Then I Woke Up

14

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March 5, 2022

1 Peter 2:13-17 NIV

13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. 17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.

CONSIDER THIS

I never want to be self indulgent with the Daily Text, but I request a point of personal privilege today. Before we get into the context of Rome, the Emperor and Church, I want you to understand a little bit more of my own back story and context. I want to read Scripture well and in its own context, but I can never read it outside of my own context and life experience. These two realities are inextricably bound up together. Because we are headed into some territory where these contexts definitely collide with respect to my own story, I wanted to get my back story into evidence. For better or worse (you will be the judge) it influences how I read. So I am not asking you to indulge me, but to understand the witness. It will shape how you hear the biblical conversation we need to have about church and state and government and so forth. 

Before I turned ten years old I had met two Presidents of the United States, a Governor who would go on to be President, three congressmen from my state and one of my Senators. At that early age I set my sights on public service, fixed my eyes on high office and began the long journey to the top. I was a poster child for local, state, and national electoral campaigns, door to door, rallies, you name it. I studied politics in college and upon graduating I took a job as a legislative aid in the United States Senate, and with the Senator as my mentor I entered Law School. I wanted to be President. 

Then I woke up. I grew up in the church, had a very thin understanding of the gospel, was loyal to Jesus without really knowing him, had no concept of his Kingdom, and pretty much thought faith was a ticket to the after life. Then I woke up. It began with the very real experience that things in the world were not as they seemed or appeared to be. What began as a deep infatuation with the halls of apparent power became an utter disillusionment with the potential of government. What began as an utter dismissal of the potential of the church I knew as a powerless institution, became a profound discovery of the real power and potential of the Church Jesus is building. 

Yes, then I woke up. With a Juris Doctorate in hand, opportunities and offers from the White House to the Senate to the House of Representatives, I walked away. The government seemed to have all the power and yet none of the potential. The church seemed to have none of the power yet all of the potential. I decided to go with the potential. I decided to follow Jesus. I took a job as the security guard at a local church in town. 

Everyone was shocked and so disappointed in me. “We need good Christian leaders in our government,” they would tell me. Somehow at the tender age of 25 I knew better. I had seen it. Good Christian leaders trying to “make a difference” in government invariably sell their souls to empire and have no idea of it. Power corrupts, and as the saying goes, absolute power corrupts absolutely. The last one hundred years of world history narrates this story with painful precision—all the way up to the present hour.

Please, I don’t want to be misunderstood on this point. I repeat, we do not need “good Christian leaders” in our government. We need called-by-Jesus-Holy-Spirit-anointed-servants-of-the-Kingdom-of-God leaders in our government. There is a major difference. This is the only way a federal constitutional representative democratic republic will endure. It is not about Christianizing the state (or for God’s sake politicizing the church) but the Kingdom of Jesus leavening the government. Do you read me? 

Then I woke up. You can imagine my utter horror over the next thirty years of my life as I witnessed the church cozy up to, court power, and all but sell its soul to the machinations of the United States government. You can imagine my dismay at discovering just how deeply the church mimicked and mirrored the political establishment with its thinly disguised Republican and Democrat operatives wearing the sheep’s clothing of so-called biblically based conservative and progressive ideologies. I have had and will have no part in it.

Government matters, a lot. The government holds limited power and yet no potential to save the world. The Church Jesus is building holds unlimited power and all the potential to save the world. The Church Jesus is building is not subject to the government. In fact, it is just the opposite. God created government. This is why we as the followers of Jesus, as his Church, must have a very clear, clean, and unconventionally humble relationship to the state. In a twenty-first century federal constitutional representative democratic republic, this relationship must be more nuanced and sophisticated than with a first century dictatorial emperor. Those guys still exist in the world, and we must work as the church on those fronts too. 

In all of this, the question for all of us is how to do we do this?

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority

O.K., so that’s some of the back story. Tomorrow we will begin to sort out first century government from twenty-first century politics.

THE PRAYER

Jesus, you are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. To say you are Lord of Heaven and Earth is not to somehow place you at the top of a hierarchy that also includes Caesars and emperors and presidents. Forgive us for such thinking. You are in another category and realm altogether. You are THE God. Jesus, you are my Lord and my God. Holy Spirit, awaken us to understand the place of government, the majesty of the Church you are building, the Kingdom of Heaven and the glory of God. Praying in Jesus’ name, Amen. 

THE QUESTION

So does this conversation make you nervous? Angry? Ready to unsubscribe? Eager? Relieved? Hopeful? We must follow the text friends, wherever it leads.

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt
Sower-in-Chief
seedbed.com

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Farmer. Poet. Theologian. Jurist. Publisher. Seedbed's Sower-in-Chief.

14 COMMENTS

  1. JD, in response to your question: your take on this; as church, our proper relationship to the state, seems right-on! I’m curious and looking forward to where this is leading. I believe I know, but I’ll hold my thoughts till you get there. Thanks for your willingness to open up this can of worms.

  2. Hopeful.

    Legislation can change our outward actions. Only the grace of God can change how we view each other. –Philip Yancy, “What Is So Amazing About Grace?”

    Methodists should have learned from prohibition that morality cannot be legislated. However, by then Methodism was well on its way to losing its unique message and method that would enable it to make a unique contribution to the Christian landscape in the form of individual living their lives as people who know the triune God of Holy Love as someone they live with.

  3. Inspired! That’s my response to this post–greatly inspired! If Christ-followers would spend less time proudly texting and more time humbly letting the text of the Bible deeply touch our heart as “leaven,” the world would be a better place.

  4. “It is not about Christianizing the state… But the kingdom of Jesus leavening the government. “ Amen, and thank you.
    To The King!

  5. Read this this morning and I find it echos your story. Thank you for your careful handling of Truth!
    From the Mirror Bible, 1 Peter 2:11
    “It does not matter how appealing the system of the flesh-glory seems, it can never define or fulfill you; do not allow yourself to be lured into its strategies and sway! You are dearly loved! I urge you from within this place of our joint oneness to remain like pilgrims and strangers to the subtleties of a world-system that is foreign to your design. Avoid any influence that does not resonate with your innocence.”

  6. Thank you once again for re-directing the target away from the world’s view of things (man’s government) back to Jesus (God’s government), which is His Kingdom, The Kingdom of God. It’s not a small thing that none of the hero’s of our faith (Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joseph, Daniel….and Jesus) actually lived in a culture that was godly. Yet each of them brought the true God into the ungodly culture they lived in, which was the whole point back then. All of them honored the ungodly kings they were under, and God blessed them mightily. What if things haven’t changed, and this is still the point of what you are showing us – that we, like them, are to be aliens and strangers in the world/culture (see Hebrews 11:8-16).? Yet, like them, we also have a heavenly assignment to bring God’s supernatural Kingdom – with all the wisdom and power that we have been given in Christ (Colossians 2:9-10) to actually alter our government and culture, but not through man’s ways. The One we call LORD asked us to bring God’s Kingdom to this earth (Matthew 6:10). What if all Christians read your text with Romans 13…and I Timothy 2:1-3, Acts 23:5 with Hebrews 13:17? What if we actually joined together to pray for our leaders whether we like them or not, and to choose Jesus as the only side we identify with and choose? That would mean our true allegiance is to Jesus alone, and we could actually unite around Him – and love all people, not just the ones we think are Christians. What if this really is what Jesus is asking us to do? Seems as though this would be a good start. Keep preaching truth, J D Walt!

  7. Thank you for your insight and your honesty. I wish Pastors would have thought to preach on this passage of scripture 2 years ago when church congregations were splitting over issues of mask mandates and infringement on our rights as Americans! So many failed to see our responsibility as Christians over our rights as Americans. Sadly, we had many people suffer with Covid and even die because of Christian churches and organizations that did not adhere to the mask mandates.

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