Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Same Space

I think I will post another, uh, post, in answer to my anonymous antagonist. (see comments on last post below)

The Narrative:
I do not think most Christians today appreciate the political nature of the first century church. When the authors of the New Testament used the words "ekklesia", "evangelion", "Christos", they were making highly treasonous claims against the Roman Empire, and all human governments thereafter. Christians were persecuted not because they touted a certain religion. Religions were all tolerated in the Empire. It was because they preached a King other than Caesar. King Jesus and Caesar claimed the same space.

But the two kingdoms did not operate on the same wavelength. The apostles were careful to instruct the early Christians not to rebel against Rome with the sword. They were to follow Jesus' example of submission to the authorities, for it was God who put those authorities in place. Jesus said as much to Pilate during his trial. Evil was overcome by way of the cross, in humble submission to the will of God, obeying to the point of death. "Therefore God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name...."

And here is the paradox. Rome was evil, but God ordained it and allowed it dominion for a time. He used it to punish other evildoers, particularly the Jews who were oppressing the early Christians. So it worked out for their good. Then Rome fell, and another empire arose, then another, then another. At the present time, the world appears to be under the dominion of the American/Western empire. It, too, will fall when God is finished with it.

The Present Application:
The message is still clear for Christians today- submit and wait for the Lord to recompense the enemy and deliver his people from oppression. This is our duty as citizens of his everlasting kingdom.

God has his ministers of wrath- them. And his ministers of reconciliation-us. So it's them, and its us. The two priesthoods are immiscible. That is why we should not participate in their wars, their political elections or their policing systems, and that is why I am a pacifist.


Me said...

This article speaks as to why we can and should participate to some degree in government. It is true that we are first citizens of heaven, but we are the salt of the earth.

"The salt of the earth does not mock rotting meat. Where it can, it saves and seasons. And where it can’t, it weeps. And the light of the world does not withdraw, saying “good riddance” to godless darkness. It labors to illuminate. But not dominate." (

Here's one important paragraph from the article in the first link.

"So as I unfold the implications of Romans 13, keep the whole picture in mind. We are first citizens of heaven with a mandate to magnify King Jesus on the earth.

And part of his mission for us is to enter all the spheres of society and culture with the light and taste and aroma and truth of Christ, including government.

But I am getting ahead of myself. I said there were two teachings to focus on in Romans 13."

The 2nd main point in this article is what I really want to point out. He just says it so much better than I can.

the Anonymous Antagonist
(I kind of like the name)

Luke said...

Very Good post. I think it's relevant also to point out that the "government" is not the only institution vying for the same space as Jesus. False religions are equally guilty. But your emphasis is a needed one because Christians rarely seem able to comprehend that state government is no less a false religion than any other. Yes, we need to be salt and light, but that doesn't mean joining a mosque or mormon temple and participating in their liturgies, nor does it mean reciting the pledge of allegiance, or voting or participating in the liturgies of the state because that would be covenantal adultery, and that is a very misguided approach to being salt and light.

Me said...


Government is not a false religion, nor can it compared to false religions. Government is an institution ordained by God (Rom 13:2), and thus it cannot war against Him as an equal. It is instead accountable to God for its actions. Government's God-given responsibility is to promote what is good and to punish what is evil. God has established an objective moral law, which we as Christians know more fully through the Bible. Thus in order to see God most glorified among the nations, we should strive to uphold His moral law. God's purposes ultimately will be accomplished. Christians are not to dominate. Neither can we sit idly by, watching as the world continues to sin. Thus we strive to uphold the moral realities that God has established.

If Government is a false religion, and taking part in its functions consitutes committing adultery against God, then the Bible is full of people who were adulterers.

Joseph served as second in command to Pharaoh. God ultimately used the Egyptian government to Israel. (Gen 45:8-9)

Daniel and his friends all served in the government of Babylon.

Zaccheus worked for the Roman empire. He was saved, but he was not called away from being a tax collector. (Luke 19)

Cornelius was saved, and he was a Roman centurion. (Acts 10)

Sergius Paulus was a proconsul in Cyprus, he was saved. (Acts 13:4-12)

The Phillippian jailer was saved. (Acts 16:25-40)

Paul himself viewed government as important. When he needed justice, he appealed to Caesar, thus participating in the Roman justice system. (Acts 25:11)

Members of Caesar's household were also believers. (Philippians 4:22)

The Bible seems to clearly say that serving in government, taking part in its functions in not wrong. God has ordained the postions within government as well, so those positions are honorable.

Luke said...

Saying that government is not a false religion doesn't make it so. The government has all the characteristics of a religion. Like all religions, the government has it's stories, it's symbols, and it's praxis. For most of the world's history people had a unified set of social solidarities. It is only in our modern world that religion and nationality have become separated, and I would argue that even our modern pluralistic religious context is but an farce perpetuated by a state religion that demands allegiance from its patrons.

Old covenant Israel is an excellent example of this sort of unified social construct, but from Israel's perspective, the surrounding nations shared this type of solidarity. In other words, To be an Israelite was to practice one sort of religion, but to be a Hittite or an Egyptian was to practice another, and to be in allegiance to another God and another creed.

When Israel found herself in Captivity, she was instructed by God to serve her captors. Paul instructs slaves the same way in the NT. This accounts for your first two examples of Joseph and Daniel. They were not "social activists," they were slaves.

As far as the NT examples you cite, I would argue that the salvation language implies that they expected a cataclysmic judgment of the Roman empire by God. This was what I think the jailer meant by, "How can I be saved?" He thought the earthquake was the beginning of Paul's proclaimed parousia. Possibly some of those converted did not leave their jobs, but they did not hear the Gospel so naively as many do today. The language of the Gospel was clear: "Jesus is Lord". And that meant that Ceasar was not. It was a direct challenge to the empire. Paul wanted to get to Ceasar to be the first to boldly deliver that very message to his face. He wanted to be the first to tell him that his time was up.

But the New Testament doesn't leave us hanging with the Judgment of Israel and Rome. It also tells the story of the creation of a new government, the government of Jesus Christ. How do we participate in this new government? Paul tells us, "If any of you desires to be a bishop...."

Luke said...

I found this quote by RJ Rushdoony on the religious nature of the state:

"Throughout most of history, the state has been the religious order of man and the central vehicle of his religious life, and this is no less true today than in ancient Greece. We are accustomed to thinking of the church as the religious institution, and the state as simply the political ordering of man's life, but such thinking is at the very least erroneous and certainly guilty of accepting the framework of the myth [of the state]. The ancient polis, city-state, or kingdom was at all times a religious body, and, more than that, the religious organization of life. The ruler's office was holy: he was a royal or civil priest, and religion was the life of the state. The very word liturgy is derived from the Greek leitourgia, the original meaning of which was (1) a public office undertaken by a citizen at his own expense, as his service to the body politic and (2) any service, as military service, of workmen, or of that service done to nature [the cosmos] in the cohabitation of man and wife. The word was clearly religious: a liturgy was a public work done to promote the social and natural order. The leitourgos was a public minister, a servant of the state, or of the king.
The state was thus the religious ordering of society, and, as a result, each state was one church, holding a common faith, and no religious cults could flourish in a state without the permission of the state and without recognizing the state or its ruler as the mediator and divine lord. To have other gods meant to be in conspiracy for the overthrow of the body politic, of the visible god of that area, the state and its ruler.
(The Christian Idea of the State, pp. vii-viii)

Sara said...

I am not saying that we should remain aloof from the larger society. I am describing the best way to be salt and light. We are salt by doing ourselves what the government fails to do- upholding God's law among ourselves, yet offering forgiveness and mercy to those outside, feeding and caring for the poor and sick in our own communities, helping our neighbors, etc. We are light, not in helping the darkness to become less dark, but by being the city on a hill to show the way out of the darkness.

Me said...

So if what you say is true, and government is a false religion, and taking part in its functions is idolatry against God, several problems seem to exist. Why would God establish a false religion, and then command His people to submit to it? Is God commanding His people to commit idolatry? That way of thinking ultimately seems to lead to that conclusion.

yes, Joseph started out as a slave. However, his condition after he was elevated to second in command only to Pharaoh hardly consitutes the life of a slave.

I completely agree that the NT examples saw Christ as Lord. That further strengthens my position. They truly saw that Christ was Lord, and yet they still remained in their positions. They saw nothing wrong with that.

It is true that Christ is Lord, and Caesar is not. However, Christianity was not subversive to Rome. The books of Acts talks about that. Paul was proclaimed innocent by Roman officials (Acts 25:25).

Luke said...

Sadly, many Christians do participate in government because they think God commands them to do so on the basis of a very unfortunate reading of Romans 13. But submission and participation are two different things. It is one thing to be in jail, another thing be a jailer. One thing to be ruled, another to be ruler. Do you see the difference?

Joseph is a unique case and amounts to an entire discussion all by itself. For one thing, as I already mentioned he was in captivity. In the ancient world, slaves could attain very high offices, but remained slaves. Secondly, Joseph predated the Mosaic Covenant which was the first of the "suzerain treaty" covenants, which clearly set Israel over against the other nations. This means that he was not really bound by the type of covenantal fidelity that I'm talking about. And lastly, there is something strange about Joseph's marriage to Asenath (the daughter of a pagan priest) that I think is analgous to his "marriage" to Egypt and that reveals that all was not really well with Joseph's union with Egypt. Yes, God ordained the events of Josephs life, but like the selling of Joseph by his brothers it was an evil that God would not prescribe but that he did predestine to be used for good.

As far as those who you think intended to remain in their Roman government jobs long term (I suggest they anticipated an almost immediate parousia -judgment), I really don't see how you can know their thoughts. I think the meaning of the gospel as subversive was obvious to them, and so they were "laying low" as it were, but of course I can't read their minds either.

I'm not sure what to say about your statement that the gospel was not subversive of Rome. I see it in every text, and every paragraph of the new testament. I hear it in all of Jesus word's and sayings, and in all of Paul's letters. Perhaps you have become too inclined to hear those words in the NT like, saved, repent, gospel, conversion in a religious sense, but in the first century those were undeniably loaded, pregnant, and even treasonous political terminology.

Heather Munn said...

Hey, the Bible is full of people who were adulterers in the plainest sense of the word, too. Neither the Old nor New Testament stories (history) ever claim that their protagonists always did right; that assumption comes from our attempt to extract an obvious moral lesson from each chopped-up bit of Scripture rather than learning from the whole picture, the great overarching plot. Sure, sometimes someone's sin is made clear in the text, like David's; but other issues, like Abraham lying about his wife, aren't really commented on. The behavior of Biblical people--even Paul, though he was an excellent Christian--is not our moral standard. Except in the case of Jesus.

Me said...

Let me clarify my statement that Christianity was not subversive to Rome...I simply meant that Christianity did not seek to overthrow Rome. The Gospel is not political.
However, there is nothing wrong with participating in government. Paying taxes is a form of participating, and that is explicitly commanded in Scripture. I do not believe that all are called to serve in government, and I do not advocate Christians trying to control government.

This time, I'll post this whole article.

Taking the Swagger Out of Christian Cultural Influence

By John Piper August 27, 2003


"The fact that Christians are exiles on the earth (1 Peter 2:11), does not mean that they don’t care what becomes of culture. But it does mean that they exert their influence as very happy, brokenhearted outsiders. We are exiles. “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). “Here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14).

But we are very happy sojourners, because we have been commanded by our bloody Champion to rejoice in exile miseries. “Blessed are you when others . . . persecute you . . . on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven” (Matthew 5:11-12). We are happy because the apostle Paul showed us that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). We are happy because there are merciful foretastes everywhere in this fallen world, and God is glad for us to enjoy them (1 Timothy 4:3; 6:17). And we are happy because we know that the exiles will one day inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). Christ died for sinners so that “all things” might one day belong to his people (Romans 8:32).

But our joy is a brokenhearted joy, because Christ is worthy of so much better obedience than we Christians render. Our joy is a brokenhearted joy because so many people around the world have not heard the good news that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). And our joy is a brokenhearted joy because human culture –- in every society –- dishonors Christ, glories in its shame, and is bent on self-destruction.

This includes America. American culture does not belong to Christians, neither in reality nor in Biblical theology. It never has. The present tailspin toward Sodom is not a fall from Christian ownership. “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). It has since the fall, and it will till Christ comes in open triumph. God’s rightful ownership will be manifest in due time. The Lordship of Christ over all creation is being manifest in stages, first the age of groaning, then the age of glory. “We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). The exiles are groaning with the whole creation. We are waiting.

But Christian exiles are not passive. We do not smirk at the misery or the merrymaking of immoral culture. We weep. Or we should. This is my main point: being exiles does not mean being cynical. It does not mean being indifferent or uninvolved. The salt of the earth does not mock rotting meat. Where it can, it saves and seasons. And where it can’t, it weeps. And the light of the world does not withdraw, saying “good riddance” to godless darkness. It labors to illuminate. But not dominate.

Being Christian exiles in American culture does not end our influence; it takes the swagger out of it. We don’t get cranky that our country has been taken away. We don’t whine about the triumphs of evil. We are not hardened with anger. We understand. This is not new. This was the way it was in the beginning –- Antioch, Corinth, Athens, Rome. The Empire was not just degenerate, it was deadly. For three explosive centuries Christians paid for their Christ-exalting joy with blood. Many still do. More will.

It never occurred to those early exiles that they should rant about the ubiquity of secular humanism. The Imperial words were still ringing in their ears: “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:13). This was a time for indomitable joy and unwavering ministries of mercy.

Yes, it was a time for influence–-as it is now. But not with huffing and puffing as if to reclaim our lost laws. Rather with tears and persuasion and perseverance, knowing that the folly of racism, and the exploitation of the poor, and the de-Godding of education, and the horror of abortion, and the collapse of heterosexual marriage, are the tragic death-tremors of joy, not the victory of the left or the right.

The greatness of Christian exiles is not success but service. Whether we win or lose, we witness to the way of truth and beauty and joy. We don’t own culture, and we don’t rule it. We serve it with brokenhearted joy and longsuffering mercy, for the good of man and the glory of Jesus Christ."

Sara said...

I have nothing in disagreement with that article, I would just stress that the way we Christians are to preserve culture is by demonstrating an alternative to the coercive rule of the State, not by participating in it. (Other than not rebelling and not refusing to be taxed, which is really not participation, I don't know how you can construe it as such.) I am glad to see, however, a milder approach to politics as Piper advocates, as it seems a step in the right direction to correct the trend for Christian domination.
Recent study into first century culture does indeed support the premise that the gospel is political. The word, "gospel" (evangelion) was used by Caesar as part of a war propaganda. He would send his apostles into a city to proclaim his victorious gospel. "You can all enjoy peace and prosperity and worship whatever god you choose if you'll just pledge allegiance to Rome." For an apostle of another Lord to enter a city and proclaim another gospel and allegiance to another kingdom was, well, go figure...
Paul's epistle to the Romans is about how the Gentiles came to be grafted in to nation/kingdom of Israel through the revelation of a justice (righteousness, same word in Greek) apart from the Mosaic law through faith in King Jesus. Think of it- a justice that does not condemn, but saves the guilty and frees them from slavery to sin. A whole nation of freed slaves! Then he goes on in Romans 12 to show that all are members of one body, another political term, and how each is to function within this new society. Every verse is a step down the power ladder. Be living sacrifices, give preference to one another, bless those who persecute, associate with the humble, do not be wise in your own opinion, live peaceably, do not avenge because vengeance is the Lord's. Instead, be the society, the culture, the body of Christ that feeds and clothes its enemies. Submit to the people God chooses to be executors his wrath, do good and you'll have no reason to fear them. The instructions go on; love one another, bear with the weak, please others not yourselves, and near the conclusion he writes "And the God of peace shall crush Satan under your feet shortly." (16:20)

Luke said...

Thanks for your input Heather. Hope you guys are doing well. Your point was just what I was trying to get at in talking about Joseph, and I appreciate it.

As far as the Piper article, I think it's moving in the right direction as well. Not radical enough for my tastes, but at least he recognizes that there are problems with a D James Kennedy or Jerry Falwell "Christian America" approach.