Tuesday, 23 October 2012
By T.G. Blankenship at The Gethsemane Blog
In my last blog I wrote about my hope in Christ and his Church as the center and power of my political activity. I wrote about my lack of concern for the type of government which I live under because it doesn't hold a candle to the authority and transformation power that is found in Jesus and experienced within his Body (the Church) and it doesn't prohibit me from having a voice and witness in the face of that government.
Now I want to address what some might call my political pessimism. While I wouldn't call myself a pessimist (rather I'd say 'realist') I admit that I have a less than popular view of politicians. I don't put my hope or trust in them. I don't expect them to do the God-honoring and edifying thing for the majority of the time. Part of it is because of the person, part of it is because of the position, and the biggest part is the human condition. We're sinful people and power doesn't help us escape sinfulness or seek justice and righteousness (maybe that's why Jesus refused power when tempted with it by Satan in the desert).*
One of my favorite singer/songwriters is named Derek Webb. He wrote a song several years back entitled Savior on Capitol Hill. Even though this song is unable to paint the entire portrait of my views, it's a good start. My views are best discovered through sincere discussion. I'd also add that I'm constantly reworking my views and am always open to opposing views.
With that said, the lyrics to the song are posted below along with the music in case you desire to listen to the song while you read the lyrics (please note that this is not an official video).
I’m so tired of these mortal men
with their hands on their wallets and their hearts full of sin
scared of their enemies, scared of their friends
and always running for re-election. So come to DC if it be thy will
because we’ve never had a savior on Capitol Hill.
You can always trust the devil or a politician
to be the devil or a politician
but beyond that friends you’d best beware
‘cause at the Pentagon bar they’re an inseparable pair
and as long as the lobbyists are paying their bills
we’ll never have a savior on Capitol Hill. All of our problems gonna disappear
when we can whisper right in the President’s ear.
He could walk right across the reflection pool
in his combat boots and ten thousand dollar suit.
You can render unto Caesar everything that’s his.
You can trust in his power to come to your defense;
It’s the way of the world, the way of the gun,
it’s the trading of an evil for a lesser one
so don’t hold your breath or your vote until
you think you’ve finally found a savior up on Capitol Hill.
I'm not saying you shouldn't vote. I'm not saying we need a new saviour or that we shouldn't trust imperfect people for leadership positions. What I am saying is that history and scripture show us that our hope doesn't belong in ruling authorities and we shouldn't invest too much in them. We should invest in Christ and his mission.
"It is better to trust in the Lord Than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the Lord Than to put confidence in princes" (Psalm 118:8-9).
"Do not put your trust in princes, Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help" (Psalm 146:3).
There was a time in the Old Testament in which God speaks to one of his prophets named Samuel. During this time the people of Israel demanded that they be given a human king just like all the other nations of the earth. Up until this point they had lived only under the reign and authority of God. They listened to the prophets (God's mouthpieces) but that was as close as it came to them having a ruling authority. This demand went against God's desire for his people but he granted to them this wish.
Samuel reports God's words to Israel telling them that a human king will send their sons into the front lines of battle and employ thousands to fuel his war machine. This king will take the people's daughters as his servants and their farmlands for his servants. He will take portions of everyone's harvests and give them to his officials. He will take all the best animals and workers from the common people so they can work for him instead and enslave all Israel. It will be worth regretting and crying back to God.
The people respond to the prophet saying, "No! But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles" (2 Samuel 8:19b-20). God grants their desire and everything he had promised them would occur comes true. The people are enslaved to injustice and bound to war. Why? Because that is the result of earthly ruling authorities because humans are sinful beings who can't handle power in the way God can.
Jesu stands in stark contrast to the human king. He rules with a towel as a servant rather than a sword as a warrior.* He refuses office (John 6:15) and examples love through daily action. He concerns himself with the renovation of people's hearts rather than the renovation of government. His work is of the grassroots type. He described his kingdom (and it is a very real kingdom) as a mustard seed which starts small and slowly grows to a giant bush with provides shade and housing for creatures. In other words, it's a subversively infectious kingdom of loving service. Doesn't sound much like a government we're used to does it?
The early Church fathers, understanding the problem of sin and power, took Jesus' kingdom and means of love so seriously that they refused political office. They were concerned with functioning as the Church and being the reality of God's kingdom on earth. They believed Christ's authority was greater than earthly rulers and that he was ushering his kingdom into the world through the Church. Below are some of their quotes.
"The Caesars too would have believed on Christ, if either the Caesars had not been necessary for the world, or if Christians could have been Caesar's." -Tertullian.
"Celsus [a pagan] also urges us to 'take office in the government of the country, if that is necessary for the maintenance of the laws and the support of religion.' However, we recognize in each state the existence of another national organization hat was founded by the Word of God. And we exhort those who are mighty in word and of blameless life to rule over churches. ...It is not for the purpose of escaping public duties that Christians decline public offices. Rather, it is so they may reserve themselves for a more divine and necessary service in the church of God - for the salvation of men." -Origen
"Satan causes others to swell with ambitious desires. These are those who direct the whole occupation and care of their life to the holding of magistracies." -Lactantius
"In us [Christians], all ardor in the pursuit of glory and honor is dead. So we have no pressing inducement to take part in your public meetings. Nor is there anything more entirely foreign to us than affairs of state." -Tertullian
Tertullian is a large voice in this matter. Like Derek Webb, he makes a statement which basically poses the problem that a person can not live the Christian life while also holding public office. He states, "Let us suppose that it is possible for anyone to succeed in operating under the mere name of the office, in whatever office. Let us also suppose the following: ...He does not give spectacles at his own or the publics expense, nor preside over them. He makes no proclamation or edict for any [pagan] festivals. He does not even take oaths. Furthermore, he does not sit in judgment on anyone's life or character (for you might allow his judging about money). He neither condemns nor indicts. He chains no one. He neither imprisons nor tortures anyone. Now, is it believable that all this is possible?"
Hippolytus wrote of Church Order in the Apostolic Tradition and stated that anyone in public office who wishes to be Christian must give up their office or be rejected.
For these early church leaders and theologians there was an obvious contrast between those who hold political office and those who exist as citizens in Christ's kingdom. One simply could not be both. They were firmly convinced that they had no reason to put hope in governments or the ruling authorities because they already put their hope in Christ and his kingdom. The governments became almost irrelevant.
Of course, there are realities we must be aware of. Being naive won't help us. We should remain informed without ever becoming anxious. We should also admit that the government of the United States has some large differences from those of the time of these church fathers. However, they share a great many similarities as well.
At the end of it all, a saviour has come and his kingdom was with him. We've been invited into that kingdom and we'd do well to take up that invitation. As citizens of that heavenly kingdom we become the catalyst in which good flows through the world and when we function as that catalyst we lose reason to cling to government and our demand for earthly rulers and their domineering and unjust ways.
Every earthly ruler will be unjust. Period. They are all sinful and will succumb to the temptations that come along with power. God has told us not to put our hope or trust in these rulers and given us a beautiful alternative to them in Jesus Christ. It is this saviour Jesus Christ who is the bottom line.*Matthew 4:8-10, "Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, 'All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.' Then Jesus said to him, 'Be gone, Satan! For it is written, "You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve."'" (Interestingly, Jesus never denies Satan's ability to hand over earth's kingdoms. It seems, being the ruler of the world, as the Apostle John calls him, that Satan really does have some type of grasp on the earthly kingdoms).
**See John Howard Yoder's book entitled The Politics of Jesus.