“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).
September 8th, 2008 at 4:32 pm
I would like to clarify something that I stated about Martin Luther King Jr. It would appear that my mentioning of him always sets people off on me and several times now people lash out with, “O yeah, what are you doing in the world for good!?”
As for King, I have simply made a simple observation as a result of my discerning the difference in the two kingdoms. If a person agrees that the two kingdoms are opposed to one another and that Jesus proclaimed and lived within a kingdom not of this world, it should come as no surprise that I would say that King was “misguided” and that he was a civil rights leader, not a preacher of the pure Kingdom of God. Did he do some good? Of course, who can deny it. I am not arguing the fact that in some way he didn’t bring about a “greater good” and represent the Kingdom of God in his message of equality. My problem is that King mixed the Kingdom of God with America and confused Christ’s agenda with a worldly one. The mixing of the two Kingdoms is inevitable when you use a political platform to further a “not of this world” agenda. When a person uses the methods of the world and takes a hold of that which is forbidden, they lose their witness for Christ and the distinctiveness of his Kingdom. We need to rethink how can we engage the culture without operating within the confines of the power-over systems that seek to further its Empire and build towers to the sky. We ought to be standing as a testimony to something altogether different.
And as for the, “What are you doing in the world for good!?” Well, I pray that I am representing the teachings of Jesus in every realm of living. I am attempting to trust in the up-side down ways of Christ’s Kingdom and is other-worldly ways of advancement. I am in no means perfect and I should be humble, lest I fall. But I know I can say that I am walking in the light I have and faithfully responding to Christ commands. I do stumble, but he picks me up and sets my feet on a rock. It is Christ I proclaim from first to finish. I have given my all not to confuse the message of the radical Kingdom of God with some sort of political agenda that concerns itself with uniting people around pithy sayings, man’s wisdom, nationalistic fervor, and Caesar’s law.
September 10th, 2008 at 4:15 am
after the pinchin, hair-pullin & eye-pokin of political debates & campaigns on tv…its always a blessin to come home to Christ and retreaat far from the man-idol tha nebuchadneaar saw, tha idol thas the fullness of man and man’s kingdom, which is ruled by satan. really enjoyed this blog…the true Gospel of the true and livin God cant be managed, brought about or worked by men…dont worry about sayin how much we suppose to retreat from, the Holy Spirit indwellin His ppl be callin us all out…and completely out…when the children of israel came outta egypt, they came out completely…i believe the world has neva seen the Kingdom of God the way its fixin to see it soon…be bless my brotha…be strong in the Lord & in the power of His might… -g-
September 10th, 2008 at 7:24 am
All too often, leaders of the past have tied our faith to a form of Government… and that has failed us.
Our freedom in in Christ, not in the US constitution.
September 11th, 2008 at 5:07 pm
“we will only see what we have been trained to see and nothing more.”
This is huge. Christians have been trained by the blended Kingdom. It’s the worldly system with a Christian theme, but they think it is all Christian. It’s time we separate the two. Thanks bro!
October 4th, 2008 at 10:28 pm
Enjoyed your post and finding your blog. Well done and Amen!
November 14th, 2008 at 10:54 pm
Please disregard my initial post above – the reply box forces me to squint too much for any decent self-editing. David I appreciate and share many of your concerns. It turns my stomach that so many professing Christians (who are outwardly more republican than Christian) expressed such deep fear and anxiety over the outcome of the election. I would echo John Piper’s call to vote as though you were not voting – in the spirit of 1Corinthians 7:29-31.
But some of the things I read from you strike me as a little more reactionary than simply corrective.
1. That the church is “not an institution in any sense of the word” is a rejection of the plain meaning of language. The church was in fact established by Jesus through his apostles and is organized, significant, and in society and culture or else it is not obedient to the clear, prescriptive teachings of scripture regarding the church. Even your use of the expression ‘organic church/ecclesiology’ suggests that organization is established into the church, the body of believers, and so the church is by direct definition an institution. I am impressed upon by at least part of what you seem to intend: that the church is no human institution, but rather both created and instituted by God so that it is not artificial but living; not man-centered, but God-centered; not dependent on political power but the Holy Spirit and the work of Christ – but I see no need to deny the basic nature of the church as an organized, well-ordered group (and yes the term organic fits, but not in opposition to institution). I’m concerned that this anti-institutionalism could tend toward a rejection of legitimate obedient churches simply for working according to structure and policy.
2. That the Kingdom of Christ “is our ONLY concern” is meaningful in expressing the supremacy of King Jesus, but your use of this here seems to imply that worldly concerns not only be wholly submitted to His rule, but ignored altogether. I can’t help but sense the development here of a false dichotomy of spirit against truth. I agree with you that Christians in this country at times (most often nearest to election day) do in fact actively engage in political idolatry. However, I get the impression that someone who holds an office in government (whether out of political motivation or simply to provide for his family) would be viewed by you as rejecting the teachings of Jesus. This view seems to me to be far more bound to principle than your ‘renewed Christology’ should allow. I would beg to keep discussion open on this point.
Finally, I’ve read your two posts that appear under the category “Christology.” I can’t help but sense a limited Christology at work. I see none of the pre-eternal co-creative Christ in the concept of political disengagement. I see none of the Christ of the Revelation in the doctrine of absolute nonviolence. In places you reject the centrality of principles for the supremacy of Christ, but then I read more and find a Jesus defined by principles.
November 14th, 2008 at 11:53 pm
Thanks for commenting. In response…
1. You seem to understand what I mean by institution. I don’t see the need to argue this point.
2. I don’t know how this is a “false dichotomy”. It is actually the other way around. I am not suggesting that they be ignored. It has everything to do with our relationship to the worldly kingdoms now that we have been called into the Kingdom of God. No, I don’t see it bound to my principles. I see it connected to Christ’s own relationship to the world. We can discuss. Let’s take one point at a time.
“Limited Christology”? How so? Christ of Revelation? Wow! Which one would you like to discuss first. I have plenty to say about all of them.
I encourage you to read all of my posts on faith and politics.
David D. Flowers
November 15th, 2008 at 9:11 am
1. If you’re committed to loving the Church and to forsaking not the assembly of believers in worship, then I also do not see a need to argue this point.
2. I think we’ll both agree that this one hinges on one’s Christology, so yes, one point at a time and each in proper order.
3. I was only relaying an impression. Although you rightly emphasize Christology as central, it is difficult to glean specifics from what you’ve posted in your two ‘Christology’ posts. What I meant in my comments above:
“I see none of the pre-eternal co-creative Christ in the concept of political disengagement.” What I read in your post above promotes an extreme disengagement from the “kingdoms of the world,” which I take to mean the various dominions of men. This stands in odd contrast to the creative work of Christ in Genesis wherein it was given to man to rule and subdue the earth. I can’t reconcile the rejection of voting and rejection of holding any governmental office with a thoroughly biblical Christology. Certainly I reject political methods as the means to bringing in the Kingdom of Christ, BUT I cannot reject the duties and obligations that I have to interact with these, to protect and defend the innocent and oppressed, and yes to strive sometimes by earthen action for what is right. Just because my actions do not effectively impel the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven does not mean that I am relieved of my prior obligation to exercise earthly authority in my earthly responsibilities. In fact if I neglect those duties, then I begin to taint my part in the Kingdom of Heaven and its ways and methods. It may seem easier to focus only upon spiritual means and representative influence (by no means can we forget or subordinate them), but ultimately it is not somehow more obedient to abdicate my earthly administrative responsibilities in and toward the governments of the world and give the excuse that I am obeying the teachings and model of Jesus. What I mean here is that you seem to have pitted your understanding of a Gospels/Acts-centered Christology over against the Christology of Genesis (as well as other places) and seeming to have found them in conflict you have chosen red letters over black – but the distinction is artificial. The LORD our God is one.
I’m off to rest and maybe tomorrow, I’ll read up and try to clear up those impressions.
November 15th, 2008 at 7:38 pm
1. We agree then not to argue the point. Not sure what you are intending to say here.
2. Proper order? What order is that?
3. This “disengagement” that I speak of is often misunderstood. Please be slow to jump to conclusions about what I am proposing. I am not speaking of joining the Amish or some other modern group of Essenes.
We have a major disagreement in how we interpret our Christology from Genesis. Things have definitely changed since the command to “multiply” and “subdue”. Jason, this is where I will stand in stark contrast to your words. Whoever said it was our “duty” to involve ourselves in the kingdoms of the world (i.e. man’s government)? It wasn’t Christ.
My concern is that we look to Jesus for our Christology… not cut and paste some collage of human ideas about the fluid story of the Bible. You are just going to have to read all my posts on faith and politics if you want to know more of where I am coming from. This is why I have written them… so that others might rethink their cultural conditioning and popular Christianity. I could not disagree more with your statements of “duty” and “obligation” to manifest the Kingdom in ways Christ rejected. I do not see I have set myself up against any other biblical teaching. All things have now come under Jesus.
Our Christology of any book of the Bible can only be understood by the life and teachings of Jesus. Maybe you don’t yet understand where I am coming from. I have spent the last several years working out these teachings. Don’t think in one blog post you are gong to be able to follow every line of thought. This isn’t to insult anyone’s intelligence. I simply know that it takes time with any paradigm shift.
No, I have not “chosen red letters over black” letters. However, if we both can’t agree that we understand the black letters after we have embraced the red… then I don’t know if there is much for us to talk about. I have no problem saying that we have resulted to nice little cliches, spiritual rhetoric and jargon we have heard from the pulpit… in order to cling to our old comfortable ideas of Christian living in America.
It is time for a change. And that change will come by working out these things in daily engagement with the words of Jesus. It will ultimately not come by a battle of the wits in the comment section of a blog. I am confident that very soon we will be able to see whose Christology can stand the test of time. But it won’t simply be a test of time… but a test of belief in suffering. Then we will see whose ideas are those of Christ and those that were crafted in human wisdom.
November 16th, 2008 at 9:57 am
1. “Not sure what you were intending to say” – I had thought I read something from you that made me think you had or would abandon corporate worship – again I was hoping to clear up an impression I got – not to stir up confusion.
2. Proper order = I was simply agreeing with you that all of our theology would ultimately hinge on our Christology.
3. Yeah I definitely didn’t have you pegged as Amish – what with the blog and all – so don’t be worried about me jumping to conclusions. I meant what I said that so far I’ve only gathered impressions and intend to read more. It’s only that you use so many words to say each thing (I’m sorry hold on just a moment, I have strangest itch in my eye, almost like a board stuck in it). It’s taking time.
Okay now, in your second paragraph you’ve misunderstood me – you seem to be under the impression that I would promote worldly means to “manifest the Kingdom in ways that Christ rejected.” Read it again b/c I actually explicitly said the opposite. Maybe I can clarify that point. The way that the Kingdom of Heaven is realized in us is by holding fast to faith in Jesus, loving God and loving one another and all according to the working of the Holy Spirit in us. That’s it. We get married, have children, love our wives as Jesus loves the church, submit to proper authority and work for our bosses as though unto to the Lord, and carry on our normal lives (only they are completely not normal). We don’t love and worship money or physical pleasure or the praise of men. We live in simple, inexpensive functional homes with very small private space so that public space can be maximized because we wield hospitality and compassion as weapons of war. We buy used cars so we are not enslaved to a bank and we ride the bus so that we spend less on the car and also get to meet strangers so as to be good neighbors. We do the best we can at our jobs not so that it will bring us more things or attention or the political or economic power to change the world, but simply as our rightful act of service and because it would bring dishonor to our God if we neglected our basic responsibilities. I don’t cast my vote because I think that some politician somewhere is the political savior we’ve been waiting for or because if we get enough greedy self-interested capitalists in to overtake the greedy self-interested socialists that this will give us some kind of strategic Kingdom advantage as though God needed our help -NO, I cast my vote simply because it’s wrong not to stand up for what is right and just, and I do so with little regard for the outcome.
That is what I hear Paul saying in 1 Corinthians 7 not that we live separate from worldly matters, but free from them. “let those who deal with the world [live] as though they had no dealings with it” – this does not not mean that we are not to deal with the world, but that we ARE to deal with the world. Only we are to do so in a manner completely independent of it. We don’t disengage but rather we take wives, have children, eat, work (even in the public sector if that is what are hands are given to), and yes vote, each as honorably as we can – all the while with the kind of complete detachment that in no way sees any of these things as the means to any end of any worth (other than simply reflecting the glory of God by living our ordinary lives according to the working of His Spirit).
Yes, things have changed since we received the commands of Genesis, but the commands haven’t – only that more light has been given since so that we are able to interpret and better respond to those commands. We now may know that we are to bear fruit, multiply, and subdue NOT with the mind of setting any of these or any other works up as the means by which we accomplish God’s work (as though He were served by human hands), but rather that we do these things in obedience and fully conscious that they are nothing compared to the worth of Christ.
As for red vs. black letters, I only meant that both instruct us on the other. Of course every teaching of scripture must be submitted to the centrality of Jesus and re-understood in the context of His teachings, even so, we no less understand the life, words and work of Jesus against the ground of the rest of the Bible – we have that much in red for it was Jesus who explained how the entire Bible teaches us about Him. It is not a human notion that the Bible is a fully unified book. Nor is it artificial thinking that God did not alter His character anywhere between the pages. These things are asserted and exposited IN the Bible. As for suffering, I am confident that if we hold fast to treasuring Jesus in and above all things then suffering will seem less and less a test, more and more a joy.
Look if I’ve over-blogged with you, it’s not for nothing and definitely not just for the sake of debate.
November 17th, 2008 at 2:52 am
1. Can you point me to the statement that gave you this impression.
2. great! 🙂
3. This is what you said. “Certainly I reject political methods as the means to bringing in the Kingdom of Christ, BUT I cannot reject the duties and obligations that I have to interact with these, to protect and defend the innocent and oppressed, and yes to strive sometimes by earthen action for what is right. Just because my actions do not effectively impel the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven does not mean that I am relieved of my prior obligation to exercise earthly authority in my earthly responsibilities. In fact if I neglect those duties, then I begin to taint my part in the Kingdom of Heaven and its ways and methods.”
And this is what I disagree with. This is what I am referring to when I say these are “methods that Christ rejected.”
You said, “That is what I hear Paul saying in 1 Corinthians 7 not that we live separate from worldly matters, but free from them. “let those who deal with the world [live] as though they had no dealings with it” – this does not not mean that we are not to deal with the world, but that we ARE to deal with the world. Only we are to do so in a manner completely independent of it. ”
I agree with this on all matters except matters of the state (i.e. governments, worldly kingdoms). Please see my other blog posts on faith and politics to read about how I have drawn this conclusion from Christ’s example.
I too await the time when the churches in America may count suffering a “joy.” Nevertheless, there is no doubt it will be a test. Only then will our Christology be purged of human ideas.
Thank you for sharing for edification instead of debate. Peace, bro.
David D. Flowers