Wednesday, May 24, 2006

resisting the powers

One of the beauties of blogging is one can share thoughts that may be developing, so that they are not entirely thought through. And can have some improving or even correcting that can come in this process both individually and in community. Thoughts by nature, even theologically, should be open to revision for improvement, as we try better to say (maybe for our time and place) what God has revealed to us in Jesus and in Scripture.

Resisting the powers is with reference to thinking through our relationship, as the Jesus community, to nations and governments, said to have a God-given calling and authority in the world (see Romans 13). Many Christians in our nation are prone to a more or less strong nationalism based on an idealistic view and notion of our (the United States) founding as a nation. While we see, in many places in the world, Christians "up against it", having to live out their faith under authorities who, contrary to God's calling to them, make Christianity illegal or push it to the fringes (and beyond) as to what is acceptable and good for their society.

In Scripture we note that Jesus said that his kingdom is not of this world. That it is from another place not of this earth (John 18). But that his kingdom, by his Person and words and work, and by his people, is present in this world. Inherent in that, and gathered from the New Testament as well as early Christianity, is the proclamation that "Jesus is Lord". Which flew in the face of what was believed then in the empire: "Caesar is Lord."

Paul accepted and used his Roman citizenship. But, like Daniel, he refused to bow his knees to the Emperor. He continued to proclaim the kingdom of God in Jesus until the end of his days. Do note, in Daniel's case, that he even served as a government official. But part of Daniel's proclamation, in his day, was that the Most High God is King of kings and Lord of lords. So, he too, I say, resisted the powers, as God has called all of us, his people, to do.

We are to honor those in power, at least with reference to their office and calling from God. And in terms of whatever honor they deserve. We are to pay taxes to them for their work of governing. But we are to resist them, whenever they impose laws on us, that contradict "the Jesus creed": loving God with our whole being and doing, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Obeying this "creed", means sharing the message of the gospel, that message being Jesus himself: the salvation and kingdom that is found in him.

When we may have to resist them, we need, like Martin Luther King, Jr., to do so as those of another kingdom, not of this world. As followers of Jesus, who taught us to bless those who curse us, and to repay evil with good. Resisting the powers is a vanquishing of them, in the power of the Spirit, by the blood of Jesus, proclaiming him, and by our own testimony, and it may even mean martyrdom (Revelation 12).

But in our country, and in western democracies (or the like of them, elsewhere), how do we resist the powers? We ought to be thankful to God for the good of our countries and our government, and in a certain sense, we can be patriotic. But we must avoid being nationalistic, in the sense of seeing our identity as steeped in being American or German or whatever. This is so, because our identity is in Jesus and in the kingdom of God. We are a holy nation (1 Peter), scattered all over the word as the Jesus community. We think of ourselves as Christians who happen to be American, or German, or whatever. But our chief citizenship is in heaven, as Paul himself, a Roman citizen, said (Philippians).

Jesus, We bow to you as Lord. Let us live and proclaim you and your Father's kingdom. Give us strength to be your servants in this world in whatever sphere you call us to. And give us discernment and strength to resist the powers when their call usurps your lordship, blatantly or subtely. By your Spirit and in your love. Amen.


Drew B Moser said...

amen, Ted!

rob horton said...

Awesome! Worth the visit.

Becky said...

Hi Ted:

Your proposal here seems to be what is needed for any sort of large-scale reform like the kind previously discussed on your blog. We are "dual citizens" on so many levels, but we must not forget where our primary citizenship lies: in the Body of Christ! Thanks for your thoughts.


Ted Gossard said...

Thanks everyone, for reading. And for your comments.

Becky, It seems that so much of common thinking among American evangelicals is tied to a belief that the United States was founded as a Christian nation.

But our government was set up with the idea of a healthy separation of church and state (Roger Williams, the originator of this thought?). The last thing the founding fathers wanted for this nation, was a state church, or an imposed religion, as it was in Europe at that time.

Of course, neither did the fathers want religion or Christianity to be factored out of influencing, or even being part of the touchstone of the government and governing. This has been lost in much of the current thinking about the separation of church and state.

Being citizens of such a nation (and any nation, for that matter) requires alot of prayer and thought in relation to Scripture.

I think Christians can and should be involved in government, governing, politics (though am moving more towards a pacifist view on participation in the military) as a part of our calling as salt and light.

But our primary calling, in everything, is to point towards, work with reference to, and be participants ourselves, of that kingdom of God in Jesus, that is already here, among his people, and is the future.

DLW said...

quick thoughts.

I think Rom 13 must be coupled with Rom 12, which combines a call for Xtns to be countercultural with an ecclesiological dictum that we shd not wield authority over each other as is done by the world, and the missiological mandate that we are to overcome evil with good.

I also think it shd be pointed out that Rom 13 does not deal with issues of legal change. It deals with the proper role of the State and how Xtns need to follow Jesus in rejecting violent rebellion, and deliberating on what we ought to render to the state.

I think we do need to deliberate both on Scripture and past historical Christian Church State relations in the search for wisdom in this regard.

I also fear that the desire to resist the powers in a manner wholly not of this world may lead to unhealthy divisions among Xtns and backbiting over who represents "authentic Xty".

I don't think we are called to vanquish the powers, as that task is ultimately God's responsibility as pictured in the visions of the book of Daniel. Ultimately, we are called to overcome evil with good. I think that voluntaristic third party movements in the US that got the main two parties to realign along a new dynamic center were good examples of more selfless political activism that ensured both change and continuity as the real movers and shakers did not insist on getting into power themselves and were content with seeing real changes in the specific manner the sword of the state was wielded.


Ted Gossard said...


You've made some excellent points here.

I do want to say, especially this Memorial Day weekend, that I can only stand in awe and in tears when I think of the ultimate sacrifice men and women have paid, even in the last months and few years- in the military.

I would hope that any disagreement with reference to how Christians are to follow Christ with regard to the military, would in now way, impugn the righteousness and holiness of Christians who will disagree on this subject. I, for one, think one can follow Jesus closely and be just as holy, on either side.

However, of course, that doesn't mean that in seeking to exegete Scripture, and in considering the Church's teachings over the centuries, that we may not arrive to some differing conclusions on this. We have, and we will.

Thanks dlw again, for your good thinking on the political side of the entire service we're to render to God (and Caesar in this sphere).