Tuesday, November 27

Exploring the relationships between God and governments

I went to the monthly meeting of up/rooted west last night. up/rooted is the local emerging church discussion group in this area. It is always an interesting gathering, and it always makes me think. One of the great things to me is that the group is more interested in exploring and discussing questions than in developing definitive answers. There is always room to disagree. (As a side note, in my opinion, there isn't enough of that in the Church.) The group is always changing, so there are always new ideas.

Last night, we discussed how the language that Jesus and the New Testament uses borrowed directly from the political-religious language of the Roman empire, and how that use was subversive. We discussed how the way the story of Jesus' crucifixion follows the exact same pattern as the steps in inaugurating a new Roman emperor. In doing so, however, Jesus did not set himself up to be a political leader, even though many in Israel wanted the Messiah to do just that. Instead, Jesus calls us to live separately, with a different set of values than society, even if we are not directed to leave society.

We also compared what was going on in Jesus' day with the Exodus, where God literally called his people out of the nation they were living in and directed them to set up a new society the operated on different principles. I also raised the point that in both the Roman Empire and in the Egyptian Empire, there was a complete merger of politics and religion, to the point that the emperor was viewed as god. God called his followers in both of those empires to live different kinds of lives that were in many ways opposed to the values of the empire they had lived in. We discussed some of the implications of that.

Finally, we discussed the implications of all of this and what practical affect it should have on us. This is where we saw a great difference of opinion. There was a general agreement that we are called to live by a different set of values and standards than the ones we see used by governments and corporations today. The difference of opinion came on how we live that out. We had a couple of people who essentially want to be a part of a truly separate society that attempts to live out the principles Jesus taught us, and to have as little contact with the government as possible. On the other end of spectrum, there were people who believe, since we live in a democracy, that we should attempt to use power that we do have attempt to have our governments and organizations adopt at least some of the principles Jesus taught us to live by.

My person opinion, which is subject to change, follows a third path. I believe that we are called to help the people in the world around us to see Jesus in action. The more we separate ourselves and the more different we make ourselves, the less likely I think we are to draw ordinary people who are part of the dominant culture to Jesus. So I'm not sure that separation is the answer. On the other hand, I'm not sure that trying to use the government is best way, either. Certainly, Paul used Roman law to his benefit if it would benefit the cause of Jesus, but we don't see this as a common element in the ancient church (although, to be fair, there were far fewer opportunities to do so than there are today). Also, it is my opinion that there are very few things that governments can do as effectively or as efficiently as outside people and organizations. So, to me, the best path is for Christ followers, both individually and as groups and organizations, to live out the message of Jesus. We need to demonstrate his love and to attempt to make this world a better place, so that we really do see God's will being done on earth, just as it is in heaven. If we do that, if people really see us trying to make this a better world for everyone, then they will be drawn to Christ, and they will want to become involved with us. If we become the leaders of change, others will follow along.

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