Paul the apostle, the ancient church planter of the first century has come to a modern university. Listen as he dialogues with a student…
Walter: (A student of political science) I don’t really understand your perspective on political involvement, Paul.
Paul: How so?
Walter: Well, you seem to be saying to just let the world be, that it will all be sorted out in the second coming.
Paul: Well… not exactly, but partly.
Walter: How would you nuance my summary of your views?
Paul: First of all, I would say that the religious activities of the Christian are distinctly political. To call Jesus Lord is to deny lordship— or ultimate rule— to any other human. To be baptized is to declare allegiance to Jesus and citizenship into his nation, the kingdom of God, and thus marginalizing any other allegiance or citizenship under his. To evangelize is to declare that a revolution is coming in which the governments of this world are going to be replaced by the government of God. To give to the poor through the church is a welfare system that was not supposed to supplement the world’s system, but replace it. To be a leader in the church is to be prepared to be the leadership of the city in which the church is held.
Walter: Whoa—hold on. Are you saying that the church was supposed to be an alternative government?
Paul: That is correct. When we planted a church, we were actually establishing leaders for the kingdom of God in that area. They would deal with all of the internal legal conflicts of the church, provide for their people and offer gifts of honor to their king. The churches were supposed to eventually replace the city governments at the time of Jesus’ revolution.
Walter: So the ancient church really had the point of view of the French Resistance under the Nazis. They were providing an alternative government in preparation for when the present ruling party fell.
Paul: So you can see that we felt that we were very politically involved.
Walter: I can see that. But it was really a politics of the future. You were creating a utopian government in the hopes that your organization would take power.
Paul: The expectation that we would take power.
Walter: Right. But what about the world around you? Shouldn’t they benefit from your utopian viewpoint? Shouldn’t they be influenced by your idealistic morals? Shouldn’t the world be influenced by Jesus, even if in a small way?
Paul: And how would you think we could do that?
Walter: Well, in our society, by becoming involved in the politics of our nation. Christians have made a lot of positive changes in our nation because they got involved and wouldn’t sit in the sidelines. Of course, you early Christians wouldn’t have had an opportunity to be involved in worldly politics…
Paul: Why do you say that?
Walter: Well, you were politically outcast, as both Jews and Christians.
Paul: Well, the Jews really were politically involved. That was one of the issues between Jesus and the Jerusalem leaders. They wanted to change society for their nation by political intrigue, but Jesus wanted to change it by a Theocratic revolution.
Walter: Interesting phrase…
Paul: Like it? I just made it up. But what I’m getting at is that the Jews could be as politically involved as they wanted. And the Gentiles, more so.
Walter: Even though they were Christians?
Paul: Being a Christian wasn’t really a black mark in Roman society until after I had died—around the time of Nero’s accusations. Until then, Christians were just seen as another way of being Jewish proselytes.
Walter: So you could have been involved politically?
Paul: Well, some of us could have, anyway. But, for the most part, unless we were already involved in politics, we didn’t.
Walter: But why not? Think of the changes you could have made!
Paul: I think the changes we could have made would have been negligible, we were such a small group of little influence…
Walter: But you never know—if only you would have tried!
Paul: Look, friend. I appreciate your well-intended remarks, but it just wasn’t in our best interest.
Walter: But why?
Paul: Because we were so involved in creating the politics of the next age. We were building the church, evangelizing the masses, helping the poor. And you also don’t know another aspect of politics in the ancient world—that politics and religion were firmly entwined, impossible to separate. Real political influence in the ancient world meant clear compromise to our gods. To be an influence to Caesar, with very few exceptions, was to honor Caesar as god and lord. To influence other lords and kings is to honor their gods. We wouldn’t have play with that.
Walter: Well, we don’t have to worry so much about that today.
Paul: For the most part that is true, but there are still spiritual influences on your politics, especially your parties.
Walter: Oh, especially that evil party, the…
Paul: No, both—all of your parties have a spiritual and moral basis, none of them are the morals and politics of Jesus. But even if your politics were completely without spiritual influence, I don’t know that I would participate in it.
Walter: And why is that?
Paul: Because to participate in this world’s politics is, at best, attempting to get a doomed government to make small compromises.
Walter: Doomed, what do you mean?
Paul: Every world government will be replaced with the kingdom of God. Jesus will take over the entire world—why bother? Why not get head and feet involved in the real thing?
Walter: You are so cynical! Why not help people now, not just in the future?
Paul: Why not do both? Through the church.
Walter: Why should we just take this world and condemn it to hell?
Paul: You seem to have a pretty high view of worldly politics. As if getting involved in politics is the only or even best way to redeem the world? That’s pretty narrow-minded.
Walter: But you guys with your pie-in-the-sky philosophy…
Paul: What do you mean by that?
Walter: That you are so heavenly minded that you are no earthly good.
Paul: We believers in God are of the conviction that to be heavenly minded is to BE earthly good. God is the Emperor of the universe. To deal with God is to deal with the highest authority of all. To pray is akin to having a direct line to your president. If the world isn’t what you think it should be, then what could be more effective than to have the ear of the highest authority. We followers of Jesus are the advisors of the most powerful political figure in the universe! And you think we aren’t involved politically?
Walter: God seems so removed from daily politics.
Paul: Not at all. It’s just that his mode of political involvement is different than the American model. He moves behind the scenes. He has allowed his church to be a powerful political force, before they every had a political voice! Wars were fought in Rome about what to do about the Christians. They became a force for the new morality just by being a powerful example and attractive to those in need. You don’t need to be involved in worldly politics to change the world. In fact, I would say that it could be a hindrance. If you spend all your time working toward a compromise between God’s ideal and what the world can accept, pretty soon you are rejoicing in something a great deal distant from the righteousness Jesus called us to be.
Walter: I think that your viewpoint is skewed because you and your fellows were so oppressed for so many years. You have a slave mentality, politically speaking.
Paul: Look, I was a Roman citizen. And I knew how to use what power I had. It is just that I learned that Jesus’ power is greater! To touch a person and have them healed—that is power! To pray and see seas calm—that is real power! To teach the gospel to someone who hasn’t heard it and have their eyes opened by Jesus and his sacrifice—that is real influence! Mucking about with political leaders and voters—mere window dressing when you’ve spoken to the Emperor of the universe!