“In the war we fight, the objective isn’t geo-political. The territory we try to gain control of is not measured by political boundaries; the body of Christ knows no nationalistic agenda. Our country is measured by the landscape of the human heart.”John Wimber
The tragic death of George Floyd has brought the evil of racism into sharp relief, causing humanity to look at racial prejudice and discrimination in a new and necessary way. A shift in understanding is taking place. It is not enough to be non-racist. We must actively oppose racism. We need to change ‘the system’.
To label a societal dysfunction as ‘systemic’ begs a supplementary question: ‘Which system are we talking about?’ The ‘Establishment’ system which prevails in Britain? The authoritarian system of Putin’s Russia? The Islamist system of ISIS? The Communist system of North Korea? The populist system of Trumpist America? Racism is present, to one degree or another, under all these systems. But is there such a thing as one unified System?
Jesus came to announce His Kingdom, and also to denounce what He called ‘the world’ – the ‘world system’.
As Jesus-followers we can get lost in the mire of partisan politics. Jesus was political, but He wasn’t partisan. You might say, ‘Well, there weren’t political parties in Jesus’ day’, but you would be wrong. Politics, from the Greek ‘polis’ meaning ‘city’, is the art of citizenship. To be a citizen is to be political.
As in some Middle Eastern (and other) countries today, many of the power-bases in first century Judea were quasi religious. These included the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Zealots. There were also the supporters of King Herod’s dynasty, known as the Herodians. The governing power was the Roman Empire, who were the original fascists from which Mussolini based his fascist ideology (the fasces was a bound bundle of wooden rods, sometimes including an axe with its blade emerging – a symbol of Ancient Rome).
Although His was an intensely political environment, Jesus didn’t come to overthrow a particular political system, as was expected of Him as the coming Messiah. He certainly didn’t come to advocate political violence, even in the cause of justice:
Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and took Him. And suddenly, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword, struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear.
But Jesus said to him, “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.Matthew 26: 50-52
Opponents & Enemies
The end result of hyper-partisan Christianity, whether coming from the political right or left, is that we can end up fighting the wrong enemy. Moreover we make enemies, learn hate and reinforce division, which is the exact opposite of what Jesus taught us to do:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.Matthew 5: 43-45
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be members of political parties or activists for a particular cause, but it takes a certain kind of Jesus-follower to do this well and with integrity.
One of the heroes of my youth was Tony Benn. Latterly I was moved to find out that Tony Benn maintained personal friendships with both Enoch Powell and Ian Paisley Snr. Of his generation there was hardly a British politician more true to his beliefs than Tony Benn, yet, inspired perhaps by his Congregational Church roots, he refused to make enemies of his opponents. In this Benn remains an inspiration for me.
So often as Jesus-followers we are fighting the battle on the wrong front. There is an ‘enemy’, but its origins are not from this world. Whether or not you take the biblical image of Satan to be a literal figure (I do), it is hard to discount the fact that there are evil forces at work in the world. Jesus taught – deliberately and clearly – that these forces had cosmic origins.
Paul the Apostle takes up this theme in his teaching, arguing that ‘…we do not wrestle against flesh and blood [human systems], but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.’ (Ephesians 6:12)
According to Jesus and Paul, these ‘spiritual hosts of wickedness’ are demonic forces which in this present age seek to control the world-system. The powers behind the powers. Harbingers of the evil ‘isms’ that seek to divide and destroy us.
And this is what Jesus came to do: to oppose these spiritual powers and to announce the arrival of His Kingdom.
The Prayer Jesus gave us: “Your Kingdom come. Your will be done. On earth as in heaven.” We pray it weekly, daily perhaps – but do we really know what it means?
This prayer is incendiary…
The powers behind the powers are ultimately defeated. The days of the world system are numbered, even if right now it doesn’t look much like it! Beyond the veil in heavenly places, outside time and space, this is already a reality. In Christ we live in this reality, partially speaking. And He calls us to pray it in and live it out…
Kingdom Come. A place where the will (purposes) of God are fulfilled. Where all are provided for (‘give us this day our daily bread), where reconciliation is achieved (‘forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us‘), and where evil and its effects are no more (‘lead us not into a time of trial but deliver us from the evil one’ – ‘time of trial’ & ‘the evil one’ are the correct translations).
A country measured by the landscape of the human heart.