kingdoms and corrupted our salt by choosing methods Jesus rejected.  We apparently see ourselves in the role of Pilate instead of Jesus. But there is no way of escaping Christ’s words…

“I am not an earthly king… my Kingdom is not of this world.”  Jesus, John 18:36 NLT

What does Jesus mean when he says, “my Kingdom is not of this world”? I’m afraid his words have been reduced to a memory verse with little to no power whatsoever. Judging by our actions, it has nothing to do with this world; as if Jesus is gazing off into the cosmos dreaming of some distant galaxy far removed from the pain and suffering of mankind.

It’s time to rethink all of these passages that have become common Christian clichés and a meaningless regurgitation of words when we have nothing else better to say.

I believe the first place to start in understanding Christ’s Kingdom that is “not of this world” is in a fresh look at the first event following Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan.

The Temptations of Christ: Defining the Kingdom

In Matthew 4:1-11, we immediately see Jesus led by the Spirit into the Judean wilderness to be tempted by the devil. The Lord has wasted no time in beginning his work.

But before he can begin his ministry in his proclamation of the Kingdom of God, Jesus must first undergo a trial and confrontation that will forever define his Kingdom. He must decide in his own heart and for the testimony of his followers what kind of Messiah he will be.

What kind of king and kingdom will Jesus choose? His choices then become our choices if we wish to follow him.

“Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.”  John, 1 John 2:6 NIV

temptationsIn order to understand the temptations, we must see them in conjunction with the previous events. They should not be isolated from Christ’s recent baptism and his inauguration as the King of the Kingdom of God that John was preaching; the Kingdom that Jesus will continue to proclaim throughout his ministry.

The temptations of Christ are not merely examples of Jesus overcoming sin. They were not meant to be read as three accounts of Jesus facing opposition so that you can face opposition with confidence. For we know that Jesus faces opposition and endless temptations throughout his ministry.

No my friends, this isn’t just good sermon material for us to use to condemn others and warm our souls when the days are dark. The true purpose of this record is understood when we accept that there is one story that is building to the conversation with Pilate, and ultimately to the cross.

Will you join me in rejecting this belief that the Bible is a collection of disjointed stories that we can yank from its context to affirm our American Christianity?

“The synoptic writers report that three right-side-up options lured Jesus before he launched the upside-down kingdom… The temptation points to a right-side-up kingdom encompassing the three big social institutions of his day: political, religious, and economic.”  Donald Kraybill, The Upside-Down Kingdom, p.33

After fasting forty days and forty nights, of course Jesus was tired and hungry. This clearly would have made any proposal appealing to the flesh. We all know how much our physical state affects our spiritual focus.

And this was the point of the fasting. Jesus makes himself completely vulnerable to opposition. It would have certainly been a time of closeness with the Father and a time of great challenge in his humanity against Satan.

The devil came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus replies, “It is written, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt.4:3,4).

Hmm… OK, is that it?  Jesus was tempted to eat some bread. Is there more? I have always sensed much more is going on here that meets the eye. What about you? Are you content with this event seemingly being disconnected from the preaching of the Kingdom of God in the previous chapter?

I was taught this temptation communicates the importance of God’s Word. That’s all great and I agree that God’s Word is important. But there is obviously something more going on here that we can connect to Matthew’s account in the previous episode.

To those familiar with Hebrew history and the economic problems of Christ’s day, you should recognize a few details. Forty days? How many times have we seen forty days used as a complete time of trial and tribulation? And what about the “wilderness” and “bread”? Recognize these things?

Jesus embodies Israel and reveals his divine mission as well as the mission for those who wish to follow him. The connection to Israel’s history and Christ’s words of total submission to God is obvious. But what does this have to do with Jesus’ recent baptism and the proclamation of the Kingdom of God?

We see that Christ is speaking to the past through his resistance to the first temptation. But what is he saying to the present and the future of his people? In order to answer that question we first must acknowledge that this account has everything to do with the ministry Christ is about to embark upon.

Secondly, we have to learn about the oppression of the people under Rome’s heavy hand.  There were two classes of people in the Roman Empire: upper and lower class. Evidence suggests that 90% of the citizens were of the lower class.

Bread represents provision. God provided bread for the Israelites. Jesus will later say, “I am the bread of life.” Bread was an essential part of their diet. Therefore, in light of the context, we begin to see the real “temptation” come to the surface. How are you going to provide for the people?

Since he is the Messiah, the devil tempts Jesus to be a welfare king. “Turn these stones to bread” he said. How will Christ deal with the economic problems of the world? This is the question Christ answers. It is a question every king must consider.

Jesus’ response ought to be seen as a rejection of solving the problem as an earthly king would. He doesn’t ignore the physical needs of the world; he simply chooses to address the matter in a way that seems foolish. He relates to the hunger of people all over the world, but he doesn’t choose to alleviate the pain and suffering. He embraces it.

The Kingdom of God is much bigger than a loaf of bread—it is more than food.

Jesus deals with poverty in a different way. This becomes clear as we see Jesus refuse to simply feed the people and ease their temporary suffering. And when he did do these things, he called them into the Kingdom of God. Yes, the Gospel is social, but not in the way some in the “emergent” church would have you believe.

Then the devil took Jesus to the highest point of the Temple in the “holy city” Jerusalem. Satan says, “If (since) you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.” The devil then proceeds to quote Scripture (Psalm 91), twisting it to tempt Jesus to action. Is Jesus going to swoop in and gain the approval of the religious establishment? He very easily could have removed all doubt to who he was.

A grand entrance would certainly gain recognition that he was indeed the Messiah. Yet, he resists the temptation to gain approval of those religious folk. If Christ was going to convince the religious leaders, the “Doctors of the Law,” this was the time to do it. And there would be no better way to convince them of his true identity.

But Jesus chooses not to parachute in and remove all doubt. He will make his presence known in the Temple, but right after he drives out those making a profit off of God. This is quite different than the entrance he was tempted with by the devil.

Jesus storms in to the heart of Jewish religion, and turns it upside-down. The Temple is no longer the place of worship and symbol of God’s presence. For the Spirit of God has come to dwell in men. There is now something greater than the Temple. Immanuel, God with us.

Again, to understand this temptation, we must read it in light of what has already been presented. The devil challenges Jesus, as Messiah, to confront the economic issues of the world in keeping with the expected provision of a savior. And now… he tempts Jesus to embrace institutional religion.

He rejects the secular concept of Messiah in both the way he confronts social injustices and the way he deals with religion.

This was totally unexpected and intolerable.  Jesus does not come in and paint the heroes as villains and get away with it.  No sir. This idea is not only opposed by the religious leaders, they demand its death.

Jesus overcomes this temptation and once again rests on the Word of God, saying, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

Now Jesus faces his most difficult challenge yet. Jesus is taken to a high mountain. Mountains were seen as places where deities come to earth. From the pagan “high places” to the receiving of the Ten Commandments, God chose to work within this Eastern mindset. And this final temptation should be seen as an offer of divine importance.

Jesus has already rejected two powerful offers to play by the world’s rules and give the people the Messiah that was expected: a Messiah that fixes this present age by methods characteristic of this world.

“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.  “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”  Matthew 4:8,9 NIV

This one has always puzzled me in the past. Is the temptation here to worship the devil? Let’s see if you can figure out what is really facing Jesus in this final bout with Satan.

The devil has already tempted Jesus in this way, “So you are the Messiah are you? Well, feed the people!  You are aware of their suffering and their deep need to eat. You feel their hunger even now.  What are you going to do about it?” Jesus answers.

“Only as we see what Jesus rejected, can we know what he has affirmed.”           Donald Kraybill, The Upside-Down Kingdom, 34

Again the devil comes at Christ, saying, “OK, Messiah, what are you going to do about their religion? I have an idea, why don’t you save yourself some trouble and just prove to them you are who you say you are?”

Christ chooses the Messianic secret and opposes them instead.

Jesus is faced with three major social institutions: economic (bread), religious (temple), and now the political (mountain).  Christ is shown all the kingdoms of the world. The devil has power over them, which Jesus does not deny. The Messiah will crush these kingdoms as Daniel prophesied.  But how will he crush them?

Will he take the world by force and use violence? Will he succumb to the way of the present evil age, and the prince of the air, by putting his hand to the plow of political power? Will he be an Alexander, an Augustus, or better yet… a King David?  This would not be the last time he is faced with this temptation (Matt. 16:23; 26:51,52; Jn. 6:15).

Christ redefines power in his rejection of earthly kingship. He rejects the avenue of earthly politics to advance the Kingdom of God. He is not simply choosing power-under because it was the nice thing to do or it was the only way people could see love. By no means, the methods of Christ represent the very character of God.

Jesus embodies God’s will for his people and all those who seek to enter in to the rightful reign and rule of God on earth.  Do not pass by this temptation and miss the foolishness of the Kingdom of God, for therein is power that we have not known in our day.

If we desire to follow Christ, we must embrace the suffering Messiah. Please notice that each time Christ rejects the devil’s ideas of Messiah, he accepts the way of suffering. He knowingly is choosing the way of the cross. And his choosing to resist the temptations are not for the sole purpose of dying a horrible death for the sins of the world.

This is a presentation of the Kingdom of God. For those that want to be baptized into this Kingdom you must count the cost and undergo the same trial of Jesus. If we are not willing to reject what Christ rejects, we are enemies of the cross.

We must be willing to say to the prince of the power of the air and the kingdoms he controls, “Away from me!  For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” (Matt. 4:10)

“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.  “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”  When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.  He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.  For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”  Peter, 1 Peter 2:21-25

The Nature of the Kingdom of God

“The Kingdom of God is here; but instead of destroying human sovereignty, it has attacked the sovereignty of Satan.  The Kingdom of God is here; but instead of making changes in the external, political order of things, it is making changes in the spiritual order and in the lives of men and women.”  George Eldon Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom, 55.

The doctrine of the two kingdoms reveals to us that they are contrary in nature. Let’s take a brief look at how they oppose one another. I do hope it will become clear as to why the Christian should not think they can use methods of the world to advance Christ’s agenda, especially in matters of the state. Paul has written of this contrast in Romans 12 and 13.

  • The Christian is called to love (12:9,10); the state is called to be “agents of wrath” (13:3).
  • The Christian is not to avenge (12:19); the state is a revenger of evil (13:4).
  • The Christian is to overcome evil with good (12:21); the state suppresses evil with wrath (13:4).
  • The Christian uses the sword of the Spirit (Eph.6:17); the state uses a sword of steel (13:4).

I want to focus in on the contrary nature of the two kingdoms by looking specifically at the worldly kingdoms (i.e. governments). It is from this system that all other power-over systems flow.

The kingdoms of the world represent a mock Kingdom of God. This is why Jesus chose to not utilize the avenues of politics and power to build his Kingdom. These kingdoms of the world, no matter what form of government exists, stand in opposition to the upside-down Kingdom of Christ.

When Jesus surveyed the landscape of the worldly kingdoms from that high mountain, there he saw all worldly kingdoms past, present, and future. And he says to them, “No, my kingdom is not of this world. I have made a spectacle of them by triumphing over them by the way of usurping their methods of power and domination.”

Jesus calls for the demise of the never-ending cycle of violence (Matt. 5:44). He represents a Kingdom that advances by serving people in love without strings attached (23:11). He does not rely upon or even address the social injustices of his day as being the responsibility of the state. This is not his concern. There is another way. This way is in sacrificial living.

It says that in order to win, you must die. If you want to gain, you must lose.

If you want to be successful in this life, you must prepare for the one to come. This way doesn’t call us to rule over men by restraining them with human law. The way of the cross submits itself to human law where it can, but rises above it and surpasses it in peaceful living.

Don’t be fooled into thinking Christ is an idealist. Jesus lived the Kingdom in power and he was fully connected to reality.  We should not think that what appears as silence on certain matters of the state means we have the freedom to pick up the sword. Christ’s Kingdom is subversive. If we look closely, we will see him tearing down the kingdoms of the world and rejecting their methods of restraining evil.

Was Jesus a terrorist? It depends on how you look at it I guess. One thing is very clear, he did not resort to violence or any method of the state to advance the Kingdom of God. In fact, he kept a healthy distance from it.

Recently, I was engaged in a discussion on these matters. I was asked, “Aren’t we supposed to work for peace and justice?  Doesn’t that mean we should use politics to do good in the world?” You would think so, yes. This is partly why the gate is narrow that leads to life. We would rather place our trust in the world’s methods than in the foolish ways of Christ.

If worldly politics are an acceptable way to advance the Kingdom of God, then every believer should be striving for power.  Be done with trying to keep a foot in both kingdoms!

Pragmatism has pervaded the church in more ways than one. It has based a great deal of its decisions on human reasoning that is represented in the question above. Consider for a moment what we communicate when we say these things. We say Christ does not show us how to live and the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) is not for real life.

We then do what we can to follow Jesus where it does not conflict with our own cultural crusading. We compartmentalize our faith and push Jesus off into the corner. It is no wonder that Ghandi rejected Christ. The Christians he saw made no attempt to live like their Christ. Ghandi learned a few things from Christians alright, how to manipulate the teachings of Jesus in order to change the politics of his day.

I firmly believe that Christians in America are more aware of the Bill of Rights than the New Testament. They are so filled with clichés and heretical doctrines from the demons of nationalism, they can’t hear the pure words of Jesus without mixing them with apple pie, baseball, and images of Sergeant York learning how to chop up his faith. It’s time to wake up and rid ourselves of this corrupted American gospel of greed!

I want to end this final section with a challenge to rethink the two kingdoms.Jesus has spoken. The problem is just that we have a hard time hearing it.

Empire: A Home for Demons

In Luke 8:29-37, we read one account of the demon-possessed man by the seashore. Here is another story that must be read with the Kingdom of God in mind. Do you remember what the demon told Jesus when he asked him for his name? The demon said, “Legion.” Why Legion? You probably know that a “legion” was anywhere from two-thousand to six-thousand Roman soldiers. Now, if you see this from a Kingdom perspective, there is more going on here than meets the eye.

I am left thinking, “Why Legion?  Why not ‘Bob’… or ‘Emily Rose’?  Why ‘Legion’?”

Well, I am not satisfied with the idea that this was just some random name this naked demon-possessed man came up with during his stay in the nearby tombs. I am persuaded to believe that Jesus casting “Legion” out is an indirect attack on Rome. This episode represents what the Kingdom of God is doing now.

It speaks to what we should be doing now. Our concern is the spiritual order of things—bringing life to those who have empty souls—souls so empty the demons come in to set up house and stay a while.

angry-jesusWhat happens after this exorcism? Jesus casts “Legion” into the pigs (unclean animal) that run into the sea. This reminds me of Pharaoh and his legions. They were swallowed up in the sea.

“Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the horse and his army.  But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur.  The rest of them were killed with the sword that came out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.”  John, Revelation 19:19-21

John was exiled to the island of Patmos due to his radical views. And the only way to write a final word of encouragement to Christians with the vision he received was to write in code. A right view of this text shows the “Beast” or “Babylon” to be Rome. Rome represents the power of the kingdoms of the world in every generation. This “Beast” is cast into a sea of fire along with the rest of those who worship him.

I don’t think I would go to sleep tonight without giving this passage some thought.

“Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!  She has become a home for demons… for all the nations have drunk the maddening wine of her adulteries… Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues; for her sins are piled up to heaven, and God has remembered her crimes.” John, Revelation 18:2-5

At last, how will we respond? The people in Luke 8 were fearful. Why were they so fearful? Jesus had performed many exorcisms and miracles before, none of them freaked out the people as much as this group of country bumpkins.

Could it be they were “worshippers of the Beast”? Could it be that they understood this action but we have missed it? Who did they fear here? Maybe they connected the dots. The Kingdom of God had come to town.

“But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”  Jesus, Matthew 12:28

Conclusion

As I have written already, the Kingdom of God is at the forefront of Christ’s message. It is the Gospel message. It can’t be reduced to heaven and hell and having your sins forgiven. The Lord may use this version in a person’s life, but it is most certainly not the full Gospel of Christ.

It is important that we recognize the serious implications of Jesus’ actions. Before he ever chose any of his disciples or set out to preaching and healing people, Jesus defined his Kingdom and settled, at least in his own heart and mind, that the Kingdom of God would come in two stages: the already, but not yet.

“While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.”  Luke 19:11 NIV

The Kingdom of God is already here in every action of a believer that is participating in  “thy Kingdom come” and joining God where he is overcoming evil with good. This calls for lives marked by estrangement and great patience in the face of social injustices.

The “not yet” aspect reminds us of our hope to stand firm, for our labor is not in vain. Christ will crush all the kingdoms of the world and he will, as N.T. Wright puts it, “set the world to rights”.

In the meantime, we trust in the power of the upside-down Kingdom. We come alongside those who are suffering and we suffer with them. We make sure we are overcoming evil with good and not suppressing evil with more evil.  Our safeguard against this temptation to pick up the sword, is Christ himself.

“Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, p.59


Jesus: Change We Have A Hard Time Believing In

jesuspres08If you follow my blog, you know I believe there is something terribly wrong with the Christianity that we have embraced in America. And I wanted to share some quick thoughts particularly on our misplaced confidence in government and our so-called “duty” to vote. Just some thoughts really. Take it or leave it.

Please be forewarned that his one has a bit of a “tone.” You know, a “tone” that is interpreted as “angry” or “anti-American” or something like that. So please read knowing that I am in-fact a bit… hmm… how do you say… fed up. But, I assure you my sorrow far outweighs any sort of anger.

I am working on it. I still haven’t managed to dress up all of my actions in the garb of the hippy Jesus who wears the façade that says, “I am holy because I do not get angry.” I prefer the stance that says, “I am angry because I am holy.”

In other words, I believe any frustration and concern that I express ought to be shared among all who call themselves “disciples of Jesus.” Hopefully, this momentary expression of anger and sorrow will mature into a renewed Christology that will give us all more reason to trust in Jesus instead of ourselves.

And so I give you my thoughts.

Jesus: Change We Have a Hard Time Believing In

I am convinced that our political “freedoms” are instead a bondage that leads us to reject Christ’s methods of change… only to turn and accept the world’s methods of exhorting power over people. I can see that this marriage of the church to the state by acceptance of its methods only produces a nominal Christian “religion” where we can all live comfortable while we overcome evil with a vote.

We can walk away feeling like we have done someone a favor with our vote. Like we have made a difference by playing in to the system of suppressing evil through law and violence. As if we have been called to confront evil in this manner.

Mark my words:

The intermarriage of church and state is the greatest tragedy in the history of Christianity. It violates the heart of the Gospel of Christ.

The church has been sidetracked. Duped is more like it. We have been misled to believe that we have been called to save the culture and remind the sinners that God is watching them like a drunk abusive Santa Claus figure.

Somehow the mentioning of God on monuments, money, and in our many assemblies means that God is pleased. I just don’t get it. You took prayer out of schools? Well, God is ticked now. Watch out! The culture will go to hell in a hand basket because you have quit stamping the god of deism on worldly institutions for political reasons.

Clearly, we have been deceived into thinking our God “blesses” nations when they talk about him and he “curses” when they don’t. I’m not buying this anymore. It is no longer consistent with the Jesus I know. Shouldn’t we have learned this lesson with Israel in the Old Testament through the prophets like Amos and Jeremiah?

You don’t get points for looking religious and embracing sin in your hearts. You don’t escape the judgment of Christ and receive his blessings just because a worldly empire decides to speak Christianese and mix its agenda with God’s plan through the church. How have we missed this?

Is a worldly kingdom “blessed” because it has material abundance? Does it cease to be “blessed” because it stops using the generic name “God” around town? What sort of God in Christ do we have? It’s time we see things rightly about how God deals with worldly kingdoms and how he deals separately with his church. We need to apply his Word appropriately.

God has always used worldly kingdoms to suppress evil and judge other nations who have become corrupt. They are agents of wrath (Rom. 13:4). God then turns around and judges that nation for its own sin and corruption. Assyria, in the 8th century BC, is a perfect example of God using worldly empires as a “rod” of his wrath. He then punished Assyria and held her responsible for her actions and all of the iniquities found in her.

The story of Israel in the Old Testament, and the church in the New Testament today, is to be set apart and to operate under a different set of rules—to count yourself as a citizen of another other-worldly kingdom with a King who is jealous for our allegiance. All along he has wanted his people to recognize that there is no other King beside him. Jesus is Lord, not Caesar.

If Caesar wants your taxes and you are required to carry a drivers license and obey the laws of the land, fine! But give to God what is God’s. Your spirit, soul, and body belong to him. Your efforts and energies are to be spent investing in a Kingdom that is eternal. Kingdoms of the world are temporary systems that are on their way out. Their methods of changing the world are coming to an end.

The church should not be a part of this endless cycle of worldly kingdom violence and her partisan politics of corruption.

The church’s work should engage the injustices of the world in ways that do not violate the principles of the Kingdom of God. This is what we should be discussing in the forums. This is what ought to be on our minds. Forget the glory of Rome and his Caesar. Sure, honor him, but fear God only (1 Pet. 2:13-17).

Of course, pray for these worldly leaders, but do not concern yourself with putting your hand to the political plow of power. It will take your heart captive and sow evil where pride, arrogance, and all forms of hatred hide (Titus 3:1-7; 2 Pet. 2:11-12). We must give ourselves fully to Christ’s manner of engaging the injustices of this cruel world. This means we recognize that Christ is the only candidate worthy of our campaigning.

Therefore, how ridiculous is it to talk about “our country” and use language only reserved for the church as if it applies to nations that have been instituted by God for the sole purpose of executing wrath. God “bless” America? I’m sorry, I have a hard time hearing the apostle Paul say, “God bless Rome.” And apparently, many Christians can’t understand the absurdity in a statement that takes such pride in the kingdoms of this world.

Are we really prepared to say that the answer to the failing economy and the culture wars is to vote the all-inclusive “God” back in to the world’s vernacular? Sorry, don’t buy that at all. The Christianizing of a pagan culture by worldly methods will only produce a pagan “Christian” culture that knows how to talk religious and make a profit off of religious products.

Which is what we have done in the past. We have a luxury Jesus didn’t have? Times are different? I have a duty to vote and play a role in this mess? I think it is time to question these clichés and begin a revolution back to the Gospel of the New Testament.

I am convinced it is time for Christians to lose these “rights” they are told to “exercise” and be left with nothing but the wealth and security of Christ.

It doesn’t seem to bother many of us that Christianity has found favor among the God-haters. As long as we can rest easy at night knowing we still have our “rights” and that gays won’t be able to marry, who cares about the status of their hearts and reaching out to them as Christ would. I guess it doesn’t really matter that the pregnant teenager really needs someone to take her in, not a picket sign in her face telling her she is going to hell or a meaningless vote in a private booth that you were told makes you a “good” citizen.

It’s much easier to believe in a version of the Kingdom of God that is able to advance through politics; that way we don’t have to get our hands dirty—at least not in the sense of touching people who are in spiritual and physical need. Besides, if we take Jesus seriously, we may actually have to talk to some of those folks. We might be asked to love them to change and stop relying on the methods of the world to stir up their flesh to sin more.

It really is a matter of overcoming evil instead of suppressing it. Laws don’t save people. They only provoke the sinful nature of man. Those without Christ need them, but it is the purpose of those institutions of man to use those methods. You think we would have learned that by now.

It is the world that looks for change through politics.

It is the world that believes that peace will come by legislation and the wisdom of generals and political orators. Who are we to mingle with that rabble? What business is it of ours to hop in the very vehicle that will rise against Christ and make its final stand on that last day.

You know the last time I checked, politicians make great anti-christs. Keep that in mind when you are tempted to join in the partisan politics and play this silly game leading up to November 4th 2008. Where is Christ in it all? How did he engage the worldly systems of his day? I’m willing to bet the answer is much clearer than we would like it to be.

Why then? Why so blurry? Because we have grown accustomed to our life here in Corinth. And as Paul said to the original Corinthians, he would say to us, “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).

Will we trust the way of the cross? The kind of winning that happens by dying? The battle plan that calls for everyone to lay down their arms and fight with love? Will we reconcile ourselves to a Gospel that demands we operate in an upside-down Kingdom or will we call it foolishness and forfeit our inheritance? How will the church respond in my generation?

I believe she will have that opportunity in this country real soon. Many will be unprepared, I fear. They will be shocked when the veil falls from their eyes and they actually are given no choice but to stare into the blinding light of Christ’s Gospel in the midst of suffering.

I am nervous at the thought of it. Yet, I am confident that our faith will undergo a great transformation. We will tap into a power we have not been acquainted with in these worldly chains we have prematurely dubbed “freedom.” I long for that day. Come Lord Jesus, come!

“And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country– a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” Hebrews 11:13-16


Kingdom Conversations (Faith & Politics)

“Christendom (Christian government, coalitions, institutions, etc.) tries to control morality through civil means because they have failed to uphold the truth in their own assemblies. They have diluted the Gospel and rendered themselves savorless salt. Now they turn to human government to do what the church should have done through Christian influence. The Remnant who takes God at his Word will flourish.” Cup & Cross: An Introduction to Anabaptist History by Michael Martin, 305.

The following blog post is comprised of three responses I recently posted in a conversation that was birthed from the quote above. I have omitted those involved in the conversation and their responses. I am confident that my response will read as a fluid defense of the beliefs behind the quote above. I have pasted this straight from the original posts. If you are interested in reading more on the subject below, please read my blog “Rethinking the Two Kingdoms” and check out the suggested reading.

RESPONSE ONE:

Thanks for taking the time to join in. I understand where you are coming from. I have given great thought to the perspective that says Christians should use their influence in every aspect of the world, especially in political policies and the shaping of human law. Although I believe at times the line doesn’t seem very clear, I do believe there is a line. And I believe Christ has drawn it for us.

The greatest challenge is asking the Lord to remove the scales of culture and human wisdom from our eyes that we might see his truth. Because I know, Lord, we want to see your truth.

There is something we should make very plain. The Body of Christ is not an institution in any sense of the word. So, I would not say that any blanket statements about the true corporate Body of Christ expressed in local assemblies has been made.

The judgment has been made against those individual misguided believers who involve themselves with worldly institutions that by their very nature call for a denial of the way of the cross and the acceptance of methods that run contrary to the nature of the Gospel (e.g. power-over people instead of power-under, killing enemies, slandering politicians in partisan politics, being a religious zealot, etc.). All of this falls under the name “Christendom.”

Here is where I see the problem, brother. We have compartmentalized our faith by dividing the Gospel message into “salvation for the souls of men” and everything else we subconsciously label “OTHER.”

Therefore, we have embraced a humanistic false gospel that largely proclaims heaven and forgiveness of sin but neglects discipleship and any serious concern for a faith that reflects the very Person of Jesus Christ in all matters of faith. Compared to those believers in my Voice of the Martyrs Magazines, we have tasted little of the Gospel’s power in a New Testament context.

The reason it seems like a good idea for believers to involve themselves in a process that actually runs contrary to the methods of Jesus is because we have chopped up our faith to the point of blindness. We find the Sermon on the Mount unrealistic when it comes to overcoming evil.

Since we have accepted a Gospel that first and foremost is concerned for the “salvation of souls,” we reject any serious considerations of Jesus’ teachings. We read the Gospels and writings such as Romans 12-13 through democratic American glasses.

“We are saved!” we proclaim with enthusiasm. Everything else is fair game it seems. Besides, “we are free” the good ole pastor says, “free by the blood of Christ and soldiers–free to vote–a luxury Jesus didn’t have.” I am heartsick by these things. I am still in shock from the first time I heard them with new ears. It was one among many alarms that went off in my spirit as I made my way out of institutional Christianity.

One quick sweep of the church landscape today will prove that we have given in to the temptation that Jesus resisted with the devil–that is the adoption of the power of the kingdoms of the world and working within its system instead of from without.

It would seem that many Christians would rather bow down and pledge to operate within a corrupted system that asks us to reject the subversive nature of the Kingdom than trust in the foolish ways of Jesus that loves enemies and understands that it is men’s hearts that must change.

It is my belief that we are so far from belief in Jesus’ way that we think it preposterous to be content with it alone. We quickly move from these clear teachings to human wisdom and we do not see how our actions oppose those of Christ.

Finally, I too believe that Christianity ought to influence government. But from outside this wicked fallen system and the methods it uses in its fulfilling God’s will to be agents of wrath. We would do well to read the Gospels in today’s context. We would find that there is little to no difference. We must see Jesus living today.

How does Christ relate to the worldly kingdoms? What does Paul say to these issues in Rom. 12-13 and in the books of Philippians, Colossians, and Ephesians? His language is very political. Yet, if we have embraced a compartmentalized faith and are looking through the lenses of cultural Christianity, we will only see what we have been trained to see and nothing more.

Christ, give us eyes to see and ears to hear. This is my prayer. May we be bold enough to question and brave enough to follow through to where ever Christ leads us. Even if it leads us to a Roman cross.

Do you know how Christians responded to abortion in the first two centuries of our faith? They took the babies that were discarded and cared for them until they died or were grown. They believed in a faith that acted, not a ballot in a polling booth from a person who believes that sin can and should be legislated by the great Beast called Rome.

And as for war, the Lord has always used worldly kingdoms to punish other agents of wrath that get out of hand and pervert justice. He does a fine job without the bombastic ugly Christian getting his hands dirty with worldly agendas and the violation of Christ’s precepts.

RESPONSE TWO:

Bonhoeffer was right in preaching against the state run church, condemning the actions of the Nazis, helping Jews to escape Nazi persecution, and suffering with Christ in the events leading up to his death in April of 1945. He crossed the line when he took on the methods of fighting evil with evil in his involvement with Hitlers assassination attempt.

This is where I want to share with everyone how I allow Christ’s commands to illuminate the line that runs between the two kingdoms. The line can seem unclear at times. It would appear that many can’t tell the difference between service in the Kingdom of God and the meddling in worldly affairs. So, how do we know what we should and should not be a part of when it comes to civil involvement?

First, I would like to point out that the Scripture seems to indicate that Jesus was not concerned with involving himself directly with civil injustices. He worked the system from outside what Rome was doing. And Jesus lived in a politically hot time! The apostles appear to follow the same order.

In the end, Roman power put Jesus on the cross for his indirect attack on Caesar and the empire by his message. Christ claimed to be a King with a kingdom “not of this world.”

Therefore, it is plain to see from this one episode, Jesus engaged the political powers, but he did so indirectly and from without side the accepted religious and political system. This should come as no surprise. Jesus had decided several years before in the wilderness with the devil that he would not be the sort of Messiah that wins by operating within the worldly kingdoms and their power-over systems.

How do I determine whether or not I will participate and how I will participate in civil affairs? For me… I will not vote or rally the troops to any sort of civic action. Although I am aware of the political climate and I make myself aware of the current events via the media, I keep my distance and pray, “They Kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” I pray for the agents of wrath as the Scripture teaches and leave the rest to God. I am to be about the business of letting Christ change men’s hearts as I follow him.

The Word is my sword and his love is my life. Any involvement with the kingdoms of the world by use of their methods of justice… only thwarts the whole Gospel message and confuses Christ’s agenda with a worldly one. Jesus is then lost and put alongside other admirable but non-Christian figures like Ghandi.

I want to say that, for now, I believe there is freedom to follow Christ to a place that may allow SOME to participate on a miniscule level. Still, the commands of Jesus apply to us in every situation. We may only participate in as far as we do not violate Christ’s teachings and the way of the cross. If our participation means a violation of the principles of the Kingdom of God… then clearly we may not participate in an action that contradicts Christ.

Finally, we must not confuse pacifism with what Christ modeled. Pacifism is simply a non-violent direct engagement with the powers that be. Its concern is still political change through direct confrontations and working the system. Ghandi is an example of this kind of direct engagement with the government. Although difficult, a person can still hate his enemies but not believe in violence. Therefore, we must see that Jesus’ teachings do not reflect this sort of “pacifism.”

Jesus loved his enemies and prayed for those that persecuted him so that their hearts would be open to the Kingdom of God. His motivation was not political change, even if it occurred indirectly. His concern was the Kingdom of God–that heaven would begin its slow descent to earth that men might be redeemed and given a new sort of existence.

This kind of life ought to start from the moment of salvation. This is the point where we step out of the kingdoms of the world and into a new way of living that reflects the Kingdom that is already, but not yet.

RESPONSE THREE:

I have stated my position thoroughly at my blog and in book reviews of “The Myth of a Christian Nation” and Walter Wink’s “Jesus and Non-Violence”—as well as John Piper’s “What Jesus Demands From the World.” Check them out at amazon.

I would like to conclude that I do believe I take it all a step or two further than simply saying there are two kingdoms and we should remember to which one we belong. And I am OK with that. We are both attempting to live within the principles of the Kingdom of God while continuing to question this “healthy suspicion” of the worldly kingdoms. Maybe my ‘suspicion’ has moved to more of an indictment.

I am not prepared to say that across the board a person should withdraw himself from every civic function. However, I would like all to understand my personal perspective. The Christian must be ever-mindful of the luring power the worldly kingdoms have to corrupt the true Gospel message and living.

Most Christians, I believe, will lose their witness to Christ and blur the line of distinction between the kingdoms when they meddle in worldly kingdom affairs of a political nature. It is not enough to simply recognize that there are two kingdoms and that our “primary” concern is the Kingdom of God. I strongly believe that it is our ONLY concern. This is why we can’t afford to stop rethinking the two kingdoms.

Finally, I want to say I believe that the “power-over” nature of man is evident in almost every area of life as we presently know it. I don’t believe that this means we should cease to work for our boss and withdraw to a monastery in the hills. There is no way to fully escape this system on this side of eternity. And I don’t believe the Lord has called us to remove ourselves entirely from this present evil age.

However, I do want to point out this pertinent fact. Christ isn’t casting our jobs, our mortgage, or our insurance into the lake of fire. He casts the devil, the false prophet, and the beast (i.e. Rome).

It is this human government that stands in complete contrast to that Kingdom which is coming. It is in this system that the anti-christ perverts God’s rule and reign. It is in this system that we must never trust, place our hope, boast in pride, or think of fondly. She is not our friend. For in her “was found the blood of the prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on earth” (Rev. 18:24; see Rev. 18-22).


The Sermon on the Hill

WARNING: RELIGIOUS SATIRE!

The Sermon on the Hill (The American Beatitudes)
Matt. 5:1-16

One day as he saw the politicians gathering, Jesus went up the steps of the capital and stood behind a podium with The Statue of Freedom looming overhead. The Senate gathered around him, 2 and he began to address them.

 

The American Beatitudes

 

3 “Blessed are those who have a military-industrial complex and realize their need to secure their economic interests in the Middle East, for the kingdoms of the world are theirs.

4 Blessed are those who are hedonistic, for they will be satisfied.

5 Blessed are those who are proud and arrogant, for they shall rape and pillage the whole earth.

6 Blessed are those who lust for power and prosperity and call it “justice,” for they will have comforts.

7 Blessed are those who show no mercy, for they will never be in need of it anyway.

8 Blessed are those whose hearts are peacefully wicked, for they shall be gods.

9 Blessed are those who kill for peace, for they will be called the “good” children of God.

10 Blessed are the persecutors of evil men (i.e. those who threaten Pax Americana), for the kingdoms of the world are theirs.

11 Blessed are you when people burn your precious flag and curse you because you destroyed their homes and killed their loved ones.  These evildoers simply have not understood the power and salvation of redemptive violence.  My followers must understand, when we talk about war… we are really talking about peace.

12 Be happy when people curse you for this!  Be very glad!  For great is your reward on earth.  And remember, every empire before you was cursed for the same things.

13 You and you alone are the salt of the earth.  But what good is salt if it has been corrupted by dirty Mexicans from the South and cave-dwelling Muslims from the east?  They should be shot like the Indians and dumped in the sea like slaves.  They are worthless!  This is your manifest destiny!

14 You and you alone are the light of the world—an idolatrous city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.

15 No one buys alcohol and gets drunk alone.  Instead they share their maddening wine with everyone in the world until everyone has had their fill!

16 In the same way, let your American ways spew out for all to taste, so that everyone will embrace carnal living and let freedom ring!”


* This article was published in Christian Ethics Today (Winter 08/ Issue 068). See more of my satire “John Calvin 3:16-21″ and “Romans 13: The Patriotic Version” at CET: www.christianethicstoday.com


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