Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The "Offense of the Gospel" and Christian Involvement in Politics

A thought that occurred to me earlier:

The early church was heavily persecuted by both Jews and Romans because of strongly political implications to its message. To the Jews, the concept of the messiah had long been a political concept about freedom from their oppressors and an exaltation of their nation as the "people of God." Christianity strongly countered that message by preaching about a spiritual Kingdom of God that included both Jews and Gentiles. Paul's taking the gospel to the Gentiles made this essentially anti-nationalist message (not anti-Jewish, but opposed to the sentiment in Judaism that held their people in a particularly high esteem as the only people of God) much more vocal. Essentially, the Jewish reaction against Christianity was largely motivated by Jewish nationalist sentiments, a very political motive.

Likewise, the Romans had a very political reason for opposing Christianity. The Roman empire was held together by a common bond of loyalty to Caesar as King/God. Early Christians refused to submit to this loyalty because they held Jesus to be the only King/God. This must have been greatly insulting to the Roman political order- not only were they refusing submission and loyalty to Rome, the Christians were claiming that someone who had been crucified by Rome was greater than the Emperor. So Roman political pride was also offended by Christianity, and they too had largely political reasons for opposing the church.

So what can this teach us? It seems to hold a political implication- loyalty to a state can never rise above loyalty to Christ in Christian thinking. Protestants are quick to jump on this in criticism of Catholics. Indeed, the medieval Papacy probably did usurp the loyalty it should have given to God. However, I have heard a good number of Evangelicals in this country preach on behalf of a past President and rally support for the Iraq War. I wonder if this is any less a case of loyalty being passed on to the wrong party?

In a free society such as we enjoy in the West, it is perhaps more difficult to find direct analogies. Certainly we can be loyal citizens of our country without compromising (for the most part) our loyalties to God. However, when I hear conservative leaders making sweeping statements about America being the greatest nation on earth and conservative Christians nodding their heads in agreement I wonder if our national loyalty has become a bit too deeply entrenched.

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