“Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, then my servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, my kingdom is not of this realm,’ ” (John 18:36).
What would have happened had the followers of Jesus Christ stirred up the populace and attacked the Jewish and Roman leaders? Could they have freed Jesus? Could they have freed Jerusalem and Judea from Roman domination? Would the church have been born on the Day of Pentecost? Would there have been a Gospel? Would we be yet in our sins? Would Jesus, the Prince of Peace, today be associated not with a cross but rather with a bloody sword due to the actions of His followers?
One of His followers did indeed use a sword in Gethsemane and was rebuked by Jesus. Prior to arriving in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday this same follower sought to convince Jesus that Jesus should save Himself from rejection and death and was not only rebuked by Jesus but told that he was playing the role of Satan and not setting his mind on the things of God but the things of man (Matthew 16:21 – 23). Jesus followed this rebuke by stating that to follow Him meant taking up the cross, denying self, and losing one’s life for His sake and the Gospel’s. This remains the call of Jesus Christ, it remains the requirement of Jesus Christ – as Bonhoeffer wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
Do we desire the Kingdom of God or the kingdom of man? Are we seeking to preserve the Gospel by loving Christ and others and peacefully articulating, in word and deed, the message of Jesus Christ? Or, are our hearts and minds engaged in self-preservation – desiring the kingdoms of this world, the American “dream”, and agendas which draw our souls away from the Kingdom of God?
At a time in our nation when our nation needs (as it always does) the church to be the church, the voice of Jesus Christ, articulating the hope of the Gospel and the coming Kingdom of God; our shallow theology and thinking, our tenuous confession of Christ, and lack of identity as the People of God, has shown us to be a confused and manipulated people – without unity, without the confession of Jesus Christ, and without moral courage – for it takes courage to say in word and deed, “I will stand with Christ and with Him alone. His kingdom is not of this world and I am in His kingdom.”
We can only have one God and we can only serve one master and we can only desire one kingdom…and we can only look to one savior. Our nation or political or economic agenda must not be the god of the Christian nor can these things be our savior. To be sure we must pray for our leaders and be good citizens, but no earthly citizenship should take precedence over our heavenly citizenship, and no interest should take precedence over the interest of Jesus Christ and His kingdom and His Gospel.
Where is the clear articulation of the church in America that we are the people of God and that we will live within a nation in chaos loving people, serving people, and clearly sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the peril of our own well-being? Where is our willingness to suffer and be marginalized for the sake of Jesus Christ? Where is our voice for the defenseless, for the stranger, for the politically and economically and socially disenfranchised?
Are we able to say that we will love and minister to people of all political agendas? Or are we so embedded in the political and economic life of this nation that we can no longer live as citizens of God’s kingdom? Have our actions and words renounced our heavenly citizenship?
Two of my historical mentors are François Fenelon and Andrew Murray; the former a French Roman Catholic archbishop and the latter a Dutch Reformed pastor in Africa. During wars between the English and French, Fenelon ministered to soldiers on both sides – yes, he was a subject of Louis XIV but he was first and foremost a subject of Jesus Christ.
During the Boer War Murray also ministered to combatants on both sides. In Fenelon’s case both sides respected him for his ministry; in Murray’s case many on both sides disdained him for they thought he should choose sides. Sometimes people will understand us and accept us, other times they will not – that should not be our consideration. Both of these men were citizens of the Kingdom of God first and foremost – there could be little confusion about their testimony.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer is often quoted by religious people with political agendas, using him as an argument to vote one way or another. What these people miss is that Bonhoeffer came to the place early on, during Hitler’s rise to absolute power, when he realized that the church must stand as the church and speak from the Kingdom of God into the world as a distinct voice, the voice of Jesus Christ. Bonhoeffer realized that the politicization of the church would be the death of its testimony to Jesus Christ. Bonhoeffer became increasingly isolated, he was considered too radical, he was not taking political and economic realities into consideration, those who had once stood with him separated themselves. Yes, there were others like Bonhoeffer, but they were few. Pragmatism and self-preservation caused many pastors, theologians, and the church to capitulate to evil – foolishly thinking that things would get better, stupidly arguing that they could moderate evil. They used the “lesser of two evils” as an argument and found that the lesser of two evils is still not only evil…it is absolute evil – for evil is evil and when we baptize an agenda as the lesser of two evils we anoint it as the authority in our lives – we subject our hearts and minds to it – we pollute ourselves and those around us. The lesser of two evils becomes the evil in our hearts and minds.
The choice of the church is not a choice to vote one way or the other – the choice before the church is whether we will live in the Kingdom of God and speak from that kingdom and live as citizens of that kingdom – serving all around us in love and charity and grace and seeking to bring them to Jesus Christ. If we must vote, then let us vote with our lives and not with our ballots – the world does not need our ballots, it needs our lives – it needs to hear and see the clear articulation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
We have lost our voice for Christ for we have not used our voice for Christ; let us recapture an awareness of who we are in Jesus Christ – let us return to our first love – perhaps the light of our candlestick will be rekindled.