If you didn’t get the first part, read it here.
The Kingdom of God is so radically different from the earthly empires. From the ways it advances, to the ways it protects and defends. I will be the first to admit it is very hard to grow up in a nationalistic fervor of patriotism and history, and not get caught up in the empire.
So when did all of this “muddy-ness” that blurred the Kingdom and the Empire begin? Well, we can track it back to one man: Constantine.
in 312 A.D., General Constantine came to power after winning a decisive battle at Milvian Bridge where he took the symbols of Christianity and, as Brian Zahnd says, “…placing them as talismans on weapons of war.” Since Constantine emerged the victor of the Roman Civil War, he ascended the throne of Emperor. Throughout the P.R. Campaign, he attributed his victory to the “Christian God.” Very quickly Christianity became Christendom as it was inaugurated as the official state religion of the Roman Empire. The Edict of Milan came in February of 313, and thus the Holy Roman Empire was born.
Almost instantly the church became the “state chaplain” to the Romans. This new role, that was never intended by God, by the way, would set the church on a course that would pair it with national politics, and ultimately culminate in some of the darkest parts of church and world history: The Crusades and the Middle Ages.
Both of these historical events and periods serve to show us how far Christianity came off the rails when it embraced servitude to the Empire over service to the Kingdom. Just like in my last post, this is precisely what happens when we separate Jesus from His ideas and superimpose Him onto ours.
Unfortunately, it is not a thing of the past. We still do this today. for 1700 years Christianity has embraced Jesus as our personal Saviour, but completely dismiss His teachings on peace and non-violence. Brian Zahnd describes our situation like this:
“We [Christians] have embraced a privitized, postmortem gospel that stresses Jesus dying for our sins but at the same time ignores His political ideas. This leaves us free to run the world in the way it has always been run: by the power of the sword. Under pressure from the ideology of the empire, concepts like ‘freedom’ and ‘truth’ gain radically different meaning than those intended by Christ. Freedom becomes a euphimism for ‘vanquishing’ (instead of loving) our enemies; ‘truth’ finds its ultimate form in the will to power (expressed in the willingness to kill). This is a long way from the ideas of peace, love, and forgivness set forth by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.” (Zahnd, Farewell to Mars)
We too quickly (and too often) forget that it was Jesus ideas that made Him a threat to the powers that be. But look at our ‘gospel’ today. It’s been sterilized and domesticated, it’s been neutered of it’s incredible power to transform the hearts and mind of humanity. If Jesus would’ve gone around preaching this postmortem, sanitized ‘gospel’ that we preach, Pilate would have shrugged his shoulders, released Jesus, and told him to stay home and stop being weird. But that’s not what happened, right? Why? Because Pontius Pilate and Caiaphas knew that Jesus was a threat – Jesus was teaching against the Empire (or as we label it today, a global superpower).
In making Jesus the state chaplain of Rome and Constantinian Christianity, what we’ve unknowingly done is to invent a Manichean (an adherent of the dualistic religious system of Manes, a combination of Gnostic Christianity, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and various other elements, with a basic doctrine of a conflict between light and dark, matter being regarded as dark and evil) Jesus who saves our souls but leaves us free to run things the way we see fit. That’s precisely what we want, right? Especially if that belief has us in a nation that sits atop of the superpower food chain. Seventeen centuries of church history suggest that we embrace this all too readily and embrace Jesus as the Savoir of our personal (a.k.a. private, individual) soul, but largely unchanged by His ideas of Kingdom vs. Empire. Commenting on this Miroslav Volf says,
“Pilate deserves our sympathies, not because he was a good though tragically mistaken man because we are not much better. We may believe in Jesus, but we do not believe in His ideas, at least not His ideas about violence, truth, and justice.” (Volf, Exclusion and Embrace)
This is where the train screamed off the tracks. A ‘Christian’ Emperor wielding the ‘Christian’ sword of Imperial dominance became a logical way to run things, and the Kingdom of God was packed up and relocated to some distant, after-you-die, ethereal concept that became innocuous to say the least. Jesus was demoted as Savoir of the world, to a personal Savoir who only cared about what you do privately. This is NOT to suggest that Jesus isn’t the Savoir of our souls – He is! But it is to help us see that the mission of Christ extends way beyond a privatized, sterile, personal religion coupled with some good afterlife benefits.
Do not forget that Jesus actually intends to redeem and restore the world! To restore God’s SHALOM, the original perfection and holiness of the Creation, and that includes God’s ideas about love, justice, peace, non-violence, and forgiveness.
The brass tacks of it all boil down to this: Far too many of us believe in the Risen Lord Jesus, but flat out reject His political ideals – the REVOLUTIONARY ones. We have kept Jesus in the “religion” box to keep Him from meddling in our politics, wars, and laws that we may, even inadvertently worship the Empire, the State as some sort of benevolent deity to fuel our nationalistic zealousness and imperial dominance.
Perhaps it would do us well to remember the Jesus of the Holy Gospel, the Savoir of all mankind and the Savoir of the world. The redeemer of human politics, and the ultimate champion of justice and peace.
See you next time,