In the previous post (found here), we concluded that hyper-politicization is to be expected, because everything is political. As Jonathan Leeman wrote, “Every position a person might adopt in the political sphere relies upon a certain conception of human beings, their rights and their obligations towards one another, creation and God” (Political Church). If Leeman is right, we should embrace a broader view of politics: “[Politics] is a universal and pervasive aspect of human behavior and may be found wherever two or more human beings are engaged in some collective activity, whether formal or informal, public or private” (Adrian Leftwich, What is Politics). The real problem, therefore, is not hyper-politicization, since everything is political. Rather, the root of our society’s perceived tension is the existing disunity at the religious, moral, and subsequently political levels.
Is there a realistic solution to this genuine problem of disunity? The Christian must propose a threefold answer:
2. But there will be
3. And, to some degree, yes
First, no there will not be an end to religious, moral and political differences at this point, before the return of Christ and the establishment of the new creation. Some Christians will cringe when they hear my usage of theological categories in a political conversation. The reason for their discomfort is rooted in those false, enlightenment-era distinctions between private and public, reason and faith, religious and political. Once you release yourself from those constructed categories, you are free to be a holistic thinker, rather than a compartmentalized and thus double-minded thinker. Christian, if your theological view of sin does not substantially affect your political views, you are not functionally worshipping God in every aspect of your life as you are called to do (1 Cor. 10:31). If you are not bringing your political thoughts captive to obey Christ (2 Cor. 10:5), then you are submitting yourself to some other lord. You may, then, want to ask the all important question: what other god am I worshipping?
The second answer is an optimistic one: “but there will be.” The Bible gives Christians a radically positive trajectory for human unity. Sin caused disunity between, most fundamentally, God and man. This relational, or covenantal, break between Creator and creature has impacted all other relationships. Inter-Human relationships, as well as humanity’s relationship to creation, have been severely fractured because of human sin (Genesis 3:17-24). Thankfully, because of God’s intervention, these relationships will be fully restored one day. On that day, God “will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:3-4). God tells us that His kingdom will expand to encompass all of the earth, and that this kingdom will be finally unified under the beautiful Lordship of Jesus Christ (Rev. 21:5-8).
The third answer, “to some degree, yes,” must be understood in light of the previous two answers. The Christian cannot pretend that the new creation and its unified kingdom can be accomplished now, even though the Christian has a sure hope that this unified kingdom will arrive someday. Even still, the Bible provides us with examples of genuine unity in this fallen world. These examples anticipate the future kingdom. At the beginning of 2 Samuel, David is anointed as king by the “men of Judah.” This passage foreshadows the return of Christ, when God’s people will acknowledge Christ as their sole King. In 2 Kings 19, Sennacherib, king of Assyria, attacks Judah, but God defends his people by striking down 185,000 of Sennacherib’s soldiers. God’s actions caused peace among his people. This event anticipated God’s righteous judgment against his enemies and the total peace (shalom) which will accompany the new creation (Rev. 20:7-10; 21:3-8).
The examples continue on into the New Testament. The New Testament church enfolds gentiles into its ranks and no longer identifies itself as a particular nationstate with coercive power. Rather, the church is viewed as an embassy for the coming new creation kingdom. We church members are its ambassadors. The lives of believers, living out their faith from within the church community, are meant to imperfectly personify this approaching paradise.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:17-20, added emphases are mine).
The church is the only hope today for the kind of societal unity God desires. This is not a popular position to take, even among American evangelicals. Some on the political right will say that reinvigorating voluntary associations is the solution to societal disunity. They would include participation in your local library, city government, and fraternity groups right alongside participation in church or synagogue; for them church is just another voluntary association. I agree that these associations can be a wonderful way to unify individuals around a common set of interests and preferences. However, I believe that churches, while voluntarily joined, should be categorized very differently than the groups mentioned above.
If you are a Christian, you are required, by God’s command to be part of the church (1 Cor. 12:12ff; Hebrews 10:21-25). We can’t say anything remotely similar about the local library or some fraternal organization. If the church, as a whole, is “a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9), and embassy of God’s Kingdom (2 Cor 5:17ff), then we best not view local churches as mere voluntary associations. Local churches are uniquely designed by God to be outposts of his approaching Kingdom. Again, you can't say that about any other institution, even Christian ones! The mission of the church is unique.
Jesus' message has not changed: “The Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the gospel (Mark 1:15). In other words, God is taking over, so bow the knee to him by turning to his Son in faith. This gospel message must impact our deepest religious and philosophical convictions, our moral and ethical values, and even our political views. This message is more than a private matter, because it's talking about God's expanding lordship over all peoples. This message has the unique power to transform lives and to manifest the still-future Kingdom of God today.
So what? What should you do about all of this? Here is a simple and necessary place to start: Join a church that preaches this deep, comprehensive, and thoroughly biblical view of the gospel. Don’t join and then sit on the sidelines either. Membership in the church is where Christians foster their citizenship in the Kingdom, but apathy, laziness, and inconsistency will prevent the church from having an impact on you. Ask yourself how you can become a more faithful worshipper and more active member in the church. Also, ask yourself how you can become a more compassionate ambassador of Christ to this fractured society - as an individual and as a church. To go through these three categories in more depth check out our vision page (scroll down until you see the three bold categories above).