The secular state has worked hard over the last few centuries to push faith out of the public square and into a private closet. This is done in two ways that ought not to be confused. First, the church was extracted from the state. Second, the ethic of Christian faith was extracted from political discourse. Whatever your views on the first division – and most modern people see at least a few advantages to this arrangement of non-sectarian states – the second conclusion is incompatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ. In asserting that political discourse should be separate from the language of faith, the citizen is claiming a little portion of real estate to be excluded from the authority of Jesus Christ. We ought instead to remember the words of Abraham Kuyper: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
The first step in reasserting faith into public life is to recognize that Jesus, the teachings of Jesus, and, yes, the gospel itself are inherently political.
It is political – pertaining to the interaction of peoples and governments – because it is ethical – discerning the morally right interaction of peoples and governments. Christianity does not assert a limited ethic to be used at a person’s convenience. It demands a cross-centered faith pressed fully into every choice. One may not hold paradoxical or contradictory political and personal opinions, not if Christ is our teacher.
Furthermore, the gospel is political because it is a statement about power, and politics is all about power. Our insistence on squeezing the cross into a theological category has inadvertently stripped it of its political significance. The cross itself was a statement of Roman power. It was a proclamation that Roman authority held a monopoly on force and had harnessed the power of death itself. The would-be messiahs hanging on crosses served as stern reminders of Roman power. Thus, when Jesus hangs on that cross and at the same moment accomplishes his most powerful work, it is the triumph of the power of heaven over that of Rome and indeed every other government that would harness the same sort of power. Sunday morning’s Resurrection finalized the verdict. Jesus is Lord, and all others are parodies of his true reign.
But we need not only consider the politics of Jesus to see the political aspect of Biblical faith. The prophetic literature of the Old Testament is emphatically political in its content and context. For this series of blog posts, I’ll be focused on Jeremiah, but any of the others would have sufficed. Prophetic literature is not a vague hint at a world to come, but the demand of God that the present, rebellious world give way to the future, a world fully reconciled to him and beneath his control. Prophetic literature is not merely a litany of personal rebukes to a few isolated people, but rather, “I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5).
Jeremiah recognizes the enormity of this task and attempts to hide behind his youth and inexperience (v. 6). Likewise, contemporary Christianity has found a variety of hedges to duck behind. “Perhaps we should keep the gospel free of politics for the sake of winning the masses to Jesus.” “Perhaps we best tend to our own churches and let the government take care of itself.”
I would agree that no party affiliation or candidate preference should ever hinder our influence for Christ. However, if the central premise of Christianity – the Lordship of Christ over all – is being forfeited by the political leaders, their positions, and their character, then exactly what sort of Christianity are we saving up our influence to promote? In other words, if the Lord of the Universe is to have no voice in the discourse of our nation, then in what way is he actually Lord of the Nations? If he does not speak to this, where does he speak?
We must recognize with the prophets that the God of Creation is the Lord of the Nations and speaks his voice even into that sphere they claim as their own. “To all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak” (Jeremiah 1:7). No corner of society is safe from his voice, his demand. The nations specifically are put on notice.
Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the LORD said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” (Jeremiah 1:9-10)
Of course, Christian reminders are warranted here. The demand to speak to the nations is not an excuse for shameful conduct or disreputable speech. Nor should political discourse ever be entered without prayer and humility (1 Timothy 2:1-4; 1 Peter 2:13-17). For the Christian, the path ahead is neither defiance nor silence, but speech seasoned with grace and mingled with love (Colossians 4:6). Additionally, political discourse must not be permitted to create anxiety. Human elections are uncertain, but divine election is not.
Once those reminders are taken to heart, then at last the Christian must do his part. We must unleash the Lion of Judah on the world of human politics.
Over the next ten weeks, I’ll be writing about the God of Nations from the text of Jeremiah. Stay tuned!