What “Not of This World” Doesn’t Mean (Why Christians Are Called to Politics)
Nor would Jesus, who in the same conversation with Pilate where He said, “my kingdom is not of this world,” also reminded this government official where his power came from.
“Christians should stop seeking political control and power and just focus on winning the lost.”
“Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world’ so Christians should stay out of government.”
“Neither Jesus nor the early Christians tried to take over Rome. He built His kingdom in people’s hearts and minds.”
Many variations of this argument can be found in Christian Twitterverse, usually, in response to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. The idea seems to be that real Christian spirituality neither seeks nor celebrates political or judicial victories. Christians should only be concerned with the things of God, not the things of this world. In other words, God isn’t concerned with government, and Christians shouldn’t be either.
Though this line of thinking sounds quite Christian, it isn’t. Rather, it is an inaccurate portrayal of the relationship between God’s justice and earthly justice. Just as importantly, it misunderstands what our salvation is for and why God calls us to live in this world, instead of just whisking Christians to heaven the moment we’re saved.
Recently, my colleague Shane Morris tackled this bad theology on Twitter, and the thread was republished by the Babylon Bee news offshoot, Not the Bee. I’ll paraphrase his points:
First, for most of the Church’s history, Christians have agreed that civil laws should in some way reflect biblical morality. Neither Catholics, Orthodox, nor most Protestants believed that being apolitical was a good or godly thing. While there were occasions over the centuries when Christians shunned political involvement for a variety of reasons, often because they were prohibited from any involvement, it wasn’t until the Radical Reformation and movements like the Anabaptists in the 1500s that swearing off politics gained traction as a principle for following Christ. Even then, it was a minority opinion. On the contrary, for most Christians, being a civil magistrate has always been seen as a high and noble calling.
This, of course, makes a lot of sense since there is really no such thing as not legislating morality. No matter who writes the laws of a land, those laws always reflect someone’s moral beliefs. Protecting innocent lives from deadly violence, something that occurs in abortion and other forms of murder, is the central function of good government. God created government to serve that purpose.
Second, Shane pointed out something many theologians have noted over the years: that when Jesus said, “my kingdom is not of this world” in John 18:36, He did not mean “my kingdom has nothing to do with this world.” Rather, He meant that His kingdom is not from this world, does not use this world’s methods (such as violent revolution), and does not aim at the world’s ends.
Still, as Abraham Kuyper pointed out, Jesus’ kingdom absolutely does affect this world, over which He has declared total sovereignty, and in which He holds individuals and governments accountable for administering justice and punishing violence against the innocent (see Genesis 9:6).
As for the part that neither Christ nor the first Christians tried to take over Rome, anyone who says this should read further in their history books. In A.D. 325, the Emperor Constantine ended the official persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. Just decades later, in the year 380, Emperor Theodosius declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. As a matter of simple historical fact, Christians did take over Rome!
Setting aside questions about the legitimacy of established religion and how good such an arrangement is for the Church, it’s simply not true that early Christianity did not seek to impact earthly governments. Early Christians showed intense interest in impacting governments in everything from the outlawing of infant exposure to ending persecution to the ending of the gladiatorial games.
The assault of the Church against the gates of Hell progresses, of course, through the preaching of the Gospel and the conversion of souls—what the Apostle Paul called “spiritual weapons.” But by advocating for good and just governments—especially when it comes to protecting innocent lives—Christians are loving their neighbors and fulfilling the other half of our calling in this world: to pray and obediently work so that God’s kingdom will come and His will be done “on earth as it is in Heaven.”
We are saved for a purpose. Along with evangelism and worship, we are to be good citizens and to love our neighbors. This will involve supporting righteous laws and opposing wicked ones. No law in this nation’s history has been more wicked than Roe v. Wade. Therefore, Christians are right to celebrate its downfall and to work to undo its bloody legacy. And Christians are right to oppose other wicked legislative efforts, such as the misleadingly named “Respect for Marriage Act.”
The idea that Christians have a calling so high that it keeps us from politics may sound spiritual, but it’s something almost no Christian in history would recognize. Nor would Jesus, who in the same conversation with Pilate where He said, “my kingdom is not of this world,” also reminded this government official where his power came from.
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