As Christians our primary allegiance is to Jesus as Lord of all, and to God’s kingdom in which he reigns over all things as sovereign. We live in an in-between time, after the kingdom’s inauguration but before its final consummation, when we acknowledge Christ as king yet realize a prince of darkness actively disputes his right to the throne.
It is always difficult to be in a now/not-yet situation. Living by kingdom values is never easy—which is why it’s called a life of faith—and as our Lord promised, doing so would never be popular in a world in revolt against its rightful sovereign. It is hard to be content when things don’t always seem to be moving in the correct direction. Waiting has never been a strong suit for fallen human beings. And it is hard not to be seduced by visions and agendas that promise relief and better times, if only they could be implemented by the powers that be. Every political ideology—libertarianism, conservatism, liberalism, progressivism, nationalism—takes an aspect of created reality, makes it central and then builds a political vision and agenda around it. This is why each usually has some good ideas and good proposals: each is rooted in an aspect of created reality and so is not completely removed from life in a fallen world. Which is what makes political ideologies attractive even to the people of God.
A great deal is at stake in all this. The primary issue is God’s glory and the honor of Christ as Lord of lords. Ideologies are grounded in something less than Christ, and that is why the biblical term for ideologies is idolatry. Also at stake is the integrity of Christ’s church. If political ideology supersedes commitment to the gospel of the kingdom the church’s unity begins to crumble. And at stake is the church’s witness to the gospel, because the perspective of a believer shifts radically when they move from a kingdom vision to seeing things as an ideology defines life and reality.
A gloomy “slouching toward Gomorrah” view of culture leads, I think, to meanness. If we think we are on the losing end of the arc of history, we slide into outrage. If we see ourselves, though, as part of a kingdom that is triumphant in Christ, we ought to display a kind of provocative tranquility. We see those who disagree with us not as threatening to us or to our gospel, but those who, like all of us were, are held captive to an accusing power. We speak with convictional kindness because we love our neighbors, and because we are confident in our gospel. If the gates of hell won’t prevail against Jesus’ onward march, then why are we terrified by Hollywood or Capitol Hill? [Russell Moore, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Southern Baptist Convention]
I believe Moore is correct, and in this brief statement has put his finger on something we as Christians need to take seriously. As I read his words, several practical questions came to mind. Reflecting on them can help us identify the extent to which we have slid from a kingdom perspective towards an ideological framework in our thinking, feeling, and doing.
1. Am I discouraged, disappointed, or depressed after an election cycle, a Supreme Court ruling or a legislative effort? It is true that in each case kingdom values may cause us to prefer one outcome over another. Still, we know from Scripture that there is ebb and flow in history. Read the Old Testament and see how good and bad kings, moral and immoral leaders rose to power but never once did God’s rule slip out of control. Our calling remains the same regardless of the details, and that is to remain faithful to the kingdom of God. If our hope is in God and his kingdom alone, we have reason for contentment and joy.
2. Do I consider leaving a church or Christian fellowship because I disagree with the politics of leaders or other members? Or as a variation on this, are there people in my church I shun because I find their political views untenable? This is, from a biblical perspective, an extremely important issue. It is dangerous when we essentially see our political agendas as equal in significance to our commitment to the historic orthodoxy of our faith. Christian unity is grounded in the teaching of Scripture, summarized, for example in the beliefs of the Apostle’s Creed and not in the values of a political vision. Make the wrong choice here and our souls can be at stake.
3. Do we tend to see the citizens that do not share my political views as rivals (to be defeated or convinced) or as people I am called to befriend and love, even at cost (economic, time, health, life, political) to myself? Ideologies and agendas call their followers to work in order to win. The kingdom calls us to set aside our preferences and rights in order to help those created in God’s image to flourish though the gospel of Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension. I fear that much of the younger generation dismisses the gospel as irrelevant at least partly because of the politicization of the church.
4. Am I content as a Christian being faithful in the political sphere of life when that requires the hard work of being co-belligerents with disparate parties or candidates on various issues at different times because no single party fully embraces kingdom values and convictions? Because political ideologies are ultimately rooted in some aspect of created reality, none are completely separated from life. And there will be times we will need to abstain because no option is available that adequately reflects the imperatives of God’s law and character.
We need to read St John’s Revelation regularly. Don’t read it as a puzzle to be solved (it isn’t one) but as a series of imaginative visions (which they are). Each one is actually fairly simple: God’s reign is disputed, God’s kingdom is challenged, God’s righteousness prevails. It’s how the story ends, and the ending is certain. And that is why we can be kingdom people now as we wait, and wonder, and be content, and wait some more.