If you have been reading these posts on an Anabaptist view of Brexit and might be thinking – cut to the chase, you’ve spent time pointing to shortcomings of other views, what is an Anabaptist kingdom-centred view?
So, in brief, here goes. And I am going to use John Nugent’s nuanced and well-made argument but not nearly do it justice …. I’d warmly recommend reading his book in full.
- Christians are given no mandate in Scripture to make this world a better place
- There is no ‘cultural commission’ for the church to reform fallen cultures and create new ones.
- Within the biblical narrative, God’s people are never commissioned or given power and authority to manage or rule the world.
- Within the OT and NT, human powers are given delegated authority by God to govern in a way that facilitates human flourishing. The great temptation and trap for the people of God is to become like the powers – to seek political power for themselves.
- It is God alone who will, one day, step in and make this world a better place.
- He does this in and through the incarnation, ministry and mission of his Son. Jesus inaugurates the kingdom of God, which is the fulfilment of Israel’s hopes, “the reign of God over his people on behalf of all creation.” (p.67)
- The kingdom is God’s new world order. It is not entirely future, it has begun now. It is not ‘other-worldly’, it is this-worldly.
- The kingdom has come, it is God’s gift. Citizens of the kingdom are followers of the King and Lord Jesus Christ. Members of kingdom have:
- Entered in a new era in world history
- Entered a new world / new creation within the old world
- Entered new life
- Entered a new social reality, a new community / new set of relationships
- Entered a new way of life
- Entered a new status / identity
- Entered God’s abundant blessings
- The people of God have a unique missional task – to be God’s better place in the world.
- And a core way they are to do this is through LOVE.
Nugent is spot on the money here. As was highlighted for me in writing The Message of Love, there is just not very much at all in the Bible about love for the world or love for others outside the community of the people of God. We may find this surprising or awkward, but it is a fact. Nugent quotes Gerhard Lohfink
“In view of contemporary Christian consciousness it comes as something of a shock to realize as an exegete that in the New Testament – it we abstract from Jesus’ saying about love of enemy – interpersonal love almost without exception means love for one’s brother in the faith, love of Christians for one another. There seems to be hardly anything else about the New Testament which is as intensively suppressed as this fact.” (90)
In similar vein, after a survey of biblical material on poor and oppressed, widows and orphans etc, Nugent concludes this
“The disturbing bottom line is that, in the New Testament, love and service are reserved especially for fellow believers. This is, frankly, embarrassing. It’s not what I want my Bible to say. If God cares so much about this world, why doesn’t he give his people an important role in fixing it? Why teach us how to live properly in this world if God doesn’t want us to infiltrate its structures and wield our superior knowledge to get them on the right track? Why not help all people everywhere? Isn’t it selfish to dedicate our time, energy, and resources primarily to the church family?” (101)
The twist here, is that the mission and calling of the church is to be the church – to be a light to the nations, to be a community of love and justice for the world’s sake.
It is a calling to reflect the love and beauty of God
“Since loving one another is God’s plan, it must become our highest priority. No more embarrassment. No more second guessing. No more imitating worldly strategies for making this world a better place.” (102).
And this embodying of God’s kingdom – the better place – is to be accompanied by proclamation of the gospel. Words and deeds. Not via political power. Not by political lobbying. Not by imagining that we can change the world through access to the levers of power.
[An aside – a lot of American evangelical Christianity today desperately needs to hear and respond to this message. The word ‘evangelical’ has become debased because of its links to political power.]
The mission of the church is not to partner with the powers in order to make this world a better place. Lessons of church history (and Irish experience is a sobering reminder) show that the church not only loses focus on its God-given mission, but also becomes corrupted by power when it achieves it.
Nugent wisely comments that all this likely is making readers feel uncomfortable and uneasy. What does all this mean in practice?
Should Christians have nothing to do with organisations which seek to help those in need?
Is it back to the old caricature of saving ‘souls’ and having little or no concern for people’s physical and social needs?
Is this retreat from society into a sectarian holy huddle? [I know some friends who have lived in Christian communities cut-off from the outside world and they have not tended to end well].
You may have guessed that the answer to these questions is ‘No’.
Since we started these reflections talking about Brexit, what then does a kingdom-centred view of political engagement look like? Since this post is long enough already, you’re welcome back to the next post for more discussion on this.