by Alexei Laushkin
Yesterday I gave a mostly political analysis on the state of the white Evangelical and Pentecostal community as it relates to 2017 and the President. I also addressed a bit of the significant response from African American, Hispanic, and Asian American Evangelicals and Pentecostals.
Today, I want to shift gears and talk about the Kingdom of God and how we might regain a sense of the Kingdom which naturally puts politics in its proper place within Christian tradition.
The Kingdom of God in scripture is the reign of God within heaven and earth. It is the Kingdom with Christ at its head, and it is that advancing reconciliation between heaven and earth.
The Kingdom of God is taught throughout the scripture and is a perfect reflection of the Trinity’s reign among God’s people. It’s culmination is in the life to come where heaven is brought down to earth, but its reign begins in the hearts and lives of every Christian.
The Kingdom of God gives us some significant hints as to its reign and nature and perfect justice. Here are but some brief examples:
- A place where things are brought to rights or justice reigns supremely.
- A place of truth with what was done in secret was exposed.
- A place where justice is perfectly administered with the right heart and attitude.
- A place where the rights of the poor and downtrodden are defended and wrongs committed restored.
- A place where difference is properly handled and unity and the law of love achieved.
While it sounds a bit perfect, the nature of its perfection is more real and more grounded than anything we might fathom in this age where sin and deception and half-heartedness reign.
The Kingdom gives us a glimpse for God’s desire for humanity and in light of that as Christians we can point to its truth as a weigh to speak to conscience. Conscience which God has given to every person and tribe on this earth. Conscience which comes alive when in intersects with Gospel and heavenly truth.
The Kingdom cannot be perfectly established in this Age, because we do not live in a time where the Kingdom of God can be established except in pockets or moments in the lives of God’s people. In light of that it is impossible to build a governmental system or political theology which could perfectly or evenly mostly follow this Kingdom vision which Saints in many traditions live and speak to.
However, the role of the church in every society and in every age as it relates to politics and governments, is to help serve as the conscience of that society. Whether the church is a minority and persecuted voice in that context or a super majority, the church needs to steward and articulate its moral vision for society, so that society might be able to distinguish right from wrong, whether it rejects those truths or adheres to them.
The role of the church is not to ensure that society follows the moral vision it lays out, though it should rejoice and where possible support society to do so, instead the role of the church is to help be its true pastor. A good and kind and if necessary stern shepherd, but a shepherd that has the best interest of all people in that society at heart and a shepherd that does not withhold themselves from others.
While the church ought to interact with politics and policies and movements it ought not to lose itself or its mission of discipling and reaching others in that process. This requires a kind of Christian stayedness, which knows when and how to speak up and when to refrain.
The political and pastoral and societal role of a church is an aspect of its mission but not the main thrust of its presence. Because the church and its truths will outlast every age and iteration, its timeless quality has to be clearly articulated. Which means while being active not dimming its life by participating in scandal, but with wise judgment determining how best to make its voice clearly heard and respected by as many who will listen. It means always striving to reach more and more people and being willing to truly be a witness that speaks clearly.
A Word About the American Church
The American church is a church which has sinned greatly against itself. Especially among white and black churches, but also between white and Hispanic and white and Asian American. The most grievous and multigenerational sin however is between the dominance of the white to the black church. As such part of the pastoral mission and witness of the church must be to restore a sense of working relationships and collaboration between white and black churches. Within that context healing also needs to be pursued between white and Hispanic and white and Asian American churches.
As the church seeks to heal from its own sins it can more fully be a significant witness to the culture.
Within the American church exists theological diversity, which is only natural to any church community. This theological diversity lends itself to different approaches to politics, which while important to handle well is not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself. For the church to be pastoral it need not be uniform.
The Social Principles of the United Methodist Church and its teaching would make it fit squarely within a left of center political frame. The ethos and theology of many Evangelical, Pentecostal, Catholic, and Orthodox churches in its many manifestations puts their social teaching just to the right of center.
Even when a church finds itself naturally aligned with one political party, like a good shepherd it must not gush for that political movement and therefore alienate others. Natural affiliation means handling that natural alignment well and knowing how not to loose the understanding of the other political half even while being clear with its witness.
Among each other, different Christian political witnesses need to put on a deeper Christ likeness to ward each other. Learning to dialogue and discuss well so that in our democratic and pluralistic society, the churches might be an example of graciousness and that they might ultimately sharpen each other in their witness.
Some Practical Steps
Evangelical and Pentecostal churches should increasingly shun unabashed partisanship and regain a focus on discipleship and spiritual distinctiveness. We should be known for our witness more than politics, but in order to be known for our witness we have to regain some of the distinctives of right living, loving and knowing the word of God, and service towards the downtrodden which animated the origins of many of these churches.
Once that occurs, a biblical rediscovery on the teachings of Christ toward the widow, the refugee, and the stranger, as well as modeling hospitality and dialogue would do the political witness of these churches a world of good as those teachings sit along side existing ones on the family, human nature, and the unborn.
Mainline Protestant churches should increasingly and continually discover the spiritual teachings and distinctiveness so that their witness might be effectively translated to future generations.
Once that occurs, a renewal of mission and equipping would go a long way in strengthening the social witness of these churches.
Roman Catholic churches can help the entire American body rediscover and engage in the full range of Christian teachings contained within its history. An attitude of generosity and humility would continue to help fellow brothers and sisters learn from its many lessons it offers in terms of strengths and short comings. This attitude mixed with a fresh discipleship of its laity would only bless the body of Christ in America.
(photo credit flickr creative commons Geoff Llerena)