Friday, April 04, 2014

Culture, Politics and Christianity

I’ve been asking myself lately where my loyalties really lie.

Christendom is part of the cultural mainstream. That is not news to anyone. That Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, at a cost of something in the neighbourhood of $130,000,000, would get released at all in 2014 is evidence that Hollywood thinks there are plenty of Christianized or at least vaguely Christian-influenced pockets out there to be picked.

(No, this is not going to turn into a movie review. Matt Walsh and Ben Shapiro have done such fine jobs eviscerating the movie that I wouldn’t take a crack at Noah even if I’d bothered to see it. Think three words: “Perversely pagan mess”. That should about do it.)

And of course, in addition to cross-pollinating with popular culture, we have our own “vibrant” Christian subculture going on. We have our own fiction writers, our own music, t-shirts, bumper stickers, and now even our own films.

They’ve infected us. We’ve (kinda) infected them, at least to some degree. We’ve become mercantile. And they’ve become aware that we’re a market, and they’re not so uncompromisingly leftist (yet) that they’re willing to let a buck pass without grabbing their share.

In this miasma of kinda-sorta Christendom that doesn’t seem a whole lot like the first century church in the book of Acts — at least not by any spiritual metric I can easily locate — one wonders what exactly the Lord would have to say about us, assuming we’d stop to listen.

See, Christianity, as taught and practiced by Jesus Christ, was unrelentingly, unstintingly, painfully countercultural — and thoroughly apolitical. The level of disinterest in customs, politics and even the administration of justice displayed by the Lord in his earthly walk was, well, off the charts.

“Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me,” says someone in the crowd. He’s looking for help with an earthly issue, an issue that has nothing whatsoever to do with the Kingdom of God. The Lord replies, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?”

Say what? This is the “judge of all the earth”, and he doesn’t want to judge?

Not when it’s outside his jurisdiction. And it is, even if it means the poor brother takes a hit in the inheritance department. The Lord both shows respect for the authority he has put in place and implies an agenda far more significant than temporal and temporary justice.

Now when I say “outside his jurisdiction”, it may initially sound a bit theologically wonky. In one sense, nothing can ever be truly “outside” the jurisdiction of the eternal God. But, amazingly, having instituted powers and authorities in both this world and in heaven, he does not interfere in their operation, though one day they will most certainly give account to him.

So they come at him on another front: “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?”

“Hey teacher,” they say, “we’ve got a politically significant dilemma here: We’re being genuinely oppressed by the Romans. What’s your position on that?”

Jesus says to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” or, as I like to rather ineptly paraphrase it: “Don’t know, don’t care. I’m not involved in all that”. Again, the Lord declines to take a position on something that he has placed outside his own jurisdiction. For now, at least.

His plans and purposes are way, WAY, beyond the merely political, even though the condition of our country may seem as vitally important to us as the condition of Israel seemed to the Jews who asked the question.

(Also, they were carnally-minded, and they were trying to catch him out, but let’s leave that part alone for a bit.)

Most significantly, this issue arises in the Lord’s own judgement before Pilate. If there was ever a time when it could have been considered justifiable to put a finger on the scales of injustice, the Lord’s mock trial was most certainly it. But when asked, Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

If our Lord was not prepared to overrule even the greatest violation of justice in the history of the universe and instead upheld the status quo even as it wrongly sentenced him to death, maybe we ought to give some thought to our own priorities.

A number of our government’s current policies, however well-intentioned, seem to me likely to produce future social unrest or unreasonable oppression. There’s a temptation to make noise; to get involved at some level trying to get things changed for the better. And many people do. Surely caring about our society is not a bad thing, is it?

Then I hear some missionary’s kid enthusing on the platform at a local church about how multiculturalism in our city has brought the mission field to him, something that never occurred to me. Or it dawns on me one afternoon recently that what a particularly militant gay I work with needs far more than my political opinions (not that I’ve shared them with him) is to know my position on the person of Jesus Christ.


My problem is that I have an unfortunate tendency to forget to whom I owe my allegiance, first, foremost and above all. And I have to ask myself, where do my real loyalties lie? Am I embroiled in the political and cultural battles of this world, or do I have in mind the priorities of Christ and the apostles?

I have to ask myself, am I a Canadian Christian, or a Christian Canadian. Which is the adjective and which is the noun? Those of us who love the Lord Jesus Christ are, first and foremost, citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. How much does that sort of thinking make its way into your everyday decisions, and mine?

There is nothing wrong with improving the world, and we ought to be grateful for those who do.

But for those of us with a higher calling, may I humbly suggest that we are only doing our Master’s work to the extent that we retain his priorities.

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