On September 11, 2001, as waves of terror from the collapse of the twin towers pulsed across the continent, my friend Shawn and I packed up his 1987 Honda Civic to start the drive from Northern California to the Canadian border. No, we weren’t fleeing for fear. We had long been planning a gap year at Capernwray Harbor, a small Christian training center embedded on an island in British Columbia’s cold Pacific waters. At Capernwray, I lived in a cabin with half a dozen other men. Sean was from Seattle, Thomas and Marcus were from Germany, Cyriac was from India, while Chad and Steve were the resident Canadians. The months after 9/11 juxtaposed with these friends and others who introduced me to a global church embedded into a global community. I was both more proud than ever to be an American, and less arrogant than ever about my American identity. More significantly, this diverse clustering of Christians from the nations impressed me as a glimpse of the reality of Christ’s transnational and pan-national bride: “After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9). Here I saw Christ reigning as a king in a way that relativized all earthly loyalties. Yes, Marcus was German, Cyriac was Indian, and I was American, but we all confessed, “Jesus is Lord!” And so we experienced a deeper and higher unity, a new life as brothers. We weren’t just Germans, or Indians, or Americans, because we were all Christians.
I’m grateful that season clarified some of these things, because our cultural air constantly threatens to cloud our vision of reality. Much like when someone wearing glasses gets out of their air conditioned car into the South Florida humidity and the lenses fog up, we inhabit the tropical air of our culture such that we can lose the clarity of our Christian vision. We are especially vulnerable in the sphere of political opinions and actions. And here we don’t risk the mere inconvenience of slightly blurred vision. When we get politics wrong, we can risk catastrophe, and therefore we must wrestle with a Christian political vision, for at least three reasons.
First, the Scripture calls us to wrestle with politics. From Israel’s relationship to Pharaoh, the exiles’ relationship to Cyrus, or the church’s relationship to Caesar, political power-playing permeates the pages of the Bible. In faithfulness to the Lord, we must study and apply Scripture to clarify our relationship with governing, political power. (Also, let me clarify here that I believe “politics” and “government” are distinct, but nevertheless overlap in many ways. In general, by “politics” I refer to the attaining and working toward governing authority and “government” and “rule” as the execution of that authority.)
Second, we must wrestle with politics because of the season we are in, with a bitterly simmering November 3rd election hanging like a dark cloud over our culture and our nation. Christians have too often been colonized by political power players, they have too often traded their prophetic and creative witness for bowl of political porridge. How should Christians in America engage the politics of our nation? How does Christian faithfulness connect with American civic and political responsibility? The word “civics” comes from the Latin civis and the word “politics” from the Greek word polis (πόλις), and both words mean “city.” Christians are dual citizens, or “city-people,” inhabiting temporally the city of man in our nation and eternally the city of God in the kingdom of heaven. How can we be faithful dual citizens in the current political moment?
Third, we must wrestle with Christian faith in relation to politics for the sake of the Savior. Jesus says, “Give, then, to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). In other words, Jesus calls us not to avoid politics, but to understand the role politics play and the way we engage earthly politics as citizens — politicians! — of a transcending kingdom ruled by a transcendent King. We too easily reverse this, giving God’s things to Caesar and Caesar’s things to God. In a culture blinded to the transcendent glory of God and the life he offers in Christ, politics becomes religion. And just as we can turn politics into a religion, we can also turn religion into politics. Christians must witness to a better way. We do not serve political power as a master, we do not seek political intrigue as entertainment, we do not refuse political engagement as sectarians, and we do not treat political differents as enemies. The most tragic thing that could happen in this or any other election cycle is not a certain candidate winning or losing, but Christians trading their credibility and their witness for an earthly, partisan political vision. We engage our relationship as Christians to politics, clarifying our political vision, because of our vision as the people of God. In our church say it this way: so that people might find life like God intended, united in wholehearted worship, authentic community, and joyful mission. To accomplish our goal and to clarify our vision, we will outline seven Christian political principles, all of which are ordered from the first, central and primal Christian confession: Jesus is Lord.
1. Jesus is Lord
All of the Hebrew Scriptures testify to the kingship of Yahweh, the LORD God, in both creation and covenant. God rules the world because made the world and entered into a covenant relationship with the world. In every part of this older testament, Yahweh revealed himself as the King of kings and Lord of lords. The people’s pattern of praise in the Psalms provides perhaps the most undiluted form of this testimony. The Psalms or the Psalter was Israel’s hymnal, leading the people to sing the praise of the capital-K King over all the lesser-k kings and rulers of the earth. The first two Psalms introduce the themes of the entire hymn-book: Psalm 1 describes the way of the Lord’s instruction, and Psalm 2 describes the rule of the Lord and his anointed Son:
Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth take their stand,
and the rulers conspire together
against the LORD and his Anointed One:
“Let’s tear off their chains
and throw their ropes off of us.”
The one enthroned in heaven laughs;
the Lord ridicules them.
Then he speaks to them in his anger
and terrifies them in his wrath:
“I have installed my king
on Zion, my holy mountain.”
I will declare the LORD’s decree.
He said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have become your Father.
Ask of me,
and I will make the nations your inheritance
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You will break them with an iron scepter;
you will shatter them like pottery.”
So now, kings, be wise;
receive instruction, you judges of the earth.
Serve the LORD with reverential awe
and rejoice with trembling.
Pay homage to the Son or he will be angry
and you will perish in your rebellion,
for his anger may ignite at any moment.
All who take refuge in him are happy.
We can’t unpack this entire song here, but the point is clear: Yahweh is King and so is his Son. The worshippers in Israel would have understood this to refer to God and to their human king, the adopted “son” of God, typified by the great king, David. So this was both a spiritual and a political claim. They believed that Yahweh was not merely King in their hearts, or even just in his temple, but King over all the nations that surrounded them. They believed that Yahweh authorized his own appointed king to rule Israel on his behalf. When the nations rebelled, the Lord laughed out the original, “Resistance is futile.” “Yahweh is King” was the political principle of Israel. “The LORD sits enthroned, King forever” (Psalm 29:10); “The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all” (Psalm 103:19). We could go on and on, and the Psalms do just that.
As the people sung that second Psalm, they sung the truth at the heart of the universe, probably without fully realizing its implications. The promise of the kingship of Yahweh in the times of Israel and the type of David was deeper and truer and more comprehensive than they knew. God had promised it all the while, through the entire scriptural witness, through the voices of Hosea (3:5), Zechariah (9:9), Isaiah, and Jeremiah (23:5), just to name a few. But God began to actualize this promise in space and time, when a heavenly messenger startled a teenage girl in a small village in the flyover country of Israel, Nazareth of Galilee. He told her: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Now listen: You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will have no end” (Luke 1:30–33).
This Son was not adopted as Son, but was born eternally as Son. This sesame seed sized human in Mary’s womb was God the Son eternal, incarnate in human nature. And it began to become clear that when the Jews sang so many times for so many years — “You are my Son; today I have become your Father” — or, “You are my Son; today, I have begotten you” — they were singing about the Trinity, the Father eternally begetting his Son, together eternally breathing out the Spirit.
The divine King had come into world, taking the nature of humanity into his divine person, “assuming the form of a servant” (Phil. 2:7), humbly obeying the Father to the point of execution by crucifixion. And in his cross was the revelation of his crown:
For this reason God highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow —
in heaven and on earth
and under the earth —
and every tongue will confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
In this hymn, the earliest Christians echoed the songs of the Hebrew scripture about the kingship of God, applying them to Jesus Christ (see Isaiah 45:23). Yahweh is King, Jesus is Yahweh, and, therefore, Jesus is King. In his resurrection and exaltation, the incarnate Christ receives the glory he deserves, so that all will kneel, either submitted in the joyful worship of faith or subjected in inevitable conquest of rebellion. All will confess, “Jesus is Lord!” This confession rises to the glory of the Father, for the Father and the Son are distinct persons yet one God; therefore, they receive the same glory. When we confess that Jesus is Lord and heartfully believe that God raised from the dead, God saves us from our sin (Rom. 10:9) and draws into his kingdom, his city. We’re told in Scripture, “No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). People confess Christ, by the Spirit’s power, to the Father’s glory, as the triune lordship of God is made known in the world. In confessing that Jesus is Lord, we swear an oath of eternal, heavenly citizenship in the heavenly Jerusalem, which has broken into the world and one day will overtake the world.
Thus in this confession of the lordship of Christ, we find the heart of a Christian vision of politics and political engagement. “Jesus is Lord!” is the preeminent Christian political principle, the Christian pledge of allegiance. This truth anchors us to reality more fully than gravity anchors us to the earth. From this point we order all our other thoughts and beliefs about how we live and relate to the world, to society, and to the political powers in a given place and time. Like those t-shirts from 90s that said, “Baseball is life. The rest is just details,” we cover over the rest of the following discussion of politics with the slogan, “Jesus is Lord, and the rest is just details.” We submit all the details to the cosmic-sized truth that we live in a world ruled by a King; and that King is Jesus Christ, God the Son sitting on the throne of the universe.
And none of this means that the details are irrelevant. Just the opposite. Faithfulness in the details of earthly political power does matter, exactly because these details are designed to serve our Lord. So, to serve the Lord, let’s get a bit more detailed.
2. God Has Ordained Human Governing, Political Power to Preserve Order, Justice, and Peace
God designed the world to be governed by human rulers, creating Adam and Eve as the lord and lady over the created order, commanding them to fill the earth and rule over it. Scripture echoes with the goodness of God’s intention in creating and appointing leaders, governors, lords, and rulers. Vacuums of leadership suck the goodness and justice out of the creation order. A vision for justice threads through the Hebrew Scriptures, because “the mighty King loves justice” (Ps 99:4). The Hebrew term for “justice” (misphat; מִשְׁפָּט) has to do with comprehensive goodness and order more than merely receiving what is due. Mishpat envisions the world as a garment woven by the Master Weaver; thus injustice loosens the threads of that fabric, pulling apart its integrity. When the people of Israel lacked a king in the age of the judges, the social order unravelled: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did whatever seemed right to him” (Judges 21:25).
Unrighteousness, evil, instability, injustice — -none of these belong in the throne room of any ruler (Prov. 16:10, 12; 20:8, 29:4, 14), because any ruler has his (or her) authority in sanctified trust from the true Lord. The Scripture refers to this sanctified trust, this gracious giving from God to creation, as a “covenant.” Covenants fill the stories and pages of the Scripture. The Lord covenants with creation, with Noah, with Abraham, with Israel through Moses, with David, and finally with the entire world in the New Covenant. As theologians Peter Gentry and Steven Wellum have shown in their book Kingdom through Covenant, God brings his kingdom into the world through these covenants.
But all of these covenants find their origin story in a more ancient covenant, an eternal covenant within the Trinity itself. We glimpse this covenant in Luke 22:29: “I bestow on you a kingdom, just as my Father bestowed one on me.” Jesus calls us here into the eternal counsel of the Trinity, explaining that his Father “bestowed” a kingdom to him. The Greek verb in this verse is the action “to ordain” or “to covenant.” Covenantal action enters into relational commitment. Older theologians explained that this strange statement from Jesus in Luke 22 glimpses an eternal covenant between Father, Son, and Spirit, which these theologians called the pactum salutis or “the covenant of redemption.” This eternal covenant grounds all of covenants in the order of creation, including the gift of authority to human rulers and governments. As Jonathan Leeman has said, “Politics is nothing more or less than the mediating of God’s covenantal rule” (Political Church, 389). Scripture reveals that God installed and overthrew the Power Five of imperial rule — Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and Rome — along with the intertestamental conquering march of Greece: “He removes kings and establishes kings” (Daniel 2:21) and “there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are instituted by God” (Romans 13:1).
God appoints governing authorities to order a just and peaceful society. Peace is a blessing that God provides his people (Ps. 29:11), often through prayer (Ps. 122:6; 2 Tim. 2:2) and intentional pursuit (Jer. 29:7). Those blessed with such peace do not just negatively evade conflict, but positively flourish in life like God intended, captured by the way the CSB translates the Hebrew word shalom (שָׁלוֹם) as “well-being” (Ps. 122:6; Jer. 29:7). The Messiah is the Prince of Peace, who establishes eternal peace (Is. 9:6–7) with the nations (Zech. 9:10).
3. Satan and Sin Have Corrupted Human Government and Political Power
God entrusts and empowers human governments with covenantal authority to establish order, justice, and peace under his cosmic authority, but human governments fail. Human governments often oppress, conquer, terrorize, filling the pathways of the world with blood and war and pain. Scripture clearly teaches that God actively authorizes human governing political power, while never obscuring the dark reality of human sin and failure. From our first father’s failure under the shade of the tree of knowledge, Scripture shows clearly that another power lurks in the shadows of human governing and political power. Satan and the spiritual power of darkness sneak into the nooks and the crannies of the halls of human authority, tempting, twisting, and perverting the hearts, minds, emotions, and actions of human leaders and political power-players. Every political person and every political system defaults to idolatry and rebellion against the order, justice, and peace ordained by the divine King. For example, Daniel 10 reveals the invisible power at work in the kingdoms of the world. Daniel prays, and God dispatches a divine messenger. But this messenger takes three weeks to arrive, as he explains to Daniel:
“Don’t be afraid, Daniel,” he said to me, “for from the first day that you purposed to understand and to humble yourself before your God, your prayers were heard. I have come because of your prayers. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia opposed me for twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me after I had been left there with the kings of Persia.” (Daniel 10:12–13)
Without squeezing all the details from this text, we can nevertheless see the spiritual powers warring behind the powers of the physical, human realm. Although God ordains human governing authorities, these authorities have sold their souls to Satan. Dark forces of evil, spiritual power, false worship, and idolatry soak into the kingdoms and kings of the world. Every political system has these powers at war within them: the good intention of God and the evil corruption of Satan and sin. Thus, political questions are not merely political questions, but deeply and often dangerously spiritual ones.
Thus sin has infected every human government and every human political vision, so that these visions tend toward idolatry. In his book, Political Visions and Illusions, David Koyzis explains that liberalism, conservatism, nationalism, democracy, and socialism each uniquely but unquestionably elevates creature over Creator and thus trends toward idolatry. No political ideology, no political structure, no political party, no political platform escapes the fall of all the world into sin and rebellion. (Your favorite political system or party included).
4. Human Governing, Political Power Can Do Good and Evil and Will Answer to God for Both
As we have seen, human governing, political authorities have received their role from God as a sanctified, covenantal trust, yet through Satanic influence and sinful indulgence they have rebelled, corrupted, and failed in their ruling role. Yet, not all is lost, because all political power mixes both evil and good in the bag of their governance. And Scripture consistently testifies that God will summon all the rulers, nations, and political power-players to answer for their actions. Here we may turn to Isaiah 60, which provides a paradigm for envisioning God’s judgment of the nations’ rulers. God redeems the good and destroys the bad (a point I first remember learning about from Richard J. Mouw’s beautiful little book on this passage, When the Kings Come Marching In).
God will redeem the good, and the goodness of the nations will flood into and enrich the city of God:
Nations will come to your light
and kings to your shining brightness (60:3)
The riches of the sea will become yours
and the wealth of the nations will come to you (60:5)
Foreigners will rebuild your walls,
and their kings will serve you.
Although I struck you in my wrath,
yet I will show mercy to you with my favor.
Your city gates will always be open;
they will never be shut day or night
so that the wealth of the nations
may be brought into you,
with their kings being led in procession. (60:10–11)
One of good things God intended in creation was a human social order of justice and peace. As Augustine taught us in City of God, human history unfolds in a helix of two cities intermingled, competing for the love of humanity: the city of God and the city of man. Scripture typifies the city of God as Jerusalem on the summit of Mt. Zion and the city of man as Babylon. “Quickly, in its time” (Is. 60:22) the Lord will summon the nations for judgment, purifying the good. In his grace which God has commonly spread across the times and the places of human governing and political power, the fallen structures of the city of man still contain within them strikes and stripes of God’s original intention and his promised restoration. In the end, the city of God will be the power-center of a new order of human society, and the nations and their rulers will either enter with their gifts or they will be triumphed over.
God will fully purge evil from the nations in their practices and their politics.
For the nation and the kingdom
that will not serve you will perish;
those nations will be annihilated. (60:12)
The kings will not rebel without end, but the Lord will summon them for judgment. Their corrupted reign will end.“Temporary” sits atop the palaces and stamps the papers of all human governing and political authority. No political power and no governing authority will rule forever. The ruins of fallen empires litter the continents of the world and chapters of history sing their somber stories. Rebellious Babylon is a temporary city and sinful Caesar is a time-limited lord. The sin of Caesar’s reign will end, and the rebellion of Babylon will fall.
He called out in a mighty voice:
It has fallen,
Babylon the Great has fallen!
She has become a home for demons,
a haunt for every unclean spirit,
a haunt for every unclean bird,
and a haunt for every unclean and despicable beast.
Thus we must understand that the Bible explains on the one hand that human ruling authority can align with God’s intention and that God will keep and perfect the good while on the other hand human ruling authority can depart from God’s intention and that God will reject and purge the evil. The biblical vision forbids us from simplistically and wholly either rejecting or embracing the politics of human authority. Such a vision requires wearing a prayerful, Spirit-filled thinking cap. It requires nuance. Thus many talking heads (Christian and non-Christian) opt for a more simplistic answer. Nuance doesn’t play well in the current cultural (or too often even theological) moment. To co-opt a quip I recently heard political journalist Jonah Goldberg share from the wisdom of the wizened: “There’s no money in nuance, kid.”
Christians must discern the true and the false, the created good and the idolatrous bad, in the political power of their own place and nation, in the time and location where God has put them. Because at world’s end, God will summon every man (and woman) and every leader of men (and women), and he will reckon with them according to their deeds. As the Israelites plundered the Egyptians before exiting from Pharaoh’s dominion (Ex. 12:35–36), God will plunder the remaining goodness and wealth of the nations for his own eternal Jerusalem. And as with Pharaoh and his army, God will bury everything else under the waters of his judgment against evil (Ex. 14:26–31). As Augustine said:
The two cities, the earthly and the Heavenly […] are mingled together from the beginning to the end of their history. One of them, the earthly city, has created for herself such false gods as she wanted, from any source she chose — even creating them out of men — in order to worship them with sacrifices. The other city, the Heavenly City on pilgrimage in this world, does not create false gods. She herself is the creation of the true God, and she herself is to be his true sacrifice. Nevertheless, both cities alike enjoy the good things, or are afflicted with the adversities of the temporal state, but with a different faith, a different expectation, a different love, until they are separated by the final judgement, and each receives her own end, of which there is no end (City of God, 18.54).
Even better, as John the Revelator said:
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say,
The salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Christ
have now come,
because the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
who accuses them
before our God day and night,
has been thrown down.
In other words, everything will either serve the purposes and people of God’s kingdom, or it will burn.
5. God Establishes His Kingdom In and Through the Gathering of the Local Church
God created the world and put people into the world under his divine authority to mediate his rule in the created order (Gen. 1:26–28). But, tempted to despise their own birthright and to seek the rule belonging to God alone, people rejected God’s word and God’s will (Gen. 3). As foreshadowed even in its first chapters, the rest of the Bible narrates the purpose of God to redeem the world and the people in it by re-enthroning himself as the world’s rightful king, which we affirm when we confess, “Jesus is Lord.” In the kingship of Jesus, God re-enthrones himself over the world, and he does this in a surprising way. In Christ, God re-enthrones himself in and through his people, the church. In the times in-between Christ’s ascension and Christ’s return, Christ most clearly concentrates his kingdom’s rule on earth in the church and through the church.
Specifically, Christ most clearly concentrates his kingdom’s rule on earth in and through the local church. In New Testament, Jesus and the apostles use the Greek word for “congregation” or “assembly” (ekklesia, ἐκκλησία) over 100 times for the gathered people of God. Most English Bible translations use the word “church” for this Greek word, and while a few verses refer to a “universal” church, the vast majority of times (like 90-something out of 114) refer to a local assembly, congregation, or church. In other words, Jesus and the apostles center the purpose of God not in the universal, big-“C” church but in the local, lowercase-“c” church — meaning your church and mine! While Jesus and the apostles clearly love the universal, end-time gathering of the people of God from every place and time (Rev. 5:9; 7:9), they envision the local church as the central way that God’s purposes and people manifest in the times in-between the first and second coming of Christ. The gathering of a local church in any given place and time expresses the fullness of the people of God, so that Scripture can speak of the local church’s gathering as literally heaven on earth:
You have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God (the heavenly Jerusalem), to myriads of angels, a festive gathering, to the assembly of the firstborn whose names have been written in heaven. (Hebrews 12:22–23)
Scripture tells us that the local church gathered is the kingdom of God on earth. The local church represents the eternal reign of the eternal King as “the city of the living God.” A city is a political community. Remember, the word for “citizen” comes from the Latin word for city (civis) and the word for “politics” comes from the Greek word for city (polis, πόλις). In other words, the church gathered manifests the city of God or God’s political community in a specific place and time, governed by the eternal divine king. The gathered local church is the only eternal community in the times in-between. Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome — all the cities of men have fallen, and every city of men will fall. It’s worth saying again: eventually every Babylon will burn.
Only the church pledges allegiance to an eternal, unconquerable ruler of an eternal city. Only the church is part of that eternal city of God. The church exists on earth in fundamentally local form. The local church is the primary expression of the rule of King Jesus in this age. Therefore, the local church is the most important political institution on earth. The local church is eternally more important than. More important than the election on November 3, 2020, or any fourth-year’s first-Tuesday of November; more important than presidential or down-ballot political contests; more important than Supreme Court nominations or questions about court-packing; more important than international summits or peace accords.
If the local church is the most important political institution on earth, then a Christian’s most important political activity is joining and gathering with a local church as that church submits itself to King Jesus through three primary activities: worship, community, and mission. The church worships through the Word of God sung, spoken, preached, and shown in the waters of baptism and the table of the eucharist. The church communes or fellowships as the saints gather in worship, to sing together, pray together, read and hear Scripture together, eat together, laugh and cry together, repent together. The gathered church witnesses to the world about the truly real world, created by the triune God, fallen into sin, and in the midst of being rescued by the Father who sent the Son to incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ, who showed Kingdom-reality in his life, teaching, death, and resurrection; and after his ascension to the right of the Father, the Father and Son together sent the Spirit into the world to fill the church for its triple purpose of worship community, and mission, to the great glory of God.
The sword shapes the power of the city of man in its earthly governing and political rule. The sword is the power of punishment and death. The gospel shapes the church as the city of God quite differently. The cross revealed the kingship of Jesus: “Above his head they put up the charge against him in writing: This Is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (Mt. 27:37). And his resurrection sealed the assurance of that kingship: “All authority has been given to me in heaven and earth” (Mt. 28:18). Thus, the gospel shapes the church’s mission. The church’s authority is not shaped like a sword or a ballot-box, but like a cross and an empty tomb.
The local church is a political community representing the soon-coming universal reign of God, an “embassy” of the kingdom as Jonathan Leeman has called it. Years ago, theologian H. Richard Niebuhr’s book Christ and Culture argued for a several ways to envision the relationship of Christ and his church to the culture(s) of the world (and political authority is a part of culture). Christ can oppose culture, agree with culture, mix with culture, separate from culture, or transform culture. In some ways, each paradigm gets some things right and some things wrong. Chuck Colson (see Owen Strachan’s book The Colson Way) explained a helpful way to summarize the relationship of the church to culture and the local church as a political community to the political communities of the world: The church is against the world for the sake of the world; or to sound smart by using Latin: contra mundum pro mundo.
The church lives and moves as an opposition political party inside the nations of the world and their parties, worshipping a better king, living into a better community (because the church is not merely a city, but a family!), and witnessing to the gospel, the truest story of the world that the nations have too often forgotten. But the local church also seeks the good and benefit of its specific political place and time, both as it gathers for worship and community, and as it scatters on mission.
6. The Scattered Church Should Seek the Political Order, Justice, and Peace of the Earthly City
The church inhabits two kingdoms as city-people (citizens, politicians) whose primary oath of citizenship is “Jesus is Lord.” Yet such people always seek in various, diverse ways the order, justice, and peace of their earthly home as representatives of Christ the Lord. Many theologians have pointed out that Jesus fulfills the three great roles of Old Testament leadership: prophet, priest, and king. As prophet, Jesus speaks and is the true Word of God. As priest, Jesus sacrifices himself as a perfect sacrifice for sin. As king, Jesus is Lord with all authority in heaven and on earth. In uniting them with Christ, the Spirit entrusts and empowers Christians to express his person and work as prophet, priest, and king. Some speak prophetically like John the Baptist to the political power-players of their cultural moment. Some, like Ezra, primarily teach and preach to the people of God in the context of the congregation of God. Some, like Nehemiah or Esther, ladder up into close proximity of the highest rungs of political authority. God gifts the church members who are voices in the wilderness, pastors in the pulpit, and advisors in the cabinet.
Christians gather in local church under their pledge of allegiance to King Jesus, and upon the pronunciation of the benediction are commissioned to scatter into the world for the sake of the gospel, inhabiting the world as salt and light. Salt preserves and light illumines, and Christians seek to preserve the political order, justice, and peace that God intends for human communities and human rulers. Christians shine light on places and people who pervert, twist, and corrupt that order, justice, and peace. Christians get involved and engage in any number of ways, sometimes through active prayer and at other times through prayerful action. As Jeremiah told the Israelites exiled to Bablyon: “Pursue the well-being [shalom; שָׁלוֹם] of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the Lord on its behalf, for when it thrives, you will thrive” (Jeremiah 29:7).
Yet this all might seem theoretical and highfalutin to the “normal” Christian, who doesn’t feel a need to speak truth to power, to preach as their vocation, or to get into sausage factory of earthly political service. Such Christians keep busy enough simply paying their light bill and car note, getting their kids into shoes for school, tithing, attending and serving on Sunday, and loving their neighbors as themselves. Such Christians might wonder how they should engage political issues, whether they should trust the pundits on XYZ Cable News. They might wonder, “Sure, this is interesting, but how now should I vote?”
Thankfully, the Lord has given plenty of instruction for Christians and local churches embedded in communities ruled by human governing, political power. Jeremiah gives details about daily life in a city of exile: “Build houses and live in them. Plant gardens and eat their produce. Find wives for yourselves, and have sons and daughters” (Jeremiah 24:5–6). Paul (Romans 13:1–7; 1 Timothy 2:1–4; Titus 2:13–17) and Peter (1 Peter 2:13–17) specifically instruct the churches and their pastors in this area. Scripture’s Christian political principles lead to some specific Christian political practices in the public square. Christ the Lord calls us all salt and light, calls us all to pray actively and to act prayerfully. He calls us all to pay taxes. We should vote in accord with our conscience, and engage ethically. We pray and we act.
7. Jesus Will Be Lord
When the (local) church and the Christians in the church pledge allegiance to Jesus the King, confessing, “Jesus is Lord,” they affirm a present reality. And they also imply a future promise. Jesus will be Lord. This simply reminds us that one day all of the political power-playing on earth will give way to the prince who will rule in order, justice, and peace.
On that day the LORD will become King over the whole earth — the LORD alone, and his name alone. (Zechariah 14:9)
The potentates, the princes, and the presidents of the nations will kneel before King Jesus as either willing subjects or conquered enemies. And on that day the hosts will sing:
The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom
of our Lord and of his Christ,
and he will reign forever and ever.