Kingdom and Kingdoms
Jesus came preaching, teaching, and living the kingdom of God as the central thrust of his ministry. So we should put his kingdom, his kingdom rule, at the center.
In the run-up to the presidential election, neither President Obama nor Governor Romney expressed faith convictions as much as the last presidential election featured, which actually may be a good thing. However, on both sides of the national political dynamic the background teems with faith matters around theology and ethics. Christians on both sides call Jesus to their side to support their views and agenda. In fact, some people judge the validity of other people’s faith on the basis of their political party identity.
Identifying either major political party as being most representative of the Christian faith is a dangerous matter. If we do so, we may very well communicate that the political party is the standard bearer for Christ. They simply cannot do so. Jesus chose the church for that mission. Have we seen either political party confessing its sins and advocating love for the other? Have we seen either political party place the cross at the center or make the Sermon on the Mount its party platform? Have they gathered around the table of the Lord to “remember” the realities, bringing them to the present, with the bread and the cup? Have they turned power over others for their agendas into servant power under the Lordship of Christ, the ultimate Sovereign Servant?
Scott McKnight has a warning here: “Everyone wants Jesus on his or her side—traditionalists and revisionists, fundamentalists and liberals, feminists and chauvinists, mystics and empiricists, cinematographers and novelists, Christians, Jews, Muslims, and New Age proponents.” Jesus is made to fit an agenda or cultural trend that results in recasting him in the basic contours of that agenda or trend.
In Jesus’ kingdom, the kingdom in which Christians live despite our flaws, his rule is the standard culture: the standard political reality, the standard social reality, and the standard economic reality. As we consider Jesus operational in the midst of the Roman Empire, his political thrust was power expressed to empower others. His social thrust was that the disenfranchised, the unempowered, and the outcasts were the spotlight of his work. In the economic thrust of his kingdom, resources were to be shared with others. Of course, his life and teachings unpack these realities, and people are attracted to aspects of them and attempt to attach them to their particular agendas, forgetting the total reality of the historic and risen Jesus. Caird and Hurst warn that taking such an approach, separating Jesus from his context and historical realities as presented in the New Testament, turns Jesus into “. . . a figment of pious imagination, who, like Alice’s Cheshire cat, ultimately disappears from view.”
Also, we need to remember that Jesus never tried himself, or advocated such for his follows, to seek the power of another kingdom. Rendering unto God is greater than rendering unto Caesar. Of course, we are to be involved in other kingdoms, exercising Jesus’ influence upon their political, social, and economic programs. But the church is not to seek the power over of those kingdoms, rather, the church, Jesus’ disciples, is to express the power given as Christians live out of his kingdom in relation to the others. Also, we need to remember that loving our political enemies is included in Jesus’ injunction to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44). Jesus and his kingdom rule is the ground upon which the church stands.