Politics in church?

What place does politics have in church?

In popular parlance, “political” means “partisan” and “politics” means “divisive argumentation.” In those senses of the word we rightly want no politics in church. But this understanding of politics is pathological. It is what we get when the body politic is sick.

So we cannot accept those definitions. We have to insist that politics is the art of finding ways to live together well in our polis, in our civil society. It is, as Aristotle taught, the practical science, or branch of wisdom, that seeks the well-being (happiness, flourishing) of the people. Politics is life together.

A Christian who shuns politics in this sense of the world is a person believes that God once “so loved the world as to send his only son” but no longer loves the world enough to require and inspire followers of that son to seek, in addition to and in inseparable connection with their own welfare, the good of the civil society in which they live.

This world is not our home in the sense that we have here no abiding city, but it is most certainly our home in the sense that this is where God has placed us now, where God expects us to work out our salvation now, where God requires us to carry out our mission now.

Babylon was not, and was, the home of Jeremiah’s compatriots, to whom he wrote: “These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. This was after King Jeconiah and the queen mother, the eunuchs, the officials of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen, and the metal workers had departed from Jerusalem. The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. It said: ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

A Christian who does not want to hear about politics in church, like a Christian who does not want to hear about money in church, is quite possibly a Christian who wishes to exclude the all-creating love of God, the self-emptying lordship of Christ, and the convicting, illuminating, purifying, and empowering activity of the Spirit from a decisively important aspect of his or her and our life and thought; who wishes, like Ananias and Sapphira, to say “I have given all” (which is the only acceptable offering) while holding back a portion that he or she hopes no one will notice. But the world notices.

What the church has to preach is Christ, not politics in any sense of that word. But in the formation of disciples of Christ the church has to work out the implications of the gospel in all aspects of life, definitely not excluding the question of the life of the believer, and of the community of believers, in the world.

A Christian who wishes to obey the command to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile” is a Christian who will beg to learn about politics in church, and will enter into that learning with a teachable spirit.

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