Paul’s Political Gospel, Pt. 5

Paul’s gospel, then, is thoroughly political, but not “political” according to the corrupted status quo of what we call politics in our 21st century American culture.  Paul doesn’t call for the church to try to agitate for power and influence, and certainly wouldn’t tolerate rhetorically denouncing other people or fellow Christians in the name of differing party loyalties.  In Paul’s view, God is making all things new through Jesus Christ and through him alone.  God is working out his purposes in and through the church, pouring out his blessing on his people as they seek to faithfully embody the broken-hearted love of God for all people.  So, some practical implications for contemporary church practice:

First, a lesson from Saul the Pharisee.  He had a mind and heart more thoroughly saturated by Scripture than anyone currently alive.  His aims and ambitions were completely oriented by God’s agenda!  Or so he thought.  It’s all too easy, once our passions are aroused, for us to distort Scripture, to see in the Bible what we want to see, and to have our notions of the ideal society shaped by cultural prejudices or other cultural voices than by God’s agenda.  And it’s all too easy, driven by growing anger, to adopt a cultural mode of violence and coercion—even if it’s only verbal and rhetorical, and not physical.  We can deceive ourselves into thinking that we’re advocates for God’s agenda, but instead be in serious need of political repentance.  Just as Saul converted from a politics of violence and coercion, Christian people must resist the temptation to rhetorical, verbal, and most certainly physical violence.  We must develop and foster practices of gracious speech and other skills associated with peace-making.

Second, when it comes to politics, Christian people ought to think first of their church, its internal networks of relationships and its postures toward outsiders.  For Christians, politics has to do with how we conduct ourselves in our churches and how our churches relate redemptively toward outsiders.

Third, our Christian identity, our loyalty to Jesus and those in our church, far outstrips any earthly affiliation and especially national political party identification.  While Christians differ over policies and political ideologies, we ought to celebrate our common participation in the life of God in Christ by the Spirit.

Fourth, we must reconsider what is shaping our imaginations.  Through whose eyes are we seeing the world and our national situation?  Cable news?  Newspapers?  Talk radio?  Politically-charged web-sites?  Are they so stirring us up with anger that we speak of this or that political figure derisively and in angry terms?  Do our stirred-up passions drive us to think, act, and speak as non-Christians?  Let’s have minds and hearts shaped by Scripture, oriented by hope in the coming Kingdom of God.  Let’s set our hearts and minds on eternal things, on that Kingdom that is to come and which is already here in power.  And let’s reconsider our words, and treat people as if we truly are followers of Jesus.

Fifth, when it comes to political action, let’s indeed get involved!  But let’s think first about the efforts of our local bodies of Jesus-followers acting among our wider communities and neighborhoods.  How can we get involved in practical ways to bless our local communities in the name of Jesus?  We are to be communities of shalom and justice and self-giving love, rather than coercion and quests for power and influence, making demands that others meet our standards or become like us.

We can talk all we want about how policies should be different regarding immigration and local economics.  But, whether you identify yourself as a Republican or Democrat, or whether you’re a conservative or a liberal, here’s just one practical suggestion for embodying the servant-shaped posture of Jesus toward the world.

Thinking especially of our situation here in West Michigan, why not get to know the leaders of local migrant worker communities and offer to help them figure out how to get legally documented?  Do immigrant communities fear for their children or have trouble getting integrated in their schools?  We can be advocates on behalf of those who are strangers and who live in fear.  If we did, we would manifest the character of God.

Listen to what the God of Israel says to his people:

“You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry; and My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless (Exodus 22:21-24).

God hasn’t changed.  That is still his heart, and we can embody the character of that God in our social practices, acting as the polis of Jesus in our wider communities.

What if your church initiated an effort as advocates for immigrants?  I can tell you right now it would be difficult.  Strangers are . . . strange!  It would mean sacrifice, re-orienting your lives, changing community patterns, getting to know people with whom you’re not comfortable – all behaviors that just might help us get over our constant complaints that our church communities are stagnant and complacent and lacking in excitement.  Solve the problem.  Get to know someone in need.  He just make you draw upon God’s grace and ignite your heart with God’s own love with which he loves the alien and the stranger.  And if they ask why you’re doing what you’re doing, you can tell them that you’re acting in the name of Jesus Christ so that you yourself can be pressed more deeply into the heart of the One who gave his life so that the world might truly live.

Well, there are so many more practical ways of living out Paul’s political vision, but I’ll leave it to you and your creativity to come up with those.

During this election season, you ought to consider well what candidate to vote for, and you ought to vote.  But whether you’re Democrat, Republican, Libertarian or Green, you should also be aware that voting is only one among a limitless range of options for Christian political behavior—and there are many others that are far more effective, life-transforming, and community-enlivening, and that serve to manifest the Lordship of Jesus Christ over all things.

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6 responses to “Paul’s Political Gospel, Pt. 5

  • David Westfall

    Dr. Gombis

    Thanks so much for this series of posts, and for your thinking on this subject. This semester I’ve been meeting regularly with some people at my church for a discipleship group that has been specifically focused on questions surrounding the church’s involvement in politics, and your thoughts have been very helpful in aiding my reflection on the topic. What I value most is your wide view of what it means to be political – in my experience, discussion of Christian involvement in “politicis” usually devolves to *electoral* politics and a narrow range of related issues. In other words, we focus on in on what is perhaps the single most individualistic aspect of politics (how “I” vote) and make this the be-all and end-all of what it means for Christians to be engaged. It then quickly becomes a matter of which candidate is the “right” one for us to vote for, and by extension, which voting choices make us more or less authentic Christians. Stanley Hauerwas, very much in agreement with what you are saying in these posts, challenged me to broaden my thinking and to see that what we do as a church is inherently political, regardless of how each one of us chooses to vote. We are a “body politic” whose common life should make a political statement at every level of society – not of who everyone needs to vote for per se, but of how human lives can be patterned together when they are subject to the kingship of Jesus, and make an impact on the world in obedience to him.

    I have a pet theory, or a notion anyways, that what we really should be pursuing in the church today is not a divine directive on our or anyone else’s voting choices; rather, our *main* focus in the body of the church vis-a-vis government politics (the “narrower” sense of politics), should be on the reconciling of groups of people with varying political outlooks. We do have a role to play in relation to government politics, then, but not after the manner of the “moral majority” and suchlike. Ours is the task of drawing together people who would normally be at odds with one another, and showing the world: ‘Under the reign of Jesus, there is neither Republican nor Democrat, neither laissez-faire capitalist nor proponent of the welfare state, neither [insert political viewpoint here] – all are one in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Within this unity, we need to be expounding the true story of the world, the theodrama in which our political action in the church is situated. From within this re-imagining of the world, the church as a body politic will be equipped to pursue causes in their communities in the name of Jesus, while leaving their members free to evaluate, in Spirit-led wisdom, how that drama can translate into things like voting choices. Unity in Jesus, with respectful truth-telling and the accepting of “the other” in Christ, who in the terms of the world’s politics should be my “enemy” – imagine what a statement that would make to our society!

    Thanks again,

    David Westfall

  • Patrick

    I’ve changed over the years. I don’t think it matters at all who is the current leader from a Divine view. I think our various nations do better or worse based on the level we honor Christ within a nation.

    Yahweh stirs the heart of the king, that concept. I still have my preferences politically, but, I think Christ will provide wisdom even for a weak leader IF His people are squared away to X extent.

  • Around the Blogosphere (10.26.2012) | Near Emmaus

    [...] Tim Gombis: Paul’s Political Gospel, Part 4 ; Paul’s Political Gospel, Part 5 [...]

  • Greg Johnston

    I have never read anything better than this brief series on Paul’s Political Gospel. I say this not only because I believe Gombis is spot on in terms of Paul’s “political” theology, but because Gombis surveys the entire biblical narrative to establish a context for reading Paul. For what it is and what it is worth, I personally have never read anything better.

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