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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Jesus and Politics

  "Set your eyes on things above and not on  things below." 

Please  regard this article and statement as food for thought. I respect your opinions and beliefs. This article was copied via the internet. The source of the article is listed at the bottom..

With the Presidential debates over and the election right around the corner, this weekend in our services I'll be taking a break from the series we're in to share some thoughts about how Jesus interacted with the politics of His day and what we can learn from His example.  I taught on this subject a few months back.  To watch it, click here and scroll to March 25, 2012.

There are different opinions on this subject, and some people hold theirs passionately.  The Bible is claimed as the source-text for a variety of positions.  Although I think what I think, I also think that intelligent, God-fearing, Bible-believing people can come to different opinions and interpretations on this subject.  I do not offer my thoughts as a rebuttal toward anyone.  If what you think is working for you, that's great!  Nobody has to agree with these thoughts in order to be loved and accepted be me.  Agreement with my views is not a prerequisite for ministry in our church or usefulness to Jesus' Kingdom.  However, I have thought quite a bit about all this (I have been a student of the Bible since I was a child and I was a political philosophy major in college), and I would offer the fruit of my study to anyone as a starting point as they develop their own convictions.

That disclaimer aside, here are a few verses that provide a starting point for our consideration:
Pilate... said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” ...Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” John 18:33, 36
Our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 3:20
Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Matthew 6:10
Jesus clearly intended His life and ministry to have radical social and political implications.  Salvation isn’t meant to be a private, interior, individualistic experience.  After He changes us on the inside, He intends to use us to change the world around us.  Jesus came to populate His Kingdom by inviting people to transfer their citizenship through baptism.  First, He heals and frees people from the inherently unjust, tyrannical systems of this world, and then He uses them to free others.  This process culminates when Jesus is sitting on the throne with all the kings of the earth kneeling before Him (Philippians 2:20, Daniel 7:27).

But the way Jesus went about overthrowing worldly authority was different from what anybody looking for the Messiah expected.  They expected Him to charge at them head on, to beat them at their own game.  But He refused to engage the world on it’s own terms (Matt. 5:44, John 18:11, John 18:36).  Instead He showed us how to “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). “If your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” (Romans 12:20).  Jesus advances His Kingdom through self-sacrificial love and servanthood.

The Kingdom of Servanthood vs. The Kingdoms of Control

Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant.” Matthew 20:25–26
The various governments of the world control their citizens and protect their borders by coming over people with threats of violence.  In some versions, such as America, the people have a voice in choosing who their rulers will be.  But in all versions, worldly rulership is still a “power-over” system of control.

This does not mean that rulers in the world’s systems are necessarily bad people or have bad motives.  But every government ultimately derives its power from its ability to punish any who threaten or defy its authority.

“Power-over” is necessary for keeping a nation intact.  It produces a cohesive, functional society that doesn’t get invaded.  But it is impossible for “power-over” to produce internal change in people.  For example, every kingdom has laws against murder and punishes people who break the law.  But no worldly kingdom can keep people from wanting to commit murder.  Only Jesus’ “power-under” Kingdom can do that.  “Power-over” controls behavior, “power-under” changes hearts.  I'm indebted to Gregory Boyd who has helped frame my thinking on this point (and several other points, too).

Satan, The Temporary Boss of the World’s Systems

And he led Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours.” Luke 4:5–7
We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. 1 John 5:19 (see also John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11, 2 Cor. 4:4, Eph. 2:2, and Rev. 18)
Satan tempted Jesus by offering him the nations, claiming to have the authority to give their rulership to anyone that he chose.  Notice that while Jesus refuses to worship Satan, He doesn’t argue with Satan’s claim.  In fact, for Satan’s offer to actually have been enticing, he must actually have had the authority he claimed.

Does this mean that politicians are serving the devil?  Not necessarily.  The Bible says “the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10).  This doesn’t mean bankers are evil.  But believing-bankers should regularly invite the Lord to assess their hearts and show them if the “deceitfulness of riches” (Mark 4:19) has influenced them.  In the same way, believers who participate in politics (whether by casting a vote or serving as a politician) ought to regularly invite Jesus to check their motives for participating in this “power-over” system.  Is faith causing us to vote out of compassion and servanthood?  Or is fear driving us to become power-hungry, seeking to control others’ behavior?

God’s Purpose for Government

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God... For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Romans 13:1–4
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. 1 Peter 2:13–14
According to these passages, God’s purpose for government is to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior.  The New Testament contains no mandate for government to do more (i.e. to promote family values, to include references to God on money or on buildings, to teach Creation or prayer in schools, etc.).

In the Old Testament, Israel asked for a king so that he could lead them into battle (1 Samuel 8).  God said that their request was evidence that they had rejected Him as their King.  In our day, believers are similarly tempted to look to the government to take the lead in battles that God alone wants to lead us into.  God’s offer to lead His church into victory feels sketchy.  Human laws feel more secure.  So like Israel, we’re tempted to make government into an idol.

The Role of Civil Religion in The Kingdoms of the World

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. Colossians 2:8
Every society embraces some form of faith (even atheistic nations, which require their citizens to put their faith solely in the government, which is a form of religion in itself).  “Civil religion” is a term coined by the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau who theorized that every society required a commonly-held set of religious beliefs that would serve as social glue and give the leaders an aura of sacred authority.  The religion’s holy book is invoked when oaths are taken, prayers are offered at significant ceremonies, and soldiers cry out in their various languages “For god and country!” when they rush into battle.  Civil religion assures people that their god is on their side.

Other than in times of crisis, war, or formal ceremonies, civil religion does not impact the lives of its ordinary citizens very much.  Of course, the religion’s priests take it all very seriously, and challenge everyone else to do the same.  But for the most part, normal people are too busy to bother much with religion.  Jesus’ ministry was largely aimed at dismantling the civil religion of Israel so that people could experience authentic relationship with God through His ministry to them.  Jesus does not offer Himself to nations as social super-glue.  He offered Himself to people, inviting them to relinquish every other allegiance to become citizens of Heaven.

Since most of us live in a nation that has adopted the language of our faith for its civil religion, we must be extra-vigilant in our own thinking.  Many other faiths allow for a fusion of faith and politics, but not ours.  Jesus explicitly said His Kingdom is not of this world.  God is not on America’s side any more or less than He is on Korea’s, England’s, or Iraq’s side.

A nation cannot be “Christian” any more than a chair or a dog can be.  There are good and bad nations, good and bad chairs, and good and bad dogs, but that does not mean that any of them are “Christian.”  What makes them good or bad is whether they do what they’re supposed to do.  If a nation is consistently and justly rewarding good behavior and punishing bad, it’s a “good” nation, but believers should not succumb to the blasphemous claim that it is “Christian.”

Only people can be Christians.  Nations cannot believe in or follow Jesus or turn their other cheek to their enemies.  Only people can embrace these beliefs, make these choices, and end up becoming more like Christ (which is what it means to be “Christian”).

The commonly-held belief that America is a “Christian Nation” has created many problems both for our country and for the purity of the message of the gospel around the world.  It is “philosophy and empty deception... according to the tradition of men... rather than according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

Jesus and the Politics of His Day

They sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to [Jesus] in order to trap Him in a statement. They came and said to Him, “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to pay a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?  Shall we pay or shall we not pay?” But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, “Why are you testing Me? Bring Me a denarius to look at.” They brought one. And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” And they said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were amazed at Him.” Mark 12:13–17
Many people don’t realize that Jesus was born into a hotly politicized culture.  In His time, Jewish society was divided much as American culture is today.  Jewish “conservatives” were called “Zealots” and identified with the Pharisees.  The Zealots believed that Israel shouldn’t compromise with Rome at all, but should go to war and that God would miraculously force the Romans out of the Holy Land.  Jewish “liberals” were “Herodians” and identified with the Sadducees.  The Herodians believed that Israel should partner with Rome politically while maintaining a distinct Jewish culture.  Zealots would commonly assassinate tax-collectors, who they viewed as the Herodians’ most vile errand-boys.

Jesus transcended the narrow human politics of His day by recruiting both a conservative (Simon the Zealot) and a liberal (Matthew the tax-collector) as His disciples.  As far as we know, neither man gave up his ideology, but both men believed Jesus offered solutions to the world’s problems that were more powerful than either political ideology could provide.  While Matthew and Simon probably had some interesting discussions around the campfire, none of them were significant enough to have been recorded in Scripture.

People often tried to force Jesus to reveal His political views.  On one occasion, members of the two opposing political parties came to Jesus with the hot-button topic of the day: whether or not to pay taxes to Rome.  Instead of playing into their political game, Jesus flipped their question back on them.  Jesus’ response teaches us that both money and politics are part of the world’s kingdom, not God’s.  Since Ceasar’s image is on his coins, we should willingly give them back to him.  Since God’s image is on us, we should wholeheartedly give ourselves to Him.

As believers, we can serve our country by carefully considering the issues and voting to the best of our ability.  Along with our taxes, we can give Ceasar our votes.  But just as Jesus refused to allow Himself to be cornered by the politics of His day, we should resist the temptation of believing that our opinions are the “right” ones.  Politics are just too murky for that!  For instance, in Jesus’ day, who was right, the Zealots or the Herodians?  The answer is, “Neither!”  The Romans ended up wiping out the whole nation of Israel, Zealots and Herodians alike, about forty years later.  The historian Josephus records that only the Christians who remembered Jesus’ prophecy in Matthew 24 fled Jerusalem quickly enough to avoid the slaughter.

In our day, take a political issue like how the government ought to help poor people.  Conservatives claim that if the government gives money directly to assist the poor, they are actually hurting them in the long run.  Liberals claim that governmental assistance is beneficial both in the long run and in the short run.  Both tend to use moralistic language to deride the others’ position.  As people who believe that God honors and values people of all political ideologies, we must resist the pride and self-righteousness that often thrives within political discussions.  We must also remember that God’s Kingdom cannot be advanced or hindered by the world’s politics, but only through people who are willing to lay down their lives to serve other people.

The most important way we can serve the nations of the world is by praying for their leaders.  Since God enables rulers to govern with justice (Prov. 8:15), believers can pray “for kings and all those in authority, that [people] may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:2).  Rather than jumping on a nationalistic bandwagon, we keep a Kingdom perspective that God is always for all people, irrespective of their national, cultural, or religious background.

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