Tuesday, April 13, 2010

All the Kingdoms of the World

It seems that Christians have started to eye favorably the devil’s infamous offer to Christ: I’ll give you all the kingdoms of the world if you fall down and worship me. Just give me what I want, and no one gets hurt. It is easy for us to shun the condition of Satan’s offer; of course we never consent to worship our greatest enemy. But we often overlook the fact that here Satan is tempting Jesus in two ways: he is saying first, “the way to fulfilling your mission is to worship me,” but he is also saying, “the way to fulfilling your mission is through political power.”

Of course, Jesus sees straight through this deception; and well He should, for He repeatedly reminds people that His mission is not one of political conquest (e.g. John 18:36, Luke 22:49-51). This spirit carries through the entire New Testament, where we do not find a single mention of any policy of the Roman Empire, nor any command for believers concerning government, except to “be in subjection” (Romans 13:5) and to make “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings” for “kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Timothy 2:1-3). In accordance with this, Jesus tells Satan to begone and continues with His mission. Neither the Jews nor the Romans could understand this! So many–even some of His disciples–were convinced that He had come to earth to overthrow the political tyranny of the day and set up God’s Regime. Jesus put that idea to rest once and for all when He told Pilate in John 18:36, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Yet the Christians’ fight today seems to be concerned almost solely with the world: changing laws, campaigning for good candidates, complaining about the Supreme Court. Jesus mission was very different: he sought to change hearts and minds, not institutions.

What does this mean then? Is there no such thing as a Christian view of government? Of course there is: the Bible clearly says that the institution of government is “instituted by God” to be the “servant of God” and to “bear the sword” for the punishment and restraint of evil and injustice (Romans 13:1-7) . There is, then, a Biblical concept of government, and Christians should do all in their power to keep the rulers from serving the rulers, instead of serving God.

But–and this is a big interjection–it is very easy to slip from an interest in a just, God-serving government, to a trust in such a government to solve social problems. The Christian should never look to governmental action as any sort of solution to social problems, no matter how good the rulers are. Such a view is the Greco-Roman view of government, not the Christian one. The Greeks, and especially the Romans, thought the way to attain “security, peace and freedom” was “through political action, especially through submission to the ‘virtue and fortune’ of a political leader. This notion the Christians denounced with uniform vigour and consistency. To them the state, so far from being the supreme instrument of human emancipation and perfectibility, was a straight jacket to be justified at best as ‘a remedy for sin’.” Yet in modern times, when some of the most vocal, committed, hard-working evangelical organizations in America today are political ones, it seems that Christians are doing their best to put their trust in “the ‘virtue and fortune’ of a political leader” or if not that, in “political action.”

Yet neither of these goals are presented in scripture as the way to achieving a just and pure society. Paul in Romans 1 presents the Christian idea of what is wrong in society: people do not glorify God. According to Paul, the reason for a degenerate society is that people “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for [idols],” and “did not see fit to acknowledge God”–in sum, they “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” It would do Christians well to remember that this is the reason corruption, social injustice, and other evils are loose in our culture – not the lack of good laws and lawmakers. It is my prayer that Christians will continue the fight for just rule and righteous rulers, but that they will keep in mind that the true battle is not fought in Washington, but in the hearts of men, women, and children.

Amazing Grace (My Song Of Praise):

Where Could I Go But To The Lord:

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