I don’t believe most Christians attending their weekly small group or Bible study would consider it a particularly political affair. In fact, I believe most would try to avoid sticky subjects like that. Certainly, over the years I have led a number of groups, united despite our varied perspectives, a political dimension has never been something I’ve wanted to focus on.
Yet there is a crucial and undeniably political dimension to Christian small groups—to all of our gatherings, really. The corporate body of Christ, coming together to share in all its idiosyncrasies, peculiarities and differences, is the bold declaration of an authority and King who is not of this world.
It is a defiant gathering, refuting the spiritual powers of individualism, isolation and independence. In opening our houses and lives to each other in this way, we condemn the faltering, temporal rulers of our age, and their lord, refusing to put our ultimate faith in them or give our ultimate loyalty to them.
The coming power
Being a Christian is high treason, then, in a spiritual sense, to the powers which surround us. We audaciously proclaim a time not long from now, and a power which is coming, when a worthier, more highly exalted King shall reign:
and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this (Isaiah 9:6-7, ESV).
This isn’t simply a quaint verse trotted out at Christmas each year because it fits well in our carols. This is a seditious, rebellious pledge of allegiance to another authority, one which must stir in our hearts a greater fervour than any association we have to a nation, political party or leader.
It wasn’t for nothing that Christ was killed. The Pharisees feared the political implications of the ‘king of the Jews’, and it was with great irony that he was heralded clearly as such as he hung on the cross (John 19:19).
Yet I wonder whether many who attend these gatherings, who come regularly to our churches or join with us each week in our homes, understand that to attend these events as a member, they are called to renounce other ‘political’ affiliations, in order to have loyalty to the king whose name they gather in.
At the last general election, I was offered a job to work for a senior cabinet minister. It was a tempting offer, which I considered, and was ready to take the position. However, at the last moment they asked me, “Now, you’re not a member of any other political party, are you?” Responding truthfully, I admitted I was a member of another party. Despite the fact we had been getting along swimmingly, the offer was predictably quickly rescinded! Clearly, it was an unacceptable proposition to participate in the team, to assist in the work, even for the greater good, without renouncing my party affiliation and loyalty.
Likewise, without renouncing our allegiance to the powers of this world, we cannot join in anticipating the coming reign of God. Christians are certainly called to “be subject to the governing authorities”, to “so far as it depends on you [us], live peaceably with all”, and to “seek the welfare of” the land (Romans 13:1; Romans 12:18; Jeremiah 29:7, ESV). But we must always recognise that, unlike those with allegiance to this world, our faith, in disaster or prosperity, does not rest with any authority other than Christ.
Our hope is not founded in a democratic system which ensures representative governance, but in he who will have absolute rule. And our love is not directed primarily to a nation state, but to all people who are the creation of God. And as these three—faith hope and love—abide, let us remember this when we gather (1 Corinthians 13:13).
The nature of God’s Kingdom
Politics, therefore, actually is the answer; not of this Earth, of a particular system, a political party, or a specific leader. But of the great power of a Kingdom which is founded in “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17, ESV). Therefore, to claim politics has no place in the church is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the Kingdom of God.
Why must we recognise the political nature of our affiliation to Christ? Because if we don’t, we cannot assume our identity as those anticipating a coming King who will deliver us from the powers of this age. This is the identity the author of Hebrews calls us to:
For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland… they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city…They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy… (Hebrews 11:14,16, 37-38).
Living as rebels
While recently speaking to a friend concerning the anti-theistic direction in which many Western nations are heading, I was asked what I thought we must then do, in light of the political opposition the church increasingly faces.
I responded enthusiastically. “Gather together! Consider Scripture! Break bread together and pray! The political forces of Roman were not for the church, yet look what happened there!”
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need…And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-45, 47, ESV).
Simply put, let us live as rebels in our age, treasonously awaiting our king.
In view of the increasingly marginalised position of the church in our country, we must re-orientate our view: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:2-4, ESV).
Our gatherings, whether large or small, must express a theology that is primarily interested in the declaration of the Kingdom, and Kingship, of Christ—as our Lord’s ministry was.
Lives with eyes set on their King, communities with gazes unwaveringly raised beyond the transience of this time, will from the inside out display politics that are more potent than any revolutionary fervour the world has known.
It’s a counter-intuitive gospel, as absurd as the poor and persecuted being blessed. And as we live it out, then Christ’s words will be true: “behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:21, ESV).
Contributor: Jonathan Ayling
Jonathan works as an advisor in Parliament, and has been particularly involved in work opposing legislation regarding euthanasia, drug reform and abortion. He has postgraduate degrees in politics and theology, and travels widely speaking in churches on the conversation between politics and faith.
Scripture: Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.