Monday, September 30, 2013

The Kingdom of God

To speak of the Kingdom of God is to speak of a divine political order that stands in contrast to the politics of man. Christians throughout the world are not merely members of the various nations who worship the same God in their personal devotions. They constitute a nation in their own right, a distinctive people, called out and separated from the kingdoms of the world, and born from above through faith in Christ into another kingdom with its own political order.

The form of this political order is absolute monarchy. Regardless of the particular forms of administration under which the Monarch’s sovereignty is delegated to his ministers in the different spheres of life (i.e. family, Church, State), the Christian nation is governed by an absolute Monarch whose law is unchangeable, whose jurisdiction is unlimited, and whose will is final. His ministers, or vicegerents, who govern under his law in the various institutional aspects of the life of the nation, may or may not be chosen by means of elections, depending on the nature of the institution (e.g. elections may be used in choosing elders—Ex. 18:25; Dt. 1:13–15; Acts 14: 23 cf. 6:3–6, but such elections have no place in the family). Nevertheless, those chosen by whatever means are bound absolutely to govern these institutions under the will of God as revealed in his law. This applies not only in the government of the Church but in the family and the State also. No Christian politician, chosen by whatever means, or belonging to any particular political party, has any dispensation to serve any other Lord. In his work as a politician he owes an absolute and unswerving loyalty and obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Rome recognised the inevitable conflict between Christ and Caesar that this fact created. So did the early Church. It is the modern Church’s failure to recognise the inevitable and exhaustive nature of this antithesis that has in large measure rendered the Church so irrelevant and powerless in the modern world. We can put this another way by saying that the modern Church has failed to recognise that all political thought and action is inevitably religious, and that since Christianity is a religion it must of necessity have a distinctive view of political order. Had the early Christians been prepared to do what the modern Church on the whole seems prepared to do, namely to restrict their worship of Christ to a personal salvation cult, which is what the various permitted mystery cults were, there would have been no conflict with Rome. But they were not prepared to do this. The conflict was a political conflict because it was a religious conflict. It has been observed that in Rome

“The framework for the religious and familial acts of piety was Rome itself, the central and most sacred community. Rome strictly controlled all rights of corporation, assembly, religious meetings, clubs, and street gatherings, and it brooked no possible rival to its centrality. One of the reasons for the later supremacy of the military bodies over Rome was the lack of any organized bodies within the state to provide a counter-balance to the two swollen bodies which became the rulers of the Empire: the army and the abiding and growing civil service. The state alone could organize; short of conspiracy, the citizen could not. On this ground alone, the highly organized Christian Church was an offense and an affront to the state, and an illegal organization readily suspected of conspiracy.” [1] 

The early Christians proclaimed Christ as Lord not only with their words, but with their lives also in the way they lived and organised themselves as a community, and in doing this they constituted a distinctive social and political order that was in direct and open conflict with the social and political order of Rome. “Very early in her life the Church set up agencies to deal with every sphere of life. They had their own courts, schools, exchequers and hospitals. It was their faith that dominated every sphere of life; to have any area of life outside the Lordship of Christ was considered idolatry. The reason behind the violent Roman persecutions of the third century was not religious, but rather that, as the charge read, the Christian Church was—imperium in imperio—a sovereignty within a sovereignty; an absolute authority within the jurisdiction of another. It was because they were regarded as politically subversive that they had to be destroyed.” [2] Speaking of Celsus’s opposition to Christianity A. D. Nock observed that “Both the Christians and their opponents came to think of themselves as a new people: and it is clear in the work of Celsus that his real aim was to persuade the Christians not to forget loyalty to the State in their devotion to this new state within a State.” [3]

We must recognise, therefore, first, that the kingdom of God, the body of Christ on earth, and the Christian ecclesia, are political concepts, and second, that the realisation of these concepts in human life and society constitutes a distinctive form of political action. There is a sense, therefore, in which we can say that the kingdom of God is primarily a political order and that the Christian faith is primarily a political faith. Politics for the Christian is not merely one aspect of life among others, but the whole of it. Christianity is about politics.

Not only is it the case that for the Christian politics, in this general sense, is the primary context of life; it is the case also for the non-believer. Life is primarily political because politics is inevitably religious and has as its raison d’être, its entire rationale, the administration of the law of an ultimate authority, i.e. a God, in the totality of life.[4] In this sense, therefore, we can say that Christianity is the only true politics. All other political ideologies are false, i.e. idolatrous. There is only either obedient or disobedient politics in God’s sight. The body of Christ, as the polis (the city) of God, whose demos (people) constitute the ecclesia (the body politic) of the Kingdom of God, is a political organism, and all other political organisms are apostate and in rebellion against God, their only rightful King, to whom the nations of the earth have been given as his rightful inheritance.[5] Christianity is the true politics, the only true politics. Christianity is primarily a political order because it concerns the kingdom of God, which is the heart of the Christian gospel, and which we are commanded to put first above all else (Mt. 6:33).

It is important at this point that we understand precisely what is being claimed here and what is not being claimed. First, it must be remembered that I am using the term politics here in a wide sense as a general category for understanding the Christian faith. I am not, at least at this point, referring to a particular form of civil government or to a particular form of the administration of public justice.

Second, it has been claimed that Christianity is primarily a political faith because it concerns the kingdom of God, which is a political order because a kingdom is a political concept. However, it is clear from Scripture that the kingdom of God is not of this world (Jn 18:36). There is, therefore, a radical break, a discontinuity, an antithesis, between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of the world. Christ’s authority and power are not of this world—in other words he does not derive his authority and power from the political orders and empires of men. His authority comes from God. But this does not mean that his authority has no relation to the world of politics and the empires of men, that it does not address the political life of men and nations. It does. We are commanded to pray “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10). The source of Christ’s authority and power is not in this world; but its object is the transformation of the kingdoms of this world into the kingdom of Christ (Ps. 2; Rev. 11:15). The Christian nation or kingdom is not just another political order among the many political orders that exist in the world. It stands out over and against these and is completely different in origin and nature. There is a complete antithesis between the two. Nevertheless, the theatre in which Christ’s kingdom is to be manifested is the world of men and nations, not some vague otherworldly spiritual realm. It is the nations that are to be brought under the discipline of Christ by the preaching of the gospel (Mt. 28:18–20).[6]

Third, there is a fundamental principle of secular humanist politics that demonstrates very clearly the nature of the antithesis that exists between the kingdoms of the world, or the politics of man, and the kingdom of Christ, i.e. the politics of God. In the politics of man human government takes priority over all else. Man becomes the measure of all things. Man is supreme. This supremacy must manifest itself in the form of human government over all spheres of life. This inevitably leads to totalitarianism and the denial of human freedom in the name of man, indeed even in the name of the rights of man. Well did Jesus say “If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (Jn 8:36). There is no real freedom outside of Christ, only idolatry, and all idols are tyrants that enslave men and crush their spirits. This is no less the case with the modern idolatry of democratic political power in which man rules himself according to his own law in the name of human rights. This kind of human autonomy from God, i.e. the proclamation of the rights of man, can only be achieved by denying the rights of God over all spheres of life. Such a proclamation of the rights of man, because it is a denial of the rights of God, is necessarily in principle also a denial of all the freedoms that God has given to men, and ultimately will inevitably produce a society that in practice denies these freedoms in the name of man as the captain of his own fate. This is a serious problem that we now have to face in Britain. Politics in modern Britain has become a relentless campaign to strip men of their legitimate freedom under God and replace it with State control over the whole of life in the name of human rights that are superficial and ineffective and virtually meaningless to the individual. The antithesis here reaches its zenith in the idolatry of secular humanism, which offers real men, or rather forces upon men, a new kind of salvation, a salvation in which the State, as the embodiment of man’s own idea of himself as God, rules over every facet of human life and provides men with their “rights” and the solutions to all their problems. This is the State as God,[7] the new Rome. Hegel even refers to the State as “this actual God.” [8] The only real difference between ancient Rome and the new Rome is the more consistently secularised form in which the new Rome is manifesting its tyranny. “Just as the church organized the faith during the medieval era in Europe, the national state regiments it in the modern era. The state sees itself as performing an eternal mission: it demands to be worshipped, has substituted strict civil registration for the religious sacraments of baptism and marriage, and regards those who question their national identity as traitors and heretics.” [9]

This is the religion by which Western societies live today. And yet the body of Christ, the nation or kingdom of God, those who belong to a different political order that claims their absolute loyalty, must also live amongst this apostate and rebellious political order in which man usurps the place of God and whose chief idol, the secular State, is accorded all the attributes of divinity, although in a secularised form.[10] How are Christians to do this? How are the members of the ecclesia of God, a rival political order, to live among the political orders of men that now dominate society? How are we to live in the antithesis while both maintaining that antithesis and at the same time supplanting the political orders of man with the political order of God’s kingdom so that the latter triumphs over and vanquishes the former? (1 Jn. 5:4) How are we to practise the politics of God amongst the political orders of men?

The correct response to this question will involve us in a great deal of sacrifice. It cost many of the early Christians their lives. Unfortunately, the way that the modern Church has dealt with this question on the whole has been either to deny the validity of the question and embrace pietistic withdrawal, or, as with liberalism, to deny the antithesis.

Neither approach is correct. If we deny the antithesis or the validity of the question the result will be that we shall engage in the politics of man instead of the politics of God. This may be self-conscious or unselfconscious. But it will be inevitable. There is no third way politics for the Christian. There is only the politics of God and the politics of man. Either we engage in the politics of God or we succumb to the politics of man.

   1.   R. J. Rushdoony, The One and the Many: Studies in the Philosophy of Order and Ultimacy (Fairfax, Virginia: Thoburn Press, 1978), p. 92f.
   2.   Hugh Flemming, Post-Hyppocratic Medicine: The Problem and the Solution—How the Christian Ethic has Influenced Health Care (Taunton: Kuyper Foundation, 2010), p. 28f.
   3.   A. D. Nock, Conversion: The Old and the New in Religion from Alexander the Great to Augustine of Hippo (Oxford University Press, [1933] 1961), p. 207. Cf. Allen Brent: “The victory of early Christianity and its success in annihilating its pagan rival both as a political and intellectual force is the victory of a state within a state, an imperium in imperio, which both challenged the State itself, and sought finally and unsuccessfully to replace it totally” (The Imperial Cult and the Development of Church Order: Concepts and Images of Authority in Paganism and Early Christianity before the Age of Cyprian [Leiden, Boston, Köln: Brill, 1999], p. 1).
   4.   See the interesting article by Thomas Schirrmacher, “‘Lex’ (Law) as Another Word for Religion: A Lesson from the Middle Ages” in Calvinism Today, Vol. II, No. 2 (April 1992), p. 5.
   5.   It is not being claimed here that all political institutions other than the Christian Church are apostate, but that all political organisms other than the Kingdom of God, and therefore all political institutions that are not in subjection to the law of Christ, are apostate. Cf. H. Dooyeweerd, “Romantic Redirection” in Roots of Western Culture (Toronto: Wedge Publishing Foundation, trans. John Kraay, [1959] 1979), p. 182.
   6.   It is a common misconception that the Great Commission is a command to make disciples of individuals from among or out of all the nations (i.e. to engage in personal evangelism or “soul saving”). It is not. Strictly speaking the English language has no verb to disciple. The nearest the Oxford English Dictionary comes to such a verb is to discipline. Consequently the Revised Version’s translation of Mt. 28:19 reads “Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations.” Unfortunately, due to the ambiguity of the English language at this point, this translation can be taken, and has been taken, to mean “Go therefore and make disciples of people from among all the nations”—in other words it has been taken as a command to make individual disciples from among the nations, not a command to make the nations the disciples of Christ, which is precisely what the Greek text says. This erroneous interpretation of a badly translated phrase has unfortunately now become almost ubiquitous. But Mt. 28:19 does not say “Go therefore and make disciples of people from all nations . . .” It says “Go and disciple the nations . . .” Matheteusate (aorist active imperative of matheteuo), which is usually translated as “make disciples of,” means be a disciple. The transitive use of the verb is not found in classical Greek (H. A. W. Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Gospel of Matthew [Winona Lake: Alpha Publications, Sixth Edition (1883) 1979, trans. Peter Christie], p. 527). In the koine Greek of the New Testament, however, it is used transitively to mean make a disciple of (F. Blass and A. Debrunner, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature [Cambridge University Press, 1961, trans. Robert W. Funk], §148, p. 82af.), taking as its direct object in Mt. 28:19 panta ta ethne, “all the nations.” The Great Commission is not a command to evangelise individuals therefore (though of course it is impossible to fulfil the Great Commission without making individual disciples), but rather a command (1) to disciple and (2) to baptise the nations, which means of course that they must be evangelised and brought to faith in Christ, and (3) to teach them (i.e. the nations) to obey God’s commandments. See my essay The Great Decommission (Taunton: Kuyper Foundation, 2011).
   7.   Cf. Jacques Ellul’s interesting comment that “The state, whenever it expresses itself, makes law. There are no longer any norms to regulate the activity of the state; it has eliminated the moral rules that judged it and absorbed the legal rules that guided it. The state is a law unto itself and recognizes no rules but its own. When, in this way, technique breaks off the indispensable dialogue between the law and the state, it makes the state a god in the most theologically accurate sense of the term: a power which obeys nothing but its own will and submits to no judgment from without” (The Technological Society [London: Jonathan Cape, (1954) 1965, trans. John Wilkinson], p. 299).
   8.   “The state is the march of God in the world; its ground or cause is the power of reason realizing itself as will. When thinking of the idea of the state, we must not have in our minds any particular state, or particular institution, but must rather contemplate the idea, this actual God, by itself” (S. W. Dyde, trans., Hegel’s Philosophy of Right [London: George Bell and Sons, 1896,], p. 247 [§258 add.]).
   9.   Shlomo Sand, The Invention of the Jewish People (London/New York: Verso, [2008] 2009, trans. Yael Lotan), p. 43f. Sand is here summarising the views of the American historian Carlton Hayes. Sand goes on to say: “There are significant differences between nationalism and the traditional religions. For example, the universalistic and proselytizing aspects that characterize a good part of the transcendental religions differ from the contours of nationalism, which tends to enclose itself. The fact that the nation almost always worships itself, rather than a transcendental deity, also affects the manner of rallying the masses for the state—not a permanent feature of the traditional world. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that nationalism is the ideology that most closely resembles the traditional religions in successfully crossing class boundaries and fostering social inclusion in a common system of relationships. More than any other worldview or normative system, nationalism has shaped both a personal and a communal identity, and despite its high degree of abstraction, has succeeded in bridging the gap and strengthening the union between the two. Identities of class, community or traditional religion have not been able to resist it for long. They have not been erased, but their continued existence became possible only if they integrated into the symbolic interconnections of the newly arrived identity” (ibid., p. 44). However, the era of the nation State—i.e. nationalistic idolatry—may well be coming to an end. Traditional religious forces have begun once more to affect the social life of Western cultures significantly if not always positively, and other forces are at work in the modern world, especially economic forces, that have begun to rival nation States as the primary determinants of mass culture. The decline and even survival of Western cultures is intimately bound up with the interplay of these forces.
   10.   On the modern State as a secular God and the ascription of the attributes of divinity, particularly the attribute of sovereignty, to the modern State in a secularised form see my essay Baal Worship Ancient and Modern (Taunton: Kuyper Foundation, 2010).

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