Holy Polis

“In baptism our citizenship is transferred from one dominion to another, and we become, in whatever culture we find ourselves, resident aliens.” ~Hauerwas

HolyPolisIn preparation for yesterday’s sermon on Church As State, I spent a lot of last week re-reading Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon. The cover of the book touts the work as “a provocative Christian assessment of culture and ministry for people who know that something is wrong.” The book reminded me again that Paul is intentionally using political language in Philippians to describe the Church and its mission. “Polis” is the root word Paul uses over and over again. It means “city” or “state” or “the citizens of a city or state.”

So, according to Paul, God’s Church is a holy polis.

(Hauerwas and Willimon don’t use that phrase. I just made it up Friday. And I was very proud of it until yesterday. I used it four or five times in the sermon and drew nothing but blank stares. Oh, well.)

God’s Church is an outpost. It’s a beachhead. It’s an island of one culture in the middle of another. God’s Church is a city of people holding on to customs and traditions and practices and a language—a story—that’s wholly unfamiliar to the cultural surroundings. Because of what God has done and is doing in Christ Jesus, we have a radically new and different vision and purpose that’s loaded with political thoughts and words that have nothing to do with Democrats or Republicans or conservatives or liberals or the United States of America.

“The Kingdom of God” is a political phrase. “Christ is Lord” is a political slogan. As subjects of God’s Kingdom, we do belong to a certain political group. We do subscribe to a particular political ideology. We do promote and campaign for a specific political platform. And that agenda and that way of life is always foreign to, and usually opposed to, the political and cultural systems all around us.

We understand that God rules the world. Not governments and nations. Not laws and decrees. Not politicians and parties. We see what’s really happening. We get it. And nobody else does. That’s what makes God’s Church so revolutionary. So radical.

But sometimes we get distracted by all the “un-reality” around us, we lose sight of what’s really going on. Especially the past few months. With presidential campaigns and debates and ads and polls and news specials, it’s very easy to get caught up in it. It’s easy for us, if we’re not careful, to even begin believing this earthly country and its politics is all very important.

Our undying attention and allegiance should be given to God’s Kingdom. Because the world needs the Church. It needs our colony, our holy polis. The only way for the world to know it’s being redeemed is for the Church to point to the Redeemer by being a redeemed people. The only way for the world to know that it needs redeeming, that it’s broken and fallen, is to show the world an alternative it can’t find anywhere else. Our claim is not that this way of life makes sense or that our beliefs and practices will make the world run more smoothly. Our claim is that it just happens to be true. This really is the way God is. This really is the way God’s world is.

“There is great demand, but also great joy, at the wonder, at the adventure of being the Church.” ~Willimon




  1. Rob's Dad

    It wasn’t just blank stares – you just couldn’t hear the groans. It was way too Dad.

    Your analogy of a beachhead is interesting. Amphibious assaults are best defended by not letting them get on the beach. If they do, then don’t let them get very far – pound them while they are most vulnerable.

  2. Allan

    Sounds very 2nd John-ish.

    Holy Polis isn’t ‘Dad.’

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