The true church is a political one.

Discuss Paul Tilley

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Introduction In questioning weather or not a true church is a political one; this essay will first take a concise look at the definition of politics. It will then go on to look at spheres of politics from the churches perspective. Next the essay will present a brief look at three key political issues from within the bible; the OT and God being political and the political implications of the NT writings. Then, the essay will examine the theology of churches political involvement and current criticism of the church and politics. It will then take a brief look at the role of Christian youth work and the church and politics. After this, the essay will look at a current criticism of social action and politics from the churches prospective. The essay will conclude by arguing that a church cannot not take a political stance if it is truly seeking to bring about the Kingdom of Gods redemptive process of creation, but it must also hold in tension being in this world but not wholly of it. Definition Politics has been defined, as ‘the process by which groups of people make collective decisions.’1 In its most basic state, politics is the social relations involving authority or power.2 In practice, the term refers to the regulation and government of a nation or state,3 and to the methods and tactics used to formulate and apply government policy.4 In this essay, politics will be used more narrowly to the government of human society in the State.5 In regards to church and politics there are three spheres that affect the church. Firstly, politics being internal to the Church. This would be the administrative order of a church and would deal with authority and responsibilities, individual and group leadership. Secondly, politics that would
Hague, R. (2004). Comparative Government and Politics. 6th ed. Palgrave: Basingstoke. 3. unknown. (2007). Politics. Available: http://dict.die.net/politics/. Last accessed 14 May 2007. 3 MICRA, Inc. (2003). Politics (definition). Available: http://everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=303454. Last accessed 8 June 2007 4 Farlex. (2007). politics. Available: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/politics. Last accessed 8 June 2007. 5 Atkinson, D (1995). New Dictionary of Christian Ethics & Pastoral Theology. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press. 669.
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be external to the Church. This would deal with how the church reacts to and guides members to the society and world around it. Thirdly, is when the church and government have a formal relationship and the churches teachings and administration have practical effect on members of the society whether they are members of the church or not. An example would be the Church of England and its relationship with the British Government.6 The Bible and Politics The biblical God is a God of politics; we see this evidenced throughout the bible. If one were to remove the political portions of scripture we would be left with a book full of holes7, the biblical narrative would be meaningless. Within the OT we see God forming a nation that he favors over others. Egypt was devastated because of the political act of liberating the Hebrew slaves to become Gods chosen people. In fulfilling Gods promise, regarding the conquest of Canaan, God commands the Israelites to not leave anything alive that breathes and to completely destroy them (Deut 20:16), God commands the Israelite people to commit genocide throughout Canaan for their prosperity, this is a political act. However, we also see throughout the OT political Justice, for example God commands the Israelites not to mistreat an alien or oppress him because of their oppression suffered in Egypt (Ex 22:21). Lev 25:10 and Due 15:2 commands the Year of Jubilee. The Year of Jubilee was an exceptional year in family renewal in that an Israelite man who was bound to another as a slave or indentured servant was set free and allowed to return to his own family. If any members of his family were also bound, that family member was also set free. Houses and lands could also be redeemed in the Year of Jubilee.8 Youngblood suggests that part of the reason why God established the Year of Jubilee was to prevent the Israelites from oppressing one another (Lev 25:17). Therefore one effect of the Jubilee Year was to

6 Hexham, I. (1983). Christian Politics according to Abraham Kuyper. Available: http://www.ucalgary.ca/~nurelweb/papers/irving/kuyperp.html. Last accessed 9 June 2007. 7 http://faith-theology.blogspot.com/2007/04/ten-propositions-on-political-theology.html 8 Youngblood, R. F. 1997, c1995. Nelson's new illustrated Bible dictionary : An authoritative one-volume reference work on the Bible with full color illustrations (F. Bruce, Ed.) (electronic edition of the revised edition of Nelson's illustrated Bible dictionary.). Thomas Nelson: Nashville.

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prevent a permanent system of economic classes, it had a levelling effect on Israel’s culture; it gave everyone a chance to start over, both economically and socially.9 The year of Jubilee is then an example of the ordination of Gods political economics. Later in the OT as we see the Israelite nation forming, Judges and later Kings are appointed; again reflecting a God intended political process. As with the OT the NT is political. The NT was set in a political narrative; the Hebrews had come from being an enslaved people, to an exiled people and were now an occupied people. One of the most politically provocative statements in the NT comes when Jesus states ‘Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's’ (Matt 22:21, Mark 12:16, Luke 20:25). The gospels state that when Jesus gave his response, his interrogators ‘marveled, and left him, and went their way.’ They were unsuccessful in forcing Jesus to unambiguously come out either in favor of paying the tribute to Rome or in favor of tax resistance.10 With this simple yet profound statement, even today people continue to interpret this passage to support positions as diverse as separation of church and state, which advocates that Jesus’ comment was stating that his religious teachings were separate from earthly political activity. Through to the view of justification for obeying authority, stating that the passage commands us to respect state authority and to pay the taxes it demands of us. To the more radical interpretation stating that the passage highlights the dangers of cooperating with the state.11 Jesus’ statement has also led to Christian anarchists and tax resisters. For example when the Christian social activist Ammon Hennacy was on trial for civil disobedience, he was asked by the judge to reconcile his tax resistance with Jesus’ statement in Matt 22:21. Hennacy response was ‘I told him Caesar was getting too much around here and some one had to

Youngblood, R. F., 1997, c1995. Nelson's new illustrated Bible dictionary : An authoritative one-volume reference work on the Bible with full color illustrations (F. Bruce, Ed.) (electronic edition of the revised edition of Nelson's illustrated Bible dictionary.) Nashville, Thomas Nelson. 10 The Christian Education Committee. (1995). Ordained Servants. Available: http://opc.org/OS/pdf/OSV4N4.pdf. Last accessed 8 June 2007. 11 The Christian Education Committee. (1995). Ordained Servants. Available: http://opc.org/OS/pdf/OSV4N4.pdf. Last accessed 8 June 2007.

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stand up for God.’12 Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker movement stated: ‘If we rendered unto God all the things that belong to God, there would be nothing left for Caesar.’ She also advocated a life of voluntary poverty by saying ‘the less you have of Caesar’s, the less you have to give to Caesar.’13 When read in the book of Acts that the early church held all of their possessions in common, it seems to some that these verses indicate that the ideal Christian society would be similar to the modern ideas of Socialism. The book of Acts is part of the inspiration for political currents such as Christian Socialism and Christian Communism.14 Christian socialism is considered to have begun in the 19th century, though a commitment to socialist ideals in Church history can be seen with the early fathers and the development of the monastic movement.15 However, Christian Socialism as it is thought of today, is commonly believed to have originated with Frederick Denison Maurice, along with his friends J M Ludlow and Charles Kingsley, in the 1840s. Its theological foundations begin with Maurice's work in The Kingdom of Christ, published in 1837.16 In the 1870’s a group of Anglo-Catholics formed the Guild of St Matthew. This was a more radical expression of socialism then the earlier Christian socialist movements. The guild would openly attack injustice wherever it was found and partitioned parliament on better housing, education and working conditions.17 One of the three objectives of the Guild was ‘To promote the Study of Social and Political Questions in the light of the Incarnation’.18 In 1889 a more respectable expression of Christian Socialism emerged, calling itself The Christian Social Union. It was less concerned with direct action then with establishing social principals for the Christian faith such as organising study groups and writings.19 It was not until the end of the 19th century that the influence of Christian Socialism started to take effect. To this
Hennacy, A (1970). The Book of Ammon . 5th ed. Baltimore, MD: Fortkamp Publishing Co. Staff of the Catholic Peace Fellowship. (2006). Counter-Recruitment and the Church. Available: http://www.catholicpeacefellowship.org/nextpage.asp?m=2500. Last accessed 8 June 2007. 14 The Christian Education Committee. (1995). Ordained Servants. Available: http://opc.org/OS/pdf/OSV4N4.pdf. Last accessed 8 June 2007. 15 Wright, D and Sinclair, F (1988). New Dictionary of Theology. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press. 134. 16 Rea, R. (2007). Was Father Field a Christian Socialist?. Available: http://anglicanhistory.org/essays/field/field2.html. Last accessed 08 June 2007. 17 Wright, D and Sinclair, F (1988). New Dictionary of Theology. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press. 134. 18 Ted, M. (2007). The Guild of Saint Matthew. Available: http://www.anglocatholicsocialism.org/matthew.html. Last accessed 08 June 2007. 19 Wright, D and Sinclair, F (1988). New Dictionary of Theology. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press. 134.
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day Christian Socialism and the work of the Guild of St Matthew have influenced movements such as the Jubilee group.20 Other strands of Christian Socialism could include, amongst others, Liberation theology with its emphasis on bring justice to the poor and oppressed through political activism,21Feminist and Black Theology and the Social Gospel movement, as with Christian Socialism, these are also concerned with justice and emancipation, hence they also hold a strong political element. The saying ‘Jesus is Lord’ (Rom. 10:9; 1 Cor.12:3) would have been an overtly political statement for the early church. The saying was a political contrast to the popular greeting amongst Roman citizens- ‘Caesar is Lord’.22 This statement meant that Jesus himself and the early Christians were seen as a political threat. In the Roman world Ceasar had come to view himself as Lord and was not open to being challenged. So the statement that ‘Jesus is Lord’ in its context was a statement that was viewed as political subversion, a direct challenge to the prevailing establishment and therefore meant that politics and religion were inextricably linked.23 Paul also writes in several passages, mostly Rom. 13:1-7, that it was the duty of the Church to submit and obey earthly governments.24 Christians, according to Pauline theology are not like the Jews, a political entity; Christians are subject to earthly governments and powers because governments have a God-given role and so if therefore entitled to respect and co-operation of its citizens, including Christians.25 In his writing of The Book of Revelation, it is believed that John would have had emperor worship as a main concern. The empire, or the city of Rome itself, is identified by some scholars as the ‘Whore of Babylon’, and the Roman emperor becomes the Beast or Antichrist. Both divine punishment
Wright, D and Sinclair, F (1988). New Dictionary of Theology. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press. 134. Mcgrath, A (2001). Christian Theology. Cambridge: Blackwell Publishing. 115. Wright, N.T. (2003). GOD AND CAESAR, THEN AND NOW. Available: http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_God_Caesar.pdf. Last accessed 8 June 2007. 23 Wright, N.T. (2003). GOD AND CAESAR, THEN AND NOW. Available: http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_God_Caesar.pdf. Last accessed 8 June 2007. 24 Grudem, W (1994). Systematic Theology. Leicester: Inter-Varsity. 661. 25 Atkinson, D (1995). New Dictionary of Christian Ethics & Pastoral Theology. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press. 669.
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and economic and military catastrophe are prophesied against ‘Babylon’, which most scholars agree is John's code name for Rome.26 Theology In regards to the Church and politics there has developed two main schools of thought. The more mainstream traditional view takes a backwards-looking perspective and states that governments are part of Gods order of Creation.27 This view holds that governments are a gift to humanity from God amongst other purposes for bringing about justice by upholding law and a justice system. Though it is acknowledged that governments are also fallible and can therefore bring about injustice.28 This view strongly aligns itself with Rom. 13:1-7 and favors conservative politics that uphold the God given ‘good’ in society. This view would make a sharp distinction between God's activity through governments and redemptive activity of the church.29 The second view in regards to the church and politics would see the government as bringing about Gods eschatological purpose for the world. This view strongly aligns itself with the Revelation of John that speaks of a time of justice and peace, as well as Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom. Therefore this view sees the political and the spiritual as two aspects of Gods redemptive work in establishing his kingdom. This view is often seen as a more radical view as it has been influenced by Liberation Theology and would seem to favor a more revolutionary outlook to political action.30 Political, The Church and Youth Work In 1980 The Reverend Frederick William Milson, a key figure in the development of youth and community work during the 1960s and 1970s,

Alexander, P and David, A (1999). The Lion Handbook to the Bible. Oxford: Lion. 766. Atkinson, D (1995). New Dictionary of Christian Ethics & Pastoral Theology. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press. 670. 28 Grudem, W (1994). Systematic Theology. Leicester: Inter-Varsity. 661. 29 Atkinson, D (1995). New Dictionary of Christian Ethics & Pastoral Theology. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press. 670. 30 Atkinson, D (1995). New Dictionary of Christian Ethics & Pastoral Theology. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press. 670.
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produced ‘Political Education’. A practical guide for Christian youth workers. This book looked to the church and politics and the distinctive role that it could take in the political education of young people. William stated, ‘A local church which tries to ignore the political dimension of our lives serves its members ill. It issues moral exhortations in a vacuum. Churches may generate a power which is always in neutral gear, never engaged with some of the major moral tasks our time. To change the figure - they involve us in shadow boxing, not in a real fight.’31 Milson's argument was that the informal atmosphere of the small voluntary group, common in Christian youth work at the time, could be a good vehicle for political as well as other forms of education. Another important aspect for Milson was the extent to which the church youth group embodied a more holistic view of people - the political could be set in tension with the moral and spiritual, for example. The book provided church workers with plenty of practical advice. 'For the Christian political educator', Milson wrote, 'there are always growth points in a continuing group'. He continued: ‘If our essential task is to learn together what the world is really like, to see it in a Christian perspective and to have opportunities to engage in its political activities - then there is a place to begin engaging in this process. It may be a conversation, a new experience in life of the young person, a visit, a chance encounter. The beginnings may be humble and the process should never be forced. But for the discerning Christian worker the raw material of his trade is all around him in the youth group.’32 Since Milson, church based youth work in Britain has become more politically aware. One of the factors that have contributed to this is the professionalisation of youth work, and how it is becoming more holistic in its outlook. This is evidenced by the 1999 occupational standards document that identifies the key purpose of youth work: ‘to work with young people to facilitate their personal, social and educational development, and enable them
Milson 1980: 33-4 Smith, M. K. and Smith, M. (2003) 'Fred Milson: developing the practice of youth and community work', the encyclopedia of informal education, http://www.infed.org/thinkers/milson.htm.
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to gain a voice, influence and place in society.’33 Furthermore, the four core values of youth work were first defined at the 1991 Second Ministerial Conference for the Youth Service. They were termed Voluntary Participation, Informal education, Empowerment and Equality of opportunity.34 Church based youth work; in its desire to become more professional by aligning itself with the statutory sector, has inevitably found itself becoming more politically active. Currently Criticism We can see social action expressed within the church today through with organisations and campaigns such as 24-7 Prayer, who run the ‘living generously’ website. There campaigns include assisting the investigation of the fate of the ‘disappeared,’ human rights activists in Peru and supporting with building children’s homes in Colombia.35 Another example is TEARfund. On their website they state that ‘relieving suffering and offering hope is at the heart of Tearfund’s vision.’36 This type of action, though admirable, has been criticised as being social action and falling short of social change.37 Chalk states, in an article in Christianity Magazine, ‘the work of social action is not enough. The challenge now is to reconcile social justice with the gospel – or in other words, to reconnect the problems with their causes. Too often we have ended up merely treating the symptoms of social degradation instead of working to eliminate the causes, sticking on plasters to cover wounds, many of which could be prevented in the first place. We’re picking up the pieces of broken lives instead of preventing the fall. This can’t continue. It’s time for the Church

33 Smith, H. (2002) 'Seeking out the gift of authenticity', Youth and Policy 77, pp. 19-32. Also available as an article in the encyclopedia of informal education, http://www.infed.org/biblio/authenticity.htm. Last update: May 24, 2007 34 Brierly, D (2004). Joined up: an Introduction to Youthwork and Ministry. City: Gabriel Resources. 6. 35 Living Generously. (2007). Living Generously: Justice and Reconciliation. Available: http://www.livinggenerously.com/pages/whatlg. Last accessed 9 June 2007. 36 Tearfund. (2007). About Us. Available: http://www.tearfund.org/About+us/. Last accessed 9 June 2007. 37 Chalke, S. (2001). Why the Church needs to get political. Available: http://www.christianitymagazine.co.uk/engine.cfm?i=92&id=129&arch=1. Last accessed 14 May 2007.

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to work for social justice; it’s time for the Church to get political!’38 The article goes on to state that both John Stott and Tony Campolo have suggested that while it may be true that the Church is called to mirror the Samaritan and carry our injured neighbour, we have an equal responsibility to ensure that the underlying issues that lead to such injuries are also dealt with.39 Conclusion Churches have a tendency to focus on guiding its ‘flock’ in how to respond to those things that are external to the gathered church, though the church often shies away from addressing current political issues. This is often due to churches holding a distinction between God's activity through governments and the redemptive activity of the church. Churches therefore are in danger of a dualist theology when it comes to its activity in the world. The Bible contradicts any idea of a sacred/secular divide. Politics affects lives and so is a concern of God and therefore must be the concern of the Church. As Desmond Tutu, observed, ‘If we are to say that religion cannot be concerned with politics, then we are really saying that there is a substantial part of human life in which God’s will does not run. If it is not God’s, then whose is it?’ For, If as Ladd suggests, the true Church is the instrument as well as the custodian of the kingdom40 then we are to reflect the activities of the King in working towards the redemptive process of creation and in by doing so the church has no choice but to be political. No area of life is outside our remit or beyond the Kingdom. Education, the environment, poverty, crime, racism, working conditions, immigration, taxation, health; for the church to be silent on these issues is to withhold the redemptive process of God in society, and to deny those affected by these issues the hope of his justice.41 A church can try to

Chalke, S. (2001). Why the Church needs to get political. Available: http://www.christianitymagazine.co.uk/engine.cfm?i=92&id=129&arch=1. Last accessed 14 May 2007. 39 Chalke, S. (2001). Why the Church needs to get political. Available: http://www.christianitymagazine.co.uk/engine.cfm?i=92&id=129&arch=1. Last accessed 14 May 2007. 40 Ladd, G, E (1994). Theology of the New Testament . Cambridge: Lutterworth Press. p 114. 41 Chalke, S. (2001). Why the Church needs to get political. Available: http://www.christianitymagazine.co.uk/engine.cfm?i=92&id=129&arch=1. Last accessed 14 May 2007.

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be apolitical, but ultimately even by being silent is itself a vote for the status quo, as German Christianity demonstrated in the 1930s and 1940's.42 As part of the Church, the very nature of Christian youth work is to be missional, so to actively live, work and partake the in world of young people. In that mission, as professionals we also work within the values of youth work; voluntary participation, informal education, empowerment and equality of opportunity. By there very nature youth work values are first of all inline with biblical values but also can not be apolitical. True youth work, by its very nature, like the church, cannot be politically silent, since the core values of youth work are active, critical and ideally empower people to speak out and ultimately to bring about change. Though it could be potentially disastrous for society if the church and its youth workers chooses to not actively partake in external politics, it could be just as dangerous for a church to go to the other extreme and identify itself solely as a political church. The church must not forget that Satan is called the ‘prince of this world’ (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11) and the ‘God of this world’ (2 Cor 4:4). Furthermore, it was Satan himself that stated that he had been given authority of the kingdoms of the world (Luke 4:5-7). Consequently, when addressing political involvement, the church and youth workers must continually hold this theological paradox in tension; Satan and his activity in the world and the Pauline theology of the duty of the Church to submit and obey earthly governments as outlined in Rom 13.

42 Cornwall, B. (2007). Ten Propositions on Political Theology. Available: http://pastorbobcornwall.blogspot.com/2007/04/ten-propositions-on-political-theology.html. Last accessed 14 May 2007.

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Bibliography Alexander, P and David, A (1999). The Lion Handbook to the Bible. Oxford: Lion. Alexander, T. and Brian, R (2000). New Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press. Atkinson, D (1995). New Dictionary of Christian Ethics & Pastoral Theology. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press. Brierly, D (2004). Joined up: an Introduction to Youthwork and Ministry. City: Gabriel Resources. Grudem, W (1994). Systematic Theology. Leicester: Inter-Varsity. Gutierrez, G (2005). We Drink from Our Own Wells. London: SCM Press. Ladd, G, E (1994). Theology of the New Testament . Cambridge: Lutterworth Press. Mcgrath, A (2001). Christian Theology. Cambridge: Blackwell Publishing. Wright, D and Sinclair, F (1988). New Dictionary of Theology. Leicester: InterVarsity Press. Youngblood, R. F. 1997, c1995. Nelson's new illustrated Bible dictionary : An authoritative one-volume reference work on the Bible with full color illustrations (F. Bruce, Ed.) (electronic edition of the revised edition of Nelson's illustrated Bible dictionary.). Thomas Nelson: Nashville.

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