Every year, in the context of my teaching and speaking, I get asked the question: What is the Christian vision of politics? How should we think about politics from a genuinely Christian vantage point?
I think the most important thing when it comes to a distinctively Christian political theology is this: the church is the true politics. It is the church and only the church that represents the only true and everlasting civilization, and Christians are the citizens of the only true and everlasting city, the city of God, that is in its present form an anticipation of what life will be like when Christ returns, when God is all and all.
We can see this in the significance of the New Testament Greek term that we have rather liberally translated as ‘church’, and that’s the term ekklēsia. Now we may have lost the significance of this term because we use a different one. Our term church comes from the Scottish kirk, which itself is a contraction of the Greek kyriakē which ‘of the Lord’. This term ekklēsia, the Greek word the New Testament uses for the church, had a very political meaning in the Roman world. It was not what we would call today a ‘religious term’ such as thiasos (worship of a particular deity), eranos (religious feast), koinon (fellowship), or synados (group following a particular teaching); ekklēsia was in fact a political term that designated the assembly of adult citizen males who had the ultimate decision making power in a city-state. It’s in this vain that Augustine refers to the church as a republic in his City of God.
And the key characteristic of this city, of this political space, is the proclamation and confession among its citizens that Jesus Christ, in his transformative life, death, and resurrection, reigns supreme over all earthly powers; that all powers and principalities have been placed under his rule and reign, and thus earthly kings are no longer the definers of rule and law; they are rather fellow subjects, and have as it were been demoted to the position of servants, divinely ordained punishers of evil, what Paul calls an ‘avenger to visit wrath on the wrongdoer’ in Romans 13.
From its very beginnings, the church really believed that Christ was supreme over all earthly powers, that he had in fact conquered sin, death, and the devil, and has thus placed every earthly authority under his rule and reign. And thus the church exemplified an extraordinary capacity to effectually recalibrate political life around Christ-centered norms. So whether we go to Byzantium, Christendom, or the Reformation, we find the church at the very heart of human society, providing the moral, intellectual, and spiritual resources which effectually relativized the kings of this world to the King of kings and Lord of lords.
So with all of this political activity going on all around us, with 24/7 news cycles and all the social media and Facebook postings, it is very easy to forget what really is the true political event going on right now as we speak: Christ is risen and the Kingdom of God is at hand; the church is the global witness to this fact and thus provides the true political space for the only true and everlasting kingdom and the only true and everlasting king. And so, in many respects, the worship that we engage in on Sunday mornings, heralding the King of kings and Lord of lords, is the single most political act that we can engage in. It is precisely this kind of human relationship centered in Christ and empowered by the Spirit that is a foretaste of what life will be like when Christ returns and consummates his everlasting kingdom where death is banished and light and joy forever abide.
The church is the true politics.
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