In the World But Not of the World

(image sourced from here)

This is the first part of many in which I will share some of my thoughts as I plan for a sermon I’ll be preaching at my church, Church on the Square (Sandton), on Sunday 19 September.

In these posts and my sermon I’ll put forward the notion that Christianity should never mix with politics. I say this because the Kingdom, which Jesus always spoke about, has nothing to do with politics. And not only politics but also the economical and social systems of this world, or any other kind of system in this world.

I do not mean to say that Christians should never affect change and bring transformation to our world. I believe this vehemently. We are to be salt and light and we pray that our Father’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. What I mean is that we should never make who we vote for a sign of whether or not we’re Christians; we shouldn’t get politicians to come speak to our church; we shouldn’t preach to people about which specific party they should vote for; and we shouldn’t make political policies or economical ideologies a core basis of our theology. This will make more sense as we go along.

In the meantime, here is what I think is a key verse:

Matt 22: 16 – 22

[The Pharisees] sent their disciples to [Jesus], along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”

But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.

This verse has, rightfully so, been used to justify a separation of Church and State. In Jesus’ time, the Pharisees and Jews were hoping for a political Messiah — one who would free them, politically, economically and socially, from Roman rule. Jesus never provided this for them.

That’s one context of this scripture worth noting. The other is that the Jews were very offended by Caesar putting his image on money — they had to use money that bore his image. It was seen as an egotistical and unlawful act on their part. But Jesus tells them to give what holds Caesar’s image to Caesar, and give to God what is God’s. And what holds God’s image? Us! (Genesis 1.) So who we pay our taxes to has nothing to do with our relationship to God, and the Kingdom of God is not at all interested in our politics, economics and social systems. It is entirely Other. We are to be concerned with giving ourselves to God, and do whatever we’re required to do in this world, but not link the Kingdom to a political liberation movement, which is what the jews were hoping for.

This boils down to a number of practicalities which we’ll explore in further posts.

End of part one!

9 thoughts on “In the World But Not of the World”

  1. Interesting. I believe we should affect politics in whatever way we can, how else can we bring change? Christians in strong political positions have a wonderful opportunity to affect those around them. I know nothing of politics and never talk about with family or friends as people get so offended so easily. If we say we should never mix with politics, then why bother praying for a country? It’s the politics of the country that bring change, we can be effective in the political arena as Christians instead of hoping for change…

    1. Yes I do believe we need to bring transformation to societies (salt and light etc.). But this recent Koran burning incident I think is a good example – what’s being made there is a political statement, and Christianity should never be used to make a political statement.

      Jesus made no political statements at all in his context. Like the scripture shows above, whenever they tried to bring him into politics he diverted them somewhere else.

      So nor should the Church become the state, or mix like we saw with the Holy Roman Empire. In our case, we shouldn’t mix democracy and Kingdom together, they’re not the same thing.

  2. I believe that there can be a Christian politician (not sure how probable, but it is possible). But there is no such thing as a “Christian Political Party” – It’s like the “Holy Roman Empire” which is a contradiction in three terms.

  3. Pingback: Ryan Peter. » Politics and Faith: Not a Good Mix

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