The Church as a City-State
Baptism is a mark of our citizenry: Why a Christian should be involved in Politics (a two part series)
This article is the first of a two-part series for ARPA Canada by James Zekveld. Click here for part two: The political language of Augustine’s The City of God lends itself well to a discussion of the Christian’s role in politics. In The City of God, he describes two cities. He tells the story of the City of Man and the City of God, represented by Rome and Jerusalem. There is a clear antithesis between these two states, with clear battle lines drawn. The destruction of the city of Rome cannot hurt the city of God, because the City of God does not have a physical city on this earth. It is a city that is in Christ and lasts through all time, no matter what human city may be shaken to the foundation. However, at the same time they are inextricably linked to one another. The members of the City of God have been placed here, dual citizens, with a mission on behalf of our native land. A mission that Abraham Kuyper has called “redeeming culture”.
We often hear in North American churches this sentiment; “We are not of this world.” Augustine would agree. We have a separate city on this earth. We are part of the kingdom of God. But Augustine also lived in a world that had not long before been ruled by Constantine, the first Christian emperor of Rome. He knew that the boundaries of the antithesis between the City of Man and the City of God were not always clear. Augustine knew what it was to be a member of the City of God while working in the world for the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom. Being a member of God’s kingdom does not exclude our involvement with the City of Man.
There is another familiar misconception that often accompanies this one. There are those who are adamant that, ultimately, what we do on this earth doesn’t matter. We are here and fulfill our day to day tasks because God has placed us here, but all our treasure is in heaven. This is exactly what the text says isn’t it? It is true that the treasures of this world are fleeting and they fade, but God has put us on this earth not by default, or because Adam and Eve had foiled his real plans, but by his Sovereign appointment. We know from 1 Corinthians that the works we do here will be tested with fire and if we are faithful they will have eternal value.
The general consensus among many is that those involved in so-called “spiritual things” are better off, or at least they are doing a better and a more important work than those who are politicians, manual labourers, or, even businessmen. Consider the Anabaptists in the 15th century, who wanted to separate themselves completely from anything “unspiritual.” They went so far as to violently attack those who did not see things their way. More familiarly today, the Amish condemn Christians for owning luxuries (cars, radios, and other technology). They also manifest this “separation from the world” by refusing to take part in anything political.
These attitudes ignore the political nature of the church. Through Baptism into the Kingdom we all become, according to Paul, part of the koinonia or community of Christ. In other words, the church is a political entity, which had its own members and its own rights. It is a city separated from the world and based in heaven. According to Peter J. Leighthart the church’s political mission is to be watching and warning the world about its sins. In addition, this divinely authorized mission is much more than belonging to a counter-culture. The church “has been given the subversive mission of converting whatever culture she finds herself in.” This is political.
This mission is based on two important mandates. The Creation mandate in Genesis 1:28 demands that we have dominion over all creation. Of course, Adam and Eve failed in their mission. In Matthew 28 we are given a new mission that contains the old one in it. We are to redeem the World by showing them the new creation. (2 Corinthians 5:17) Here we have the basis for working in the world around us, in the political systems of the City of Man.
Two cities exist in this world; two communities. One marked by slavery to sin, the other marked by slavery to Christ. Through Baptism and what it signifies we die and are raised with Christ as citizens of the Kingdom, and ambassadors to the City of Man. It is because of this radical transformation that we become politicians, with the equally radical agenda of working with the church to incorporate the nations into it.
We know that we have eventual victory. Revelation 21 shows Christ coming to the New Jerusalem, his bride, the church. In the preceding chapters he has conquered the armies of unrighteousness. With this hope we can continue even when confronted with dismal failure. We are part of an eternally victorious heavenly kingdom. The hardest and most important battle was won two thousand years ago.
Part Two to follow…