“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.
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.
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.
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).