Today is Christ the King Sunday. It is the last Sunday of the liturgical year, which will begin anew next 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 possible 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 displayed in the church. As I have said many times, when most Christians hear the word "politics" they think "nation-state." The word I wish they would centrally associate with "politics" is "church." 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 often unwittingly give Caesar the center stage of human history that should only be reserved for Christ. I know partisan Republican Christians who are excited beyond measure over the recent mid-term elections as if the Kingdom of God once again has a chance of being restored in America after the political heresy of the last two years. I know partisan Democratic Christians who, since November 2, are almost inconsolably depressed as if the Gates of Hell are now prevailing against their Kingdom of Social Justice. 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 severely qualified. The problem is not only a partisanship of political conviction, it is 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 of an anemic political ecclesiology brought on by Christendom, which is nurtured and fed by the belief that the church's most significant task is to be the prop for the state instead of providing the alternative to it. It is 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 on this Christ the King Sunday.
I have strong feelings politically and God is constantly reminding me not to get too excited about what is going on in that field.
Jesus said, "Give unto Caesar...," Paul told us to obey the government in Romans 13. A question I keep asking myself is "Who is Caesar today?" We do not live in an empire, we live in a federal republic. The best I can come up with is that Caesar to us is the Constitution. My civic responsibility is to support it but to obey my Lord.
Grace and Peace
Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I would only say in response is that I do not think Jesus in his "give under Caesar" comments, nor Paul in Romans 13 are advocating a separate spheres kind of thinking. And, yes, even though we live in a federal republic, we also resemble an empire in more than a few ways in foreign and domestic policy.
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