Kingdom, modern nation-state, N.T. Wright, pacifism, political theology, William Cavanaugh


This is the first of three reposts from myspace.

Part 1

This post has been percolating inside me for a long time. Again this was written for ethics class. The entire paper is a response to a civil disobedience chapter, but I’ve only really posted the part I’ve been thinking about for so long – the church, the nation state. However, at the end, because of my take on the church, I do assert my position on civil disobedience.

The History and Nature of the Modern Nation-State

The nation-state as recognized today finds its roots in sixteenth and seventeenth-century Europe. William Cavanaugh, in Theopolitical Imagination, rightly asserts a view of government that is far different than the common stereotype. The centralized nation-state did not evolve out of necessity to halt the wars of religion, as if a referee between feuding Protestants and Catholics. Rather, the centralized government went beyond inept feudal lords and petty aristocracies and came into its own as an alternate power to religious rule. Nations began to retain the ultimate allegiance instead of religious affiliations; national governments became power structures in and of themselves vying for their subjects primary loyalty.

Clearly there was conflict between the religious powers and political leaders (i.e. Henry II and the Roman Catholic Church through Archbishop Thomas Becket) before the usurpation by political structures; however, governments during the post-reformation age won the battle for control. This is all to say, the governments now are far different from past forms (particularly the feudal system). Nations are in direct contrast to the body of Christ and require a loyalty (nationalism) above religious affiliation (i.e. JFK and his political maneuvering around the fear of subordinating the United States to papal authority).

Now, it is true there are similarities between the Roman government during the birth of Christianity and today. There was a total allegiance required by the emperor (to be viewed the son of a god among other thins, i.e. Julius Caesar was voted divine, thus giving his adopted heir Augustus the title son of god see the works of N.T. Wright), but for some legalized religious, like Judaism, some exemptions were made as long as the peace was kept. When Jesus claimed divine sonship, it is politically charged and in direct opposition to Roman authority (again, see the works of N.T. Wright). At the dawn of Christianity, the faith found itself in direct opposition to the greatest power in the world a centralized government that commanded supreme loyalty.

Today in America, nationalism and allegiance is assumed; to favor an organization that spans international boundaries over the powers of Washington D.C. is unpatriotic and seen by some as treason. I anticipate a critique that questions my assertion, that in fact, it is not as I say and I am at least seditious and ungrateful, if not traitorous. My response is this: America demands a patriotic allegiance that mirrors other forms of religious creeds and liturgy. Governments are power structures that demand much and in fact follow after religious belief systems, both in idea and action. For example, The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Wikipedia says this:
The Tomb Guards, the 3rd United States Infantry (The Old Guard), make personal sacrifices to have the honor of serving. They work on a team rotation of 24 hours on, 24 hours off, 24 on, 24 off, 24 on, and 96 hours off. An average guard takes 8 hours to prepare his uniform (which is solid wool–regardless of the time of year) for the next day’s work. In addition to preparing the uniform, guards also complete physical training, Tomb Guard training, cut their hair before the next work day, and shave twice per day. A special Army decoration, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Guard Identification Badge is authorized for permanent award to a Tomb Guard only after a period of nine months of duty as well as a passing a detailed test of 100 questions (from a pool of more than 300).

The first thing that came to my mind was the Hebraic Nazarite vow a promise to be solely Gods for a holy purpose and included rituals and promises (i.e. no cutting of the hair). In reality, the guards of the tomb answer to a promise, a promise that the website itself calls it a creed.

For my interaction with the government, in this case civil disobedience, I think to properly understand the relationship requires a right understanding of both parties. I choose explicitly the person of Christ, his work, and the church universal (the body of Christ) over a quasi-religious nationalism. It seems that many Christians might affirm Christ first, but seem to misunderstand the implications and ethics that Christianity demands. This is not to say I do not enjoy the perks or support America at times, but first and foremost for me is the supreme commandment to love God and others, all others all troops, social classes, ethnicities. The commandment includes extremes and enemies; in point of fact, both America and Al-Qaeda.

My view of civil disobedience is seen within this context; I disobey a structure that attempts to assert unwelcome, counter-Christian control. However, this is not to say that I am necessarily an anarchist, per se. The Bible clearly teaches an obedience to law and order (Romans 13), yet at the same time also portrays the people of God as ultimately loyal to God (i.e. Daniel 6, Acts 4, etc.). With this in mind, where the government diverges from Kingdom of God (of which the Church represents currently), so to I depart from the government.

The Kingdom of God has broken (Christs work), is breaking (the Church as the body of Christ), and will continue to break into this world (both ecclesially and eschatologically), culminating in the redemption of creation and the establishment of complete, divine rule. To merely object to evils vocally is impotent and does little to further the Kingdom; to speak against torture (an un-love of others) require speech and action to announce Christ and his Kingdom, though Christs ethic, to the world. Thus, the church protests compromising governments (i.e. acts of injustice) and reaps the consequences, to the point of dying like a lamb.

To state my view plainly: I resist through direct disobedience. I resist nonviolently. Fighting fire with fire is unacceptable; reacting to violence with violence is not love. Also, I resist communally. I do not resist through a national response, but through a church response (see William Cavanaughs Torture and Eucharist). I, myself individually, do not resist, but it is the body of Christ that together resists.

An explanatory note: the top portion of the post about Kingdom ethics might’ve been too academic in the vocabulary or lecture oriented for some to read. I got to talking with a friend of mine and conversationally lined it all out. So hopefully this will bring some more clarity for those who care to know.

Part 2

Me: im telling you, the modern nation state usurps the church (not necessarily moralistic “christianity,” but i mean the body of Christ, the church – kingdom ethics)

Him: maybe you should speak plain English

Me: im speaking plenty good english. here, read this and then well go from there. (as a side note, these two questions and my answers are from a recent exam for my Hebrews through Revelation class. They seemed a good enough place to start.)

1. What is the thematic center of James? Show how James pursues the themes in the letter. Explain the significance of these themes in light of the life setting of the readers and his teaching regarding trials in 1:1-25.

The thematic center asserted in the notes is as follows: be a doer of the Word this is the true religion of a mature, wise, obedient brother. Most explicitly stated, the thematic core centers on taming the tongue, assisting the orphans and widows, and remaining pure. (Other key themes are: testing of faith; wisdom/maturity; character of God; and poverty/wealth.)

The book of James is written to the diaspora (the scattered). While it might seem common to people today for the church to spread out, the mentality of today is 2,000 years separated and lacks an Old Testament focus. It seems that the audience was frightened and confused over the scattering, and in light of the Old Testament, they had a genuine concern. The Old Testament stressed that the identity of the people of God (in this case Israel) is entirely wrapped up in the land; to disobey resulted in removal from the land while obedience was rewarded with blessing towards a fruitful land. A scattering of the church and suffering trials, viewed from the Old Testament lens, is negative and implies punishment from disobedience. The author of James writes to correct the presupposition; under the new covenant, the follower is not identified through geography, but through ethic.

The writer uses three subjects to display the new ethic: control of the tongue; caring for the orphans and widows; and keeping oneself pure. While suffering the trials and scattering (these tests of faith), Christians can grow into maturity by responding wellstaying pure. Retaining purity is continuing to be a vibrant image of God to the world and the church. This purity can find two specific applications: controlling the deceitful tongue and caring for the needy of the needy (the orphans and widows). To follow this ethic is to stay a doer of the Word (true religion) and where life is found. No longer does life retain a component of geography, but rather, life is an ethic.

2. What is the central message of Revelation? Support this by interacting with its five major themes.

The book of Revelations central message is: encouragement and exhortation to the seven churches to hope and worship in the present based on a vision of the future that displays the glories of Gods character, His judgment and victory over evil, and the culmination of his eternal Kingdom, rooted in the work of the Lamb who was slain and is exalted both now and forever. The five major themes are: redemption; Gods wrath and judgment; Gods sovereignty; worship; and the culmination of Gods kingdom.

The seven churches either are suffering for Christ or have lost their way. For those who suffer, the Kingdom hope is a terrific thing and for those who have fallen, the book serves as a warning to return. One day soon, God will come back in a powerful and wrathful way. Christ, who is in control, will establish, in finality, the Kingdom.

Through the redemptive work of Christ on the cross, the Kingdom is first introduced and now people may find themselves in the Book of Life. The sacrifice on the cross enables Christ to do the work that none can do (i.e. the only one who can open the scroll). God pours his wrath on the world, God demonstrates control and Christ returns to his bride the church, rescuing the church from the ultimate judgment, hell [(whatever the judgment really is – i’ve since changed some feelings on this)]. The first work and continued work of Christ, find a proper response displayed in Revelation – worship. Heaven and the new Earth is full of worship. God has ended the reign of sin and Satan, redeeming creation and establishing the Kingdom. This hope of the winner, a hope of a glorious end, is a remarkable breathe of fresh air. The troubles of today will fall by the wayside in comparison to the future. With this in mind, either come back to God who is in control of it all, or for the faithful, stay the course for the future for the troubles of today are temporary.

Me: first, did it make sense? as in, did you understand it?

Him: i got 1, that one i understand. i’m sketchier on 2

Me: alright, well simply enough, 1 is social, christianity – true christianity is social. we are gracious to others, ALL others, the worst of the worst both in action and word

Him: right, thats what i got from it

Me: the second, revelation is in a word: hope, we have this hope that in the end, God will finish bringing the kingdom. notice i said finish. the kingdom first, officially broke into this world through Jesus and his death

Him: right

Me: if you read luke/acts (it should be read as one really, it even says so) the kingdom of god is everywhere. jesus constantly says “the kingdom of heaven is like…” you see, many of the jews were looking for an earthly reign like king david had, the return to the monarchy, the kicking out of the romans, but jesus came and died

Him: right

Me: he sacrificed to bring about the kingdom of heaven – the kingdom of God – which looks totally different than any human structure. you die to live, gracious to your enemy, etc. and then, stay with me a sec, the book of acts is narrative story. now as a genre narrative is not particularly normative (the way we ought to respond to situations). just because a guy put out a fleece, doesn’t mean it is something we should do, or was even right for him, however, the book of acts seems entirely normative and is a continuation of luke, luke has tons of jesus saying “the kingdom of heaven is like” and then acts is an inclusio, an inclusio is kinda like bookends, but more specific, ’cause the phrase is the same on both sides. the author repeats (which is significant) and in this case, at the beginning and end, luke tells us that this is the kingdom of God entering into the world. the kingdom of God is not geographic – its the people of God (in this case, the church) and the church belongs to a different kingdom than rome – it believes in someone other than the emperor (see that blog post i did). through this belief and allegiance the church takes on a totally different ethic. one that does not assert imaginary national boundaries. the church is international, the church doesn’t kill

Him: right

Me: the church is God’s kingdom into this world, the church is a glimpse into the kingdom to come. the kingdom is not fully here in the church–there is still sin and God hasn’t fully asserted s/he rule on creation. thats what revelation is all about. there will be an end where the kingdom will come in its fullest, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done” is a pray that is both in the now and for the future. Thus this is named kingdom ethics (or kingdom theology or hope theology) make sense? its a total paradigm shift, i know

Him: ok

Me: thats the skeleton, theres so much more to it, but thats the essentials
Me: so then, christianity – the church’s purpose is to further the kingdom. how do you do that by killing? how does that represent God? things like that

Him: well, if Bush really were such a good Christian as he’s touted himself to be, he would have made an announcement that says, “we forgive you, and we will not respond in kind” immediately after 9/11/2k1

Me: which is why im not for nationalism, it sets you up to do things contrary. this is why im in favor of a church response and talking about that, this is why im a pacifist (along with a few other reasons). a church response to 9/11 instead of a united states of america revenge response

Him: yeah

Me: as a christian, i don’t think i can respond christianly within the government, or even sometimes as an American. i don’t like killing other Christians. i don’t like killing those whom are my enemies. i am called to sacrifice instead of making them die so i can have my sense of freedom. i am called to sacrifice to death out of love which is totally contrary to the modern nation state who defends itself instead of leaving that to God.

And then we moved to Constantinianism for a bit. See here: Constantinianism

Me: so basically, the church isn’t the end all that it once was, so its said we’re operating in a post-christian society

Him: huh

Me: but even when the church was “the end all” it was the church as a structure, who knows how much of it was the body of Christ. it was the church that educated. this galileo crap is just nonsense. galileo didn’t get it for exploring the heavens. he just said the church was wrong about the sun standing still – called ’em liars and that’ll do you in. anyways, the point is you had to go through the church to do anything. so the important thing is, that when the church ruled as it did, it wasn’t always sincere ’cause it wasn’t always Christian (see here – the medicis who bought their way into the papacy)

Him: crusades, for example :(

Me: so the combination of unorthodox power, not christian orthodox power that is (see here God’s kingdom – power through sacrifice), with the government of the time was a bad bad thing. so in a sense, we’re finally just actually speaking the truth as to who the church really is – who the body of christ really is – followers of Jesus. and so now, in feeling the separation, im going with the church. so this looks similar to the early church, where they were a minority and allegiance to christ over the emperor. son of god was a loaded term. so now if you went back and read of my post, i think it’d make more sense, since i think i’ve basically just outlined it again

Me: so yeah, thats why i won’t run for office, thats why i don’t vote. i choose not to vote to say who i find allegiance in. i don’t run from society though, i engage, i value engagement, but at the same time i want to make distinctions – i don’t and won’t follow the state’s version of liturgy. its a shame that the church is visibly represented by colorado springs and the 700 club

Him: or dan brown’s book

Me: thank god for people like the ones involved in “invisible children.” they’re totally putting a new light on the church, i saw it even here in Portland

Him: yeah and people are buying into it too >:o

Me: this lady who was totally into it, hell she was organizing all the showings and then the sleep in, said that this newer version, younger version of the church was impressive. i just wish it wasn’t us only writing letters to the president and congress, but the church moving to something. and it is, through missions agencies, but still we should be louder in our own way.

Me: anyways, thats my rant.


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