A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Christ the King and Partisan Politics

This past Sunday was Christ the King Sunday. It is the last Sunday of the liturgical year, which will begin anew this coming Sunday with the season of Advent. When the New Testament proclaims that Jesus is Lord, it is not simply an affirmation that Jesus reigns in our individual hearts and lives; it is a radical political claim meant to put the nations of the world and their leaders on notice. In the Roman Empire, it was common to swear allegiance to the Emperor with the shout, “Caesar is Lord.” When the Christians substituted Jesus for Caesar, they were making a significant claim about the nature of Christ’s lordship, and the ultimate insignificance of Caesar as one who determines the destiny of human history.

To be sure, the first Christians took the rule of the Emperor quite seriously, but they also knew that since God was now beginning to set the world to rights in the lordship of Jesus Christ, Caesar was simply on borrowed time. So while it is good and even necessary for believers to be involved in the politics that is the world, such polity is not at the center of human history; rather it is the politics of the Kingdom. The politics of the nations stand at the margins because Jesus is Lord, not any Caesar, king, president or prime minister. Such an understanding gave the first Christians a view of worldly politics that was quite restrained in reference to what it could accomplish and how little a role it would play in bringing history to God’s desired fulfillment.

My concern with Christians who are partisan on both sides of the political aisle is that they can unwittingly give Caesar the center stage of human history that should only be reserved for Christ. I know partisan Republican Christians who are still in mourning over the last election, and I know partisan Democratic Christians who can hardly contain themselves at the prospect of once again having control of Congress. But it is the Psalmist who states, “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing” (146:3-4). When Christ is truly confessed as King, our trust in the leaders of the world, including those who hold our political views, will always be qualified. The problem as I see it is not partisanship of political conviction, but a partisanship of confidence in the politics of the world.

Perhaps the major problem with partisan Christians on both sides is that they suffer from the malady known as “Constantinian Ecclesiology:” the belief that the church is nothing more than the prop for the state instead of providing the alternative to it, and the acceptance of the false notion that the nation is where the political action is instead of in the church, which is the only body that has the resources capable of sustaining the kind of polity that bears witness to the lordship of Jesus Christ. It is not the church that stands on the political margins; how can that be the case since it is God and not the nations who rules the world?

Christ is King. Jesus is Lord. Words to remember before we place too much trust in the mortal princes of the world.

Cross-posted at RedBlueChristian


Anonymous said...

Good words, Allan. I agree.

It seems like we either go off to one extreme or the other. Putting our confidence in a leader or the political process, demonstrated by all the time and effort put forth. Or withdrawing from it.

We need to have our witness everywhere. But we need to remember where our confidence lies, in all of this. AND who we are in this world (and whose we are).


Allan R. Bevere said...


Karl Barth's response to the German church's complicity with Hitler was "Let the church be the church." The church has its own political integrity, its own polity.