Thursday, December 23, 2004

Church and State

David Whitcomb has an interesting post on his site about how the retreat of the Church causes a vacuum readily filled by the State (capitalized, of course, is different from non-capitalized--it's all about capitalism, I suppose). I think that Eliot (whom Whitcomb quotes) was on to something more than just theoretical, it was also intensely historical.

When the Church joined hands with the State under Constantine, it was already in the process of handing over any power it had--the council just solidified what was already happening. Earlier, most notably in Origin and Justin Martyr, the narrative thought-world of Hebrew religion (itself, importantly, thoroughly mixed with some ideas from Hellenism and other ancient religions, but that is another blog--see "Fightin' Mad Monotheism" for a taste) was linguistically replaced by that of neo- and middle-Platonism. The Church became about the 'soul' and its salvation, not about the world and its true Lord. When the lordship of Caesar is no longer contested (the famous phrase "Jesus is Lord" loses its thrust when not placed against the contemporary, and more popular, confession "Caesar is Lord"), Caesar has little trouble regaining his position. This time, though, he did it without a fight. That drama and its consequences is chronicled elsewhere though.

The whole 'two-swords' theory is also based on this historical tension between these two 'powers': power of the sword for the State, power of the Word for the Church. The list, of course, of both instances historical and theoretical could go on indefinitely.

The question that comes to my mind is whether these two 'powers' can coexist at all. Kuyper, of course, would say 'yes' and they should be separate, but inform one another. Kevin Craig would say that neither can exist in a Christian society. Both are, to some extent or another, Neo-Calvinists. The question, maybe, lies in a more basic, but rarely asked (and even more rarely sufficiently answered): what is power?

For Caesar (which I use largely as a derogatory, innuendo-ladened substitute for 'State') power follows Mao's dictum--it comes from the barrel of a gun. For Jesus, it comes also rather violently, but violence taken upon one's self. For the Church? Jesus said:

You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave--just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Herein, it would seem, lies the true road to 'power': servanthood. The slaves are the greatest, the first, the most blessed, the most powerful. Why is that? It is possible that once we give everything we have, we have really gained all:

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains that whole world, yet forfeits his own self? Of what can a man give in exchange for himself?

But how does one do this? If one tries to gain the whole world, he becomes a slave. If one gives up on sin and follows the renewed Torah proclaimed on the Mount, he gains the whole world--the meek inherit the land. What would this mean for politics, a part of life concerned supremely with issues of servitude (taxes), land (national security and sovereignty), and power. Anything, though, would have to happen at a small level--politics reflects what is going on in the nation's hearts, minds, and hands. Politics is properly a 'power': something that was originally created good, but was twisted through man's royal abdication and that therefore enslaved him (or became his master by default). Colossians 1 makes a point to say that politics is to be, as all the 'powers' are, reconciled to the true King, the Messiah who claims both worldly governments to follow his law and the Church--the body (a metaphor closely resembling that of the Roman Empire back in the day).

But if Messiah is competing, in a way, against the 'kingdoms of this world', what is politics supposed to look like? An ecclesiocracy? Depends, I guess, on what you mean by 'ekklesia' (Church for the non-Greekers)...I think that that will be the subject of the next entry, I need to spend time with some family and friends tonight!

The King has come! Let his subjects rejoice! (Merry Christmas, in other words)

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