Reflections on the Church and Political History

I think our first priority as Christians is the salvation of souls. I believe that’s God’s first priority. It’s the reason He sent his Son. My view of political and international relations flows backwards from that. Fortunately we have 2000 years of history (after Christ) to reflect on to help examine the fruit of different beliefs and approaches. I like to examine my ideas through that filter as well.

First, we know that that without Christ the world was lost. This includes everyone except believing Israel. The Greeks, Romans, and all of their “Western” cultural heirs were all lost, along with all other civilizations. All apart from him were bound for eternal hell. As the apostle Paul took the gospel throughout the Roman empire, Christianity and Christian values began to spread, and the church was severely persecuted by the pagan Romans. Then something funny happened. The church gained political power and became enmeshed with the state. Christianity was no longer persecuted but it very quickly corrupted the church.

One thousand years of “dark ages” in Europe lead me to conclude that the union of church and state is a bad idea. So I’m not arguing for that. I think that the small minority in America who want “theonomy” in the same vein with the Puritans for example, are misguided. In fact, I would say that this was part of the significance of the foundation of America — that no church would have political power, but that all would be tolerated. At the time, this was a unique concept in both Eastern and Western Europe. Because of this the Methodists, Baptists and other revivalists were able to quickly flourish here.

On the reverse end of the spectrum, the 20th century especially demonstrates what happens when an Atheistic state takes power. 100 million dead people under communism is a completely staggering number. Even while we write this note Kim Jong Il continues to starve his own people. Why doesn’t anyone talk about that? I think it is because for some the dominant political idea is unequal distribution of wealth. All other sins can be forgiven of those who oppose the capitalist system. For others, perhaps the dominant idea is protection of animals, or of the environment, or preservation of native culture. For me it’s the salvation of souls, and right after this the preservation of human life.

Neo-Pagan Nazism and the Japanese cult of emperor worship have huge body counts as well. Many many of these dead are eternally lost. Or look at Turkey, the site of some the first churches in the Bible. There are almost zero Christians in Turkey today because the state wiped them out, especially after the end of the 1st world war in the Greek and Armenian genocides. So my observations from these kinds of things is that devil does his work of murder often through the state. In order for the church to exist then down through history there must be a political power to resist what the devil is trying to do. Loss of World War II for example, would have meant complete eradication for the church (not just the Jews) in every area where Hitler set his foot. I think this pattern is pretty well attested in the Old Testament as well. We see in the book of Esther where the devil raised up Haman to try to wipe the Jews out through the political power of Persia.

I don’t think all political powers, or all military force is created equal then. What I see is that throughout history as God’s plan to save people advances the devil tries to stop it using wicked regimes, and God uses other regimes to prevent it from happening. This is not to say that God never uses or allows evil political powers to come against his people. We see that when they get into a state of great apostasy, He allowed the Babylonians, an incredibly wicked empire, to deport the entire population. But I think it’s important to recognize them for what they are — moments of judgment and extreme setback for God’s people.

So I don’t personally feel a need to baptize the America as an entity. But I think that its removal from the world political scene would be a disaster for the worldwide church (aside from the personal safety of my wife and children). Under the shade of any political entity in history both good and bad things are done. Because God causes it to rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. The devil’s plan is no rain at all.

Using salvation as the key political idea for the Kingdom, I feel similarly about missions. Even Christians are sometimes tempted to look at the missionary enterprise and see primarily the ills of Westernization than the salvation of souls. Had there been no Jim Elliott, one thing is certain — all of the Waorani would have been eternally lost, at least until another missionary came to reach them. Perhaps things could have been done differently, or perhaps more work needs to be done now to promote revival and defend against the oil companies, but what ultimately matters is the salvation of individuals. In fact, everyone’s salvation depends historically at some point on a missionary, starting with Paul. No missionary is perfect, but I think most of them are probably more perfect than us, because they lay their lives down, leave their native cultures to go to foreign ones, away from friends, family, security and everything else so that others can hear the truth. I don’t think we should confuse the efforts of colonist puppet “missionaries” with the efforts of people who die to spread the Gospel. To the extent that the East and the Global South are now re-evangelizing the decaying West, I am completely supportive, because the dominant idea is salvation.

The ultimate destination of all of this activity is not a Christianized world, but a world where every tribe tongue and nation has been reached. I see a final showdown between one world secular state (the ultimate Rome, Persia, etc), and one world Christian church, which exists among peoples of all kinds all around the world under the headship of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. Political power is only a necessary temporary provision to reach all people. I am not one then who wants to “take over” politically speaking. My political goal is to defend the church and more generally humanity, who, both believing and unbelieving, are hated by the devil.

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