For the last two weeks, I diverged off of the beat and path of my usual meanderings of this cracked up American life in order to talk about something that had been on my mind for some time now. I had been desiring to first of all introduce the idea primarily as to why Christians showed up to vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 election, but also speak to the fact that it has more to do with “Trumpism” and not necessarily a vote for Donald Trump. I introduced that thought process in the blog entitled https://marknealprince.com/2019/07/18/trumpism-not-donald-trump-part-i/as well as last week’s post https://marknealprince.com/2019/07/23/trumpism-not-donald-trump-part-2/. I left off last week beginning to unpack why Christians actually voted for the avant-garde Commander and Chief, speaking along the lines of understanding the difference between two kingdoms; the world and the church. I’m going to pick back up where I left off as we plundered the narrative of the scriptures as a whole from the Old Testament, and this week I hope to zero in on how that progressive understanding also further shaped the sentiment of the New Testament writers. Hopefully, as we progress a little further, we can at least get a better understanding as to how people who claim to be about love, care for the poor and needy and the alien and the stranger, can also be for their own country’s kingdom and values simultaneously.
An Understanding of Two Kingdoms(continued)
As we enter into the New Testament world with the introduction of Jesus on the scene, the consensus of “kingdom” and what it means to the Jews is still on the minds of everyone. Mostly, that idea of kingdom is very wrong in that the majority of the people, as well as the disciples at first, still think prematurely of a Kingdom of power that will come and rightfully restore the Jewish people to a renewed Davidic kingdom, finally free from their oppressors and a force of both good and strength for the world. Others such as Simeon and Anna (Luke 2), who hang around and pray in the temple all day, know this is indeed not the case. Ironically, as we fast forward to Jesus’ ascension at the birth of the early church (Acts 1) we still find many of the Lord’s followers asking basically, “Is this the time that you will establish your kingdom on earth”? Jesus reply is both telling and frustrating to his hearers, as Jesus has been speaking about the kingdom to them for days and yet they still don’t get it. He essentially lets them know that this time of which they speak is only for the Father to know, but for now His kingdom will enable them to receive power to be “witnesses” of a kingdom that will instead be one of a reordering of the heart. And also, one that empowers those who heed its message to be a transformative “salt and light” in how they live their lives, show love and compassion to others, and who also speak kingdom truths regardless of the costs associated with doing so.
Slow to Learn
It would take both Peter and Paul a little later on, as the New Testament was being penned and circulated, to help the early church broaden its view on this subject. However, it was Jesus that first homed in on the differences of the two kingdoms people thought they knew something about; many of which had forgotten their very costly Old Testament lessons. The first case we’re given for our instruction is when Jesus is taunted by the Pharisees in an effort to catch him in a trap, where they ask him whether or not it is lawful to give taxes to Caesar or not (Luke 22:19-26). And here it is that we have the statement that has no doubt changed the world that we exist in, and that is equally educational in this tale of two kingdoms, where Jesus says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”. The clear idea here that Jesus wants to get through people’s heads first of all, is that the kingdom of power they envision now is not the one He has come to set up. His synopsis for the crowd is that governments have a job to do in that they render law, order and protection; and as a result of that representation, taxes are due to them for that service they provide. Likewise, Jesus is stating that the Kingdom of God is a different matter altogether, but that is also has things (time, tithes and talents) that it also will require of us, but that are to not to be confused with what Caesar is about. But stay with me here. Let’s fast forward now after Jesus has been arrested and taken to Pilate, where we witness another teachable moment to the inquiring minds who truly want to know that is put before us regarding this two-kingdom motif. Pilate in essence asks who Jesus is and whether or not he is indeed King of the Jews. Jesus’s reply is that his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36), and that if it were, His servants (like all worldly kingdoms) would be fighting forcefully to overthrow it, and because they are in fact not fighting, this explains that the kingdom He proclaims is not a worldly kingdom. Case in point: The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of this world are two kingdoms with vastly different agendas and purposes.
The Pillars of the Faith Guide Us Onward
From here, gleaning from the pen of the two most famous apostles who laid down what the church was to believe and practice in these matters was both Peter and Paul. And ironically, both in fact took these same things to mean a clear distinction between the two kingdoms, both positively and negatively. Negatively in the sense that we are to be separate in terms of our values from the world’s, and rather to instead of conforming ourselves to them, be transformed by reorienting our minds to thinking Godly (Rom. 12:1,2). Positively, in the sense that we are compelled to pray for all people, including our rulers and those in authority. Timothy in fact tells us this, under the tutelage of his mentor Paul, by admonishing us that we are to do this so that we might have the possibility of having quiet and peaceable lives, even in the midst of an ungodly society (I Tim. 2:2). Peter in fact tells us in I Peter. 2:13-17 this very thing as well where he writes:
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (ESV)
And for those who might be inclined to think he said this because they had such a well-mannered Emperor in office that everyone simply adored, we need to be reminded that Nero was his name-O! And far from “liking” Christians as a people, history tells us that he did however appreciate their usefulness for lighting up his gardens at night, and the very pillars that gave us these instructions were both “given the ax” under his reign! And yet Paul nonetheless correspondingly tell us this in Romans 13:1-7:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore, whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.Therefore, one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (ESV)
A New Understanding
And it is here that we begin to see the formulation of the church’s two kingdom variances. And through the teaching of the scriptures, the church begins to understand that though they are to speak boldly as to the truth they have been commissioned with, they are likewise; where it does not conflict with thwarting the preaching of the gospel, to be the best of citizens. They do so by cooperating with the worldly kingdom in the good that it does and the order that it provides, and which is indeed sovereignly set up by God to enact justice for their specific kingdom of which they are residents. Conversely, this does not mean that all kingdoms are good, and in fact many throughout history have wreaked havoc on their constituents in the most brutal of ways. In this case, the early church always used its influence to speak in the right way to power, trying to change the things they saw as grave injustices, even at great cost to themselves. Some such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, went so far as to join a band of Christian brothers to assassinate Adolph Hitler, however unsuccessfully. And yet even Paul in Acts 22, uses his own rights as a citizen of Rome that he was indeed born into to stop the powers that be from treating him like and dog and beating him unjustly. The term “wise as serpents, and gentle as doves” is pregnant with meaning in order to discern the right approach in our day to day lives here, however it will always be done so with both pluses and minuses along the way.
Stay tuned for Part 4