I preached Epiphany Sunday about the nature of the Church and her (because the church is a her and not an it) political witness being one with her spiritual witness. Our life together, both towards each other as believers and in our service to anyone outside the church community, is a witness to and proclamation of another kingdom, God’s Kingdom.
There is a danger always latent in life in a fallen world of idolatry of all kinds. For one, we can worship that which is not the true God. For another, we can worship God in the wrong ways which leads to a misunderstanding of who God is. This is especially true in America where the temptation to idolize American politics cuts across all parties. Conservative Christians can make an idol out of America, the military, and making America a Christian nation through worldly political power. Liberal Christians can make an idol out of social activism, individual experience, and making the world a better place. Both, and all in between, can make and have made idols out of human choice, freedom, the free market, democracy, etc. And while Christian life in the Church will sometimes look “liberal” from this angle, or “conservative” from that angle, we are something entirely different, an altogether other worldly, yet in-this-world social order: the Kingdom of God. Indeed, Jesus said His kingdom is not of this world (John 19).
The Kingdom of God has begun in Jesus’ coming, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, and promise to come again. He has given us, His people, the task of living this out. He asked the Father, and the Father has given us the Spirit to be empowered to live as a foretaste to the new creation. The Kingdom first starts, not with getting the right policies into whatever government we Christians happen to be under, nor with focusing purely on an inward grasp of some theological propositions about God and Jesus. Our primary job is not to fix the world; it is to be the church (as Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon put it in Resident Aliens). Will the world be better because of us being the church? Yep. But this cannot be our primary concern, as we first must come into the community and be transformed by God’s Spirit, and receive the gift of faith and grace, and learn what life together in the Kingdom looks like. The Church’s primary witness to the world is the Church’s life together (John 13). Intimately related and necessary to that is the Church’s going out and serving others, imitating the example of our Savior. I’m reminded of James’ exhortation to have faith and deeds together (James 2).
But we Christians seriously have to rethink and patiently pray about how Scripture calls us to be in this world as it is passing away while the Kingdom is coming. As Christians in America we have become too zealous for this country, whether to the political right or left. It irritates and saddens me when people are more energized by voting than by their life as a Christ follower with other Christ followers. I think it reveals that forces are shaping us for other kingdoms besides God’s Kingdom. Does that mean we shouldn’t vote? Not necessarily. But can we participate in American life in such a way that it doesn’t swamp us? Have we already been swamped by it? Has it taken over our imagination, leaving no room for the vision of life Jesus calls us to as His followers, the future hope that will come? If it has, let’s just admit it and repent and begin worshiping, as God’s chosen people, the true God who calls us to proclaim and embody His Kingdom coming by the power of the Spirit. Sometimes, that may look irresponsible to the world. That may look weird. That may mean you do less as an American citizen. But then know that what you are doing is being the Church, which is exactly what Christ has called us to be. And that is doing immensely more than you may think.