Christ and the rulers of this world

How does seeking God’s kingdom affect the way we relate to existing rulers?

Some of my conservative friends worry about me. They fear that seeking the kingdom will make me a “leftie,” advocating for social change. They remind me Australia is a great place to live, with a Christian prime minister, who’s doing a good job with the Covid-19 lockdown. Surely, we all need to pray for him and support him as God’s man?

I’ve disappointed my radical friends too. I’m seeking the kingdom, but they don’t see me pushing for social change. They fear if we don’t call out the systemic injustice, nothing will change. They remind me how inhumanely Scott Morrison treated people seeking asylum when he was immigration minister. Surely, we must disrupt the way things are if we are to have a better society, a kingdom of God?

It’s interesting how deeply this left/right division runs in the church. It divides us over how we understand the gospel: what God is saving us from, and what God is saving us to.

Quick quiz. Which answer is the main way you think about…

  • Sin: a) personal transgressions, or b) social injustices?
  • Salvation: a) individual forgiveness, or b) global restoration?
  • Kingdom of God: a) God’s reign in hearts, or b) God’s reign over the world?

If you answered (b) to these, do you vote left-wing? If you answered (a), do you vote right-wing? It’s interesting how our current allegiances affect the way we understand the gospel:

  1. Conservatives don’t want disruptive change. For them, Jesus’ kingdom is spiritual. He saves individuals from sins, so we can live with him in heaven for ever. But in this world, God has appointed rulers to keep law and order. Christians therefore belong to two kingdoms: a natural one with its government on earth, and a spiritual one with Jesus reigning in heaven.
  2. Radicals want things to change. For them, Jesus’ kingship reforms this world too. God gave the kingship to Jesus because this world was suffering under evil. It won’t do to limit Jesus’ kingship to the spiritual realm or a future era. All authority has been given to him, on earth as well as in heaven. We pray for his reign to come here, to this world, as it is in heaven.

Consequently, these two groups have very different views of what it means to live as a Christian:

  1. The two-kingdoms view calls us to serve both: Jesus (the ruler God appointed for the spiritual kingdom), and our earthly government (the rulers God appointed for the physical realm).
  2. The integrated view shines a light on present injustice, on how people with power in this world use their power to benefit themselves, to harm their enemies and to subjugate the marginalized. These systemic evils cannot be allowed to continue, for Christ is king.

Now the bombshell. The gospel supports neither view — neither the left, nor the right. Jesus has not called us to support nor condemn the current leaders, but to proclaim him as the alternative leader. The gospel is the history-making proclamation that God’s chosen leader (the Christ) is reigning over the world (our Lord).

Scott Morrison is neither the messiah nor the devil. He’s the man to whom God has given power in the short term, but he is not God’s man to sort out all our problems. Even if he did want to do right, he’s compromised by the power structures of his party, and he’s quite good at playing the political game. The Bible consistently warns us that power corrupts even the best leaders like David and Solomon. But that doesn’t make Scott our enemy; our enemy isn’t the humans in power, but the evil that works through the humans in power (Ephesians 6:12).

Our king has not called us to support or undermine our rulers. He calls us to announce the good alternative, the news of his kingship. This is the consistent message of Ephesians:

  1. In Christ, God has fulfilled his plan: redeeming the earth, installing his Christ, restoring our inheritance, raising up his king (Ephesians 1).
  2. In Christ, God has ended the division between his nation and the other nations, raising up his failed nation and extending grace to the nations, ending the hostilities that divided humanity, proclaiming one new humanity in his anointed ruler (Ephesians 2).
  3. In the assembly that gathers under his anointed, God is demonstrating to the rulers of this world and the spiritual powers they serve that people from every family now belong under one Father in the love of his anointed ruler (Ephesians 3).
  4. So, it’s crucial that we live as this reunified humanity under the leader who became king by descending into death to free the captives, appointing leaders to grow the new humanity in Christ, in contrast to the way the nations lived previously (Ephesians 4).
  5. We now live as God’s children, leaving dark deeds behind to live in the light of the One who raises humanity out of death to a new existence in him. We learn to live this self-giving lifestyle in the way we treat each other at home (Ephesians 5).
  6. This self-giving Christ-life frames how we treat our children and operate our businesses. It also frames how we relate to leaders who don’t yet recognize Christ as world ruler. Their power is dangerous, but they’re not the enemy, so we trust the non-combatant armour God used to rescue his world (Ephesians 6).

Truth is, Jesus refuses to bow to our politics. He isn’t a right-wing conservative who wants the world to stay as it is. He isn’t a left-wing radical condemning the current rulers.

Jesus overturns the tables of the conservatives, for he is introducing a different kingdom.

Jesus joins no marches against the existing rulers: he came not to condemn them for their injustices, but to save them from the evil they serve.

Jesus’ gospel is the history-making world-transforming proclamation that God’s chosen leader (the Christ) is running the world (our Lord). This good news changes everything.

 

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Author: Allen Browne

Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Riverview College Dean

2 thoughts on “Christ and the rulers of this world”

  1. Thanks Allen. I’m currently reading Alan Kreider’s The Patient Ferment of the Early Church: The Improbable Rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic: A Division of Baker Publishing Group, 2016). On p age 13 he makes this observation which I think is pertinent;

    In the 250s Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage in North Africa, had a plateful of problems. Within the church he was involved in conflicts: with confessors, with lapsed rich people, and even with the bishop of Rome. Outside the church he and other Christians faced waves of hostility from the imperial authorities. And there was no one—inside the church or outside it—who had not been seared by an epidemic that had terrified all of North Africa, killing innumerable people. Some Christians were disheartened and losing hope; others, having received violent treatment by their non-Christian neighbors, wanted revenge against people who had tormented them. The world seemed out of control.
    Amid it all, Cyprian, as bishop, wanted to keep the Christians true to their tradition. This, at its heart, meant embodying the Christian good news, bearing it in their bodies and actions, living the message visibly and faithfully so that outsiders would see what the Christians were about and, ideally, would be attracted to join them.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks, Graham. That’s inspiring.
    The early church fathers are such a great example of the gospel in action. As you say,
    “embodying the Christian good news, bearing it in their bodies and actions, living the message visibly and faithfully.”

    Like

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