Life in a Theocracy

I got sidetracked the past two weeks by what we’re preaching at Central from the first chapter of Philippians that I just had to write about. Allow me now to return for the rest of this week to a couple of more personal observations and thoughts from “Approaching the End: Eschatological Reflections on Church, Politics, and Life” by Stanley Hauerwas.

“Jesus is Lord” is more than just someone’s opinion. It’s more than a claim or a belief. It’s even more than the Christian confession. “Jesus is Lord” is actually a strong political statement that demands allegiance. It is a pledge to another reality, the ultimate reality that not everyone can see.  To say “Jesus is Lord” is to say “Caesar is not.” To claim that “Jesus is Lord” is to claim that he alone rules the world right now today. And to live like it.

The reality of Christ’s lordship, of his rule and authority, is experienced and expressed by the Church. This rule is hidden from most of the world right now. But the Church knows. We know. We submit to the rule of Christ Jesus. We follow in his prescribed “way.” We seek to love and to serve in the name and manner of our King, completely counter to the way the kings of the earth rule and lead. We are convinced beyond any doubt that Christ Jesus has already conquered the world and that he alone will determine the end of history. So we do things the way Jesus does things. He reveals himself and his rule through us.

In contemplating the practical implications of this Christian view of reality, Hauerwas draws on John Howard Yoder. To be a Christian is to subscribe to a particular political view and adhere to specific political behaviors. It’s all politics. The Church is the existence of a people who refuse to acknowledge the claims of worldly rulers to be kings. Therefore, because the Lord triumphed on the cross, his followers refuse to use the violence and force of earthly rulers to achieve what are allegedly good ends.

We are Theocrats. We live in a Theocracy. And it determines what we believe and how we act.

Christian politics are

“based on the confidence that God uses the power structures of this world in spite of themselves for God’s purposes. Christ carries out the purposes of the One who is sovereign by ruling over the rebellious structures of the universe. That rule is hidden but made visible through the servant church. The place of the church in the history of the universe is the place where Christ’s lordship is operative. This is where it is clear that he rules, as well as the kind of rule he exercises. He is the suffering servant whose rule is decisively revealed on a cross. The church makes history not through domination but through being the servant of the crucified Lord.”

Now quoting Yoder from his “The Politics of Jesus”:

“The cross and not the sword, suffering and not brute power determine the meaning of history. The key to the obedience of God’s people is not their effectiveness, but their patience (John 13:10). The triumph of the right is assured not by the might that comes to the aid of the right, which is of course the justification of the use of violence and other kinds of power in every human conflict. The relationship between the obedience of God’s people and the triumph of God’s cause is not a relationship of cause and effect but cross and resurrection.”

How do we recapture this way of political thinking today?

We Christians in the West are so “Constantinianized” (I think I just made that word up) that we don’t see God’s Kingdom anymore as opposed to the kingdoms of the world. We no longer understand that Christ’s rule works just the opposite of the rule of earthly presidents and kings. The Church is so domesticated that instead of seeing Christ’s rule working to overthrow and ultimately conquer the rule of every monarchy, democracy, and dictatorship on the planet, and praying for it, we see the Church and the nation’s government working together. We’ve gone so far as to equate their methods and their goals, the ways and means of both the state and Jesus, and to hold both rulers and manner of ruling in equal regard. Living as a Christian doesn’t mean exploring what makes us faithful followers of Jesus as much as it means developing an ethic that might work for everybody.

Yikes.

How do we live in and under the rule of Christ? Well, we’ve got to decide once and for all that obligations to a particular state or nation, devotion to a specific society or economic system, cannot compromise or supersede our commitments to the Lord. Paul and Jason and the disciples in Thessalonica were arrested for “defying Caesar’s decrees,” claiming that “there is another king, one called Jesus” (Acts 17:7).

Yes, there is another king. His name is Jesus. And he is Lord.

Peace,

Allan

2 Comments

  1. Rob's Dad

    Leonard,
    This is some pretty serious stuff. It is scary to really explore and think about taking it all the way. Interesting to contemplate it just days before Independence Day – wondering how that looks in the All American Bible (cue the eagle, Toby Keith and Lee Greenwood montage).

    48

  2. Allan

    This is tough, man. I think this is so hard for us, myself included. I wonder why we kill and die for the nation, and applaud all the killing and dying for the nation, but don’t appreciate nearly as much the dying for Christ that goes on around the world every day.

    Last Sunday our church gave a standing ovation to one of our members who’s spent the past ten months working for the nation in Afghanistan. A great guy, a wonderful guy. I love this guy. His precious family is in our small group. We’ve taken care of this family and loved them and admired them through the whole past year with this. It was appropriate to welcome him back with a standing ovation. In two more Sundays we’re going to welcome one of our foreign missionary couples back from Brasilia, Brazil where they’ve spent the past six years planting churches and preaching the Gospel. I wonder what kind of ovation we’re going to give them? I wonder about our priorities.

    If we really believe Jesus is Lord and that someday he is truly going to reign supreme over every nation and government, then we know that he is working right now to overthrow and conquer the government and the ways and means of the United States. He’s doing it by love and sacrifice, with grace and mercy and forgiveness. As subjects of his, those are the kinds of things we should be celebrating.

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