Just Jesus and True Freedom: Kingdom Ethics and A Response To Kurt Willems

   

Image by Susan Lueck

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.

Non-Violence

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!

Just Jesus

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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  • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

    Amazing!!! Only one error… My name is Willems not Williams :-)

  • http://www.theology21.com Eric McClellan

    I think it is good to be supportive of our country and I think we have a duty as citizens and Christians to vote and help shape this country into what it should be. That being said, I do think that the line between Church and State has been blurred way too much in American Christianity. Somehow patriotism has been equated with Christian values, and I think this relationship has hurt the church.

    It reminds me of a Derek Webb Song, A King and a Kingdom.

  • http://thepangeablog.com Kurt Willems

    I agree with this post almost in its entirety (might just nuance things differently on a couple of points).  For instance… the principles that you speak of as being Christian at the founding are similar to the basic morality of many of the major religions.  Those founding ideals were mostly influenced by rationalism and deism cloaked in Christian language.  nevertheless, I also am not anti-american… I am anti-non-critical thought when it comes to celebrating the violence of an unjust war.  In a church thats become non-critical of violence and the parameters of such (even for those who are not into nonviolence), we need prophets in our day to call it out as wrong.  Too many Christians think America is God’s new Israel…

  • http://zhoag.com zhoag

    Jonathan, it seems that the one missing piece here might be what the kingdom of God *is*. In other words, the kingdom is not merely an alternative set of ethics for Christians. The kingdom is rather God’s reign on earth. His world that is breaking in. He is becoming king of everything in Jesus. And this means that fundamentally, there *is* a Christian nation. It simply has nothing to do with earthly geographical or political restrictions.

    The missing piece is, imo, the people of God. There is a new politic, and that politic is embodied in a people among whom and through whom God is exerting his reign in Jesus. This is why it’s more than just “well, politics is politics, and being a Christian is a little different” – it is instead that the church is the seedbed for an entirely new way to live. A subversive new society. A subversive new politic. All authority, rule, power, and dominion are superseded by the executed and risen king to whom we pledge our allegiance. There’s an inherent antagonism between the two kinds of powers.

    Ro. 13 is supporting this, I think, by demeaning the significance of worldly political (power) involvement. It is, in effect, merely a means that God uses to providentially curb evil (as you mentioned). Beyond that, it is what it is. What it is not is God’s reign on earth among and through his people because of Jesus.

  • http://www.theology21.com jonathan Keck

    Right on! I agree completely! The Kingdom is not just ethics and it is not just what is established in the end on earth but is in us and through us now through the indwelling of the spirit which makes us the body of Christ! And we are called to an entirely different way of living—one which is primarily and, dare I say, solely concerned with Kingdom matters. But to often we get caught up in living not for the Kingdom but for ourselves and the American dream of better job, better stuff, and better life (temporally). Great stuff man!

  • http://zhoag.com zhoag

    Cool bro!

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