November 16, 2008


Aliens and Citizens: In the body of Christ, we learn how to be both (Jordan Hylden, 11/06/2008, Christianity Today)

The prophet Jeremiah knew a thing or two about what politics looks like in Babylon. His people were conquered by Babylon's armies and sent there into long exile. But even in Babylon itself, Jeremiah counseled his flock to "seek the welfare of the city" of their conquerors and to "pray to the Lord on its behalf." Daniel and his companions took a page out of Jeremiah's book during their stay in Babylon, working dutifully as civil servants in the king's own court. And no less than the apostle Paul told the church in Rome to "be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God." The Roman rulers, Paul thought—the very same rulers that John of Patmos compared to scarlet bloodthirsty beasts—were actually, despite all, "God's servants to do you good."

If that sounds like a paradox, it's because it is. Christians have always been caught in the tension between the city of God and the city of man, and negotiating the claims of the two in this already-but-not-yet world of ours has never been easy. But difficult as it may be, no less an authority than Jesus told us that we have to try: "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and unto God what is God's." Some Christians argue that the gospel is too large if it gets involved in politics, while others (such as liberation theologians) argue that the gospel is too small if it is not first and foremost political. But thinking rightly about gospel politics means not letting either side of the biblical paradox go.

In trying to come to terms with our paradoxical responsibility, theologian Stanley Hauerwas's dictum can be helpful: "The first responsibility of the church is to be the church." That sounds right, but what does it mean? He explains: "The church doesn't have a social ethic; the church is a social ethic." Hauerwas reminds us that before we go off trying to come up with whom Jesus would vote for, we first have to understand what the church is. And when we think about that, we start to realize that the church has a politics (from the Greek polis, or body of citizens) of its own—that is, a way of living together as the body of Christ that shows the world a "more excellent way."

In the already-but-not-yet paradox between Christ's resurrection and his second coming, the church is the "already"—the peculiar place in the world that has started to look like the New Jerusalem. Of course, the church is far from perfect, but when the church really does begin to live in the light of Christ's forgiveness, it's not too much to say that the church is a reflection of the peace and love of the triune God—even a bit of heaven on earth.

What exactly does that look like? For one thing, the church lives by forgiveness, not retribution. And because of God's forgiving grace, the church is a place of reconciliation and peace—not peace as the world gives, but the true and lasting peace among people who have confessed their sins to God and each other, know that they are forgiven by God, and forgive each other as Christ has forgiven them.

Behind it all, of course, is God's love—we love each other because God first loved us.

...seeing how happy so many friends and neighbors are at the Obama victory. I was at the Library the other day and none of the ladies even wanted to talk Red Sox, they were just buzzing on Obamy goodness. And...honestly, I was happy for them. After all, they've felt like aliens for 14 years now, when it's more natural to us.

I just hope he doesn't disappoint.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at November 16, 2008 7:54 AM
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