The “Offense of the Gospel” and Christian Involvement in Politics

A thought that occurred to me earlier:

The early church was heavily persecuted by both Jews and Romans because of the political implications to its message. To the Jews, the concept of the messiah had long been a political concept about freedom from their oppressors and an exaltation of their nation as the “people of God.” Christianity strongly countered that message by preaching about a spiritual Kingdom of God that included both Jews and Gentiles. Paul taking the gospel to the Gentiles made this essentially anti-nationalist message (not anti-Jewish, but opposed to the sentiment in Judaism that held their people in a particularly high esteem as the only people of God) much more vocal. Thus, the Jewish reaction against Christianity was at least in part motivated by Jewish nationalist sentiments, a very political motive.

Likewise, the Romans had a very political reason for opposing Christianity. The Roman empire was held together by a common bond of loyalty to Caesar as King/God. Early Christians refused to submit to this loyalty because they held Jesus to be the only King/God. This must have been greatly insulting to the Roman political order- not only were they refusing submission and loyalty to Rome, the Christians were claiming that someone who had been crucified by Rome was greater than the Emperor. So Roman political pride was also offended by Christianity, and they too had largely political reasons for opposing the church.

So what can this teach us? It seems to hold a political implication- loyalty to a state can never rise above loyalty to Christ in Christian thinking. Lately I have heard a good number of Evangelicals in this country preach on behalf of a past president and rally support for the Iraq War. I wonder if this is a case of loyalty being put in the wrong place.

In a free society such as we enjoy in the West, it is perhaps more difficult to find direct analogies. Certainly we can be loyal citizens of our country without compromising (for the most part) our loyalties to God. However, when I hear conservative leaders making sweeping statements about America being the greatest nation on earth and conservative Christians nodding their heads in agreement I wonder if our national loyalty has become a bit too deeply entrenched.

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7 thoughts on “The “Offense of the Gospel” and Christian Involvement in Politics

  1. A person’s historical view of this country is crucial to his or her involvement in politics. If you see this as just another country like any other, then you are correct, there is no reason to be particularly grateful. But it seems to me, as an outsider of Christianity, that there is something very different about this country and the principles and values the founding fathers founded the country on. Very Christian ideals. The very ideals we find important, freedom, liberty and equality. Historically these could never exist without Christianity. So it seems strange to me to find Christians who have a hard time embracing this. Its ingratitude that causes christians to not get involved and try to perserve this countries values, which happen to be conservetive under the contemporary definition. Cherity and world missions on the level we have to day are only possible because of this country.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Ransom. I don’t think I’m implying that we should be ungrateful for the liberties we have in this country. And I’m certainly not saying Christians should be uninvolved in politics of this country. I’m saying that there is a limit to the loyalty we can give this country, and I’m afraid too often that limit is not even acknowledged while it is being trampled across.As a side-note, I agree that a historical view is important. I think my historical view would be different from yours. I’m British, so that tempers my view toward the US a little… But I’m also a student of history, and in my understanding, the founding fathers were in no way Christian in their ideals. They were very much humanist and influenced by John Locke more than the Bible. Most were deists. So while I certainly cherish the ideas of freedom, liberty, and equality, I don’t think we can say the fathers got those from the Bible. Especially not since those things have not historically been embraced by the church until after they started gaining prominence in the political realm and the authority of the church began to break down in European society.

  3. Alex,Its true that some of the Americas founding fathers were more diestic but many werent. Even those that were deists understood that a free people could only be free as long as those people were moral and that morality came from religion, and perticularly Judeo/Christian religion. my understanding is that John Locke is not as influential as many historians portray. Rabbi Lapin has a great series called America’s biblical blueprint that you might find interesting. It was those damn British puritans and pilgrams that started this whole fuck’n thing by the way so you’re not off the hook. Check out my blog @ blackdutchman.blogspot.com

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