The church’s politics can be seen in at least three concrete ways. The Lord’s Supper was a political practice that reflected the sort of community that embodies the death of Jesus Christ. How is this so? When the world eats its meals, it gathers rich with rich, poor with poor, people from this side of town with people from the same side of town. Social groupings are determined by ethnicity, shared interest, income level, social class, etc. When they eat, the more important people sit at the head and near other important people—they have seats of prominence that reflect their status.
Paul’s instructions in 1 Cor. 11 present a different scenario that reflects the church’s subversive character as a holy body. Everyone was to wait for one another. The poor were welcome and weren’t to be shamed, but could enjoy a feast even if they had nothing to bring. And the wealthy were to bring more than they could afford, sharing from their bounty with others and sitting alongside people of lower status. This would have hurt their social capital in the eyes of the world, so eating the Lord’s supper would have been politically dangerous and risky for those with wealth. But when people gather in Jesus’ name and depict their new political identity with this sort of political practice, the Lord’s death is proclaimed, and the church powerfully witnesses to Jesus Christ’s Kingdom reign.
Second, the church’s politics can be seen in their care for the poor. In Acts 2 and 4, Luke mentions that there was no one needy among the polis of Jesus because everyone was looked after. People were selling their possessions in order to share with one another. Further, in Gal. 2, Paul reports that when the two major arms of the church, represented by Peter and Paul, got together, the one thing they heartily agreed on was that they should remember the poor. The polis of Jesus must have as one of its central concerns a care for the marginalized and poor within its ranks, and a heart for the poor and suffering in their surrounding communities. This is yet again an instance in which God’s commission for Israel shapes Paul’s vision for the church.
Third, the internal life of the church and its posture toward outsiders must always be cruciform and servant-shaped. God triumphed over his enemies and the corruptions of the world by going to the cross, giving his life for his enemies. That means that the internal sets of political behaviors must embody self-giving love and cruciform servanthood. And the corporate shape of the church that relates to the world must be cruciform. As the body politic of Jesus encounters the political bodies and structures of the world, we must maintain postures of humility, weakness, self-giving love, cruciformity—in an effort to see God at work among them and so that God will powerfully work in us for the glory of God’s name.
These political bodies were alternative communities that manifested in their social practices the triumph of God and the reign of the Lord Jesus. They did this in their care for one another, in their use of property and money to meet each others’ needs, in their deference toward one another rather than domination of one another, and in their regard for the larger communities in which they were set. All that is to say, their political behaviors—their conduct as the polis of Jesus—functioned as a public monument to the reign of Jesus over all things. Just as he is a Lord who triumphs and rules in a radically unexpected and unprecedented manner, so his body politic functions internally and externally in a way that is completely different from any other political body on earth.
Tomorrow, some suggestions for embodying Paul’s political vision in our communities.