Just Jesus and True Freedom: Kingdom Ethics and A Response To Kurt Willems
Explosions of jubilation, flames spreading across the night sky—such is the joy and exuberant praise through which Americans celebrate their independence from England. People spend hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on explosives— “firecrackers” which came in all sorts of shapes and sizes being culturally branding names to boost sales. “The Chamber of Sparks” by Phantom is a popular package of fireworks cleverly named to tantalize and capitalize on the Harry Potter craze, particularly the book and movie “Chamber of Secrets.”
And while millions of Americans will be joyfully celebrating, grilling food and laying out by the pool, another swath of Americans reflect on whether such celebrations are worthy of their praise. While Christians are polarized on every topic under the Sun, many thinking readers of the scripture have at one point of another thought about nationalism and Christian ethics. The Kingdom ethics to which Christ called his followers to live by are quite difficult to follow while being a good citizen of many nations, including America.
The Myth of A Christian Nation—But Certainly One Worthy of Praise
To be dealt with first is the myth of a Christian nation. To be sure, there is no Christian nation nor has there ever been one. I dare say, there never will be a Christian government this side of heaven. Many Christians formed this great nation in which I live and it was certainly constructed by men and woman who followed Christ and read the Bible, but at the heart of the American system is a government which is designed to restrain the evil desires of its’ citizens. America will only be as good as it is able to restrain the evils of human hearts. It is not a utopia. It is not heaven. It never will be.
That being said, it does have, in its’ founding principles—the best possible means to govern sinful humans. It is a system of government of which to be proud and a country which is worthy of celebration.
But such pride, celebration, and commitment must be tempered by some very real and difficult teachings of Christ and the scripture.
Christ clearly charged Christians to play no part in violence, vengeance, or war. In one of the most read sections of scripture, the Sermon on the Mount records Christ’s clear call to “turn the other cheek.” He insists that if struck, do not strike back. Love your enemy. And even more difficult, Christ charged his followers to not resist evil men. One must overcome their evil with good works born in love. Christ lived in a radically, politically charged time and he spoke rather dismissively of the Roman occupation. He did not pick-up the sword—though many wished he did. He radically loved all—regardless of ethnicity, social standing, religion, or political affiliation. The kingdom which he preached surpassed such small constructions. The kingdom which he was a part—as too are Christians today—surpass all national or political identity.
Submission to Government
A two-edged sword—this may be the best description of the commandment to submit to all governments. Submitting and supporting an ethical kingdom or political force is easy. What if it is cruel, evil, unfair, and exploitative? According to Romans 13, everyone must submit to governments because all rulers and governments are established by God himself.
And while unpleasant and often exploitative, Christians are charged to pay their dues, regardless of whether it is fashioned through “representatives” or not. “Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you own respect, and honor to those you owe honor.” (Romans 13:7)
Peter goes further and explains that we are “aliens” and “temporary residents” in our nations. We are part of a different kingdom which supersedes this one. We are charged to submit to “every human institution”—including the emperor whom we must honor! (1 Peter 2:11-17) The emperor and the Roman empire was an occupying force in their land. Any patriot or “national” would long to physically remove their political oppressors. But Christians were charged to live differently—for the kingdom of God, not for kingdoms fashioned for and by men.
American Revolution and Celebration
In a strict sense, then, obedient Christians could not have participated in the american Revolution. Christ taught an ethic which is truly otherworldly. But was this war “unjust” as suggested by Kurt Willems of Pangea Blog—a most excellent site well worth regularly reading. From a Christian, kingdom ethic’s position, indeed it was. But Christian ethics are not “anti-American any more than they are “anti-England.” The Kingdom ethic surpasses both. It is, in many respects, indifferent to how non-Christians (children of the devil in the devil’s own world) act and operate politically. In as much a politically charged time as Jesus lived, he had remarkably little to say about politics. And this is so because he was largely uninterested in them. He was, however, interested in, and taught his followers about, how his kingdom worked and what they should be busy doing—feeding the poor, clothing the naked, casting out demons, healing the sick, raising the dead, and generally preaching the good news of Jesus Christ!
One thing which Kurt hit so perfectly in his article “just Jesus and Unjust July 4th” is the supremacy of Jesus. He is perfectly just—far more than any country could ever be. He is more than enough. He is all we need—ALL. No amount of politically granted freedoms can add anything to what he has already done for us and in us. As Kurt wrote, “…the only Independence Day worth celebrating is Easter—which reminds us that violence doesn’t win because the tomb is empty!” While minor freedoms won are worthy of celebration and remembrance, like those which we now enjoy in America, they truly are only shadows of the great and unmatched freedom won for us through the cross. Freedom isn’t free while enslaved to sin. The irony is, all across America, millions are celebrating freedom when in fact they are unwitting slaves of the worst oppression imaginable—their evil hearts. Let us share a true freedom which can never be earned and can never be stolen on this Independence Day.
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