Was the first century church a political force?
Is that what God intended?
These are questions I have pondered over the last 20 years. As I have admitted, I fell away from the church and some of these questions are what kept me away. One of the things I did when I worked the 3rd shift behind a computer, was to study the Constitution of the United States of America. I read the broadsides used during the drafting of the Articles of Confederation and Deceleration of Independence, as well as the Federalist Papers, a collection of essays written in newspapers at the time to educate or convince folks regarding the wisdom of a Constitutional Republic versus a Confederation of Free States.
The founding fathers all believed that a Christian moral society was capable of freedom. John Adams went so far as to say that moral behavior by the individual is required for a free society:
"Salesmen, my dear Sir, may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the principles on which freedom can securely stand" - John Adams
Some of our greatest founding fathers were focused on a government that would allow for individual freedom. To that end, they trusted in their Creator who granted the liberty to us. Some even felt as if it was a given that America was always to be a Christian Nation:
"Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian Nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers."
Mr. Jay was a founding father, the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the Chief Negotiator with Britain in gaining or independence.
On the other hand, God wants us to NOT be concerned regarding the ways of the world and focus on what we need to do to be His children. Does our history indicate we should be a theocracy or a true bastion of freedom and welcome all? Part of the brilliance I see in our origin as a nation is how the founding values are completely applicable and just as important today as it was 230 years ago. So what am I to do today as a Christian with the moral legislation that has been passed or overturned in recent history? Simple - Be a Christian!
Christ Jesus Himself set the tone back in the early days of his ministry in an exchange with the Pharisees (Hebrew leaders at the time) who were trying to "entangle him in His words" (Matt 22:15). In hopes of getting Rome to arrest Jesus and take him off of their hands, the Pharisees asked about tribute or taxes. Now Jesus had just described his church as a Nation coming. The thought of an earthly kingdom ruled by Christ was treason to Rome. Christ looked at the tribute, a penny with the image of Caesar on it and said "... Render unto Caesar that which Caesars." (Matthew 16:19).
Was Christ a political figure? No. At every opportunity, Christ had people looking at themselves individually. It was not Christ's purpose to overthrow Rome, or the physical Nation of Israel.
Was the first century church a political force? No, not really. Not until about 300 AD when it was starting to be acceptable to allow and tolerate those crazy Christians. How much of that was the first century church and how much was the beginning of the Roman Church, I can't tell you. You'll have to decide.
Is that what God intended? Was it God's intent to create a nation in spirit and in Christ that had no earthly kingdom? More than that, I would propose that God always had a view of His nation where He alone was king. The entry requirements changed over history. At first you walked with God, then you were born to his family and now we have a right to become citizens of God's nation. There are duties to follow his design, and like previous methods, we are then born in to God's Nation through our belief in Christ being strong enough
to support the action of baptism first, then living in God's will.
Paul teaches in 1st Corinthians that we are not to associate with immoral people inside the church:
1st Corinthians 5:9-13
9 I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. 10 Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner--not even to eat with such a person. 12 For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? 13 But those who are outside God judges. Therefore "put away from yourselves the evil person."
Notice that Paul does not say we should condemn people "in the world". Paul stresses that we are to associate with the world, folks outside the church. If we do not associate with "9...sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world." . From a practical point of view, how can we share Christ with folks if we hid in a christian commune some place? No, if we are to share the gospel we are required to participate in the world.
As for immoral behavior outside the church Paul says: "12 For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? 13 But those who are outside God judges. Therefore "put away from yourselves the evil person."
So as is consistent throughout the Old Testament, it is God's job to decide on what is to happen to those outside of Christ . God is the only judge.
Note Paul commands us to not associate with continually immoral brethren in the church. Why is it fair to judge our fellow Christians but not those in the world? As Christians we have each chosen to hold ourselves to a higher standard. We as individuals would still not be judges, we as Christians hold our bretheren to the standards of God's law. The principles of Christ.
So as a Americans what do we need to do with the immoral? The Constitution of the United States restricts the Government from infringing on individual liberties. The law of the land was never intended to be a moral compass. As John Adams said "... but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the principles on which freedom can securely stand." As is stressed by our founding fathers and by God through the prophets and apostles, individual responsibility is what makes a great society. Individuals need to tend to their personal morals and through that we honor the values of freedom and liberty that this country was founded on.
I am sure like Paul, our founding fathers did not imagine the world we live in. today. However God does know. And God asks us to look to our family in Christ and to teach (not judge) the people outside of the family of Christ.
Gregor - Back from the brink! From there and back again. A spiritual Hobbit's journey.