Strangers Here Below

When reading books about the application of the biblical law to contemporary society, it is common to read works from mainstream Christians that seek to position themselves as not being Theonomists but at the same time assuming that believers have a dual citizenship in earth and heaven which requires some sort of social involvement in the politics of this present world.  At the same time, the New Testament is very clear that believers are strangers, pilgrims, and sojourners in the present world and not citizens of it.  Even though Paul was vigilant in using the privileges he had as a Roman citizen to encourage the legitimacy of Christianity as a licit religion that carefully avoided rebellious and seditious behavior against the Roman Empire, the Church of God has always positioned itself in the New Testament era and beyond as being a kingdom not of this world with a citizenship not of this world.  What accounts for this difference?

The amount of people who has followed the Bible and its commandments has always been small.  The history of the Church of God has long involved small, isolated communities of believers who were frequently at odds with their neighbors and occasionally even the target of crusading hostility.  This sort of isolated position and small size has seldom encouraged a belief in the political power of believers, although there are certainly politics anywhere there are people, even if they are not always recognized as such.  In contrast to this, the large numbers of self-proclaimed Christians who spring from Hellenistic Christianity have wrestled unsuccessfully with the exercise of political power in the present world and have sought to legitimize this in such a way that does not require obedience to the biblical body of the law, which presupposes a nation in a covenantal relationship with God, something that has very rarely even been attempted in the world of mainstream Christianity (and frequently those attempts have led to disaster).  To the extent that a majority or even a substantial minority of a population shares religious beliefs, it can possess the belief that it can achieve considerable political power, while a tiny religious minority can harbor no such illusions.

Where did the ideal of dual citizenship even spring from in the first place?  In the Old Testament, we see Israel and Judah as being kingdoms which were ultimately ruled by God as outposts of His Kingdom and which were punished for their disobedience their covenantal relationship with Him.  In the New Testament itself, we see Christianity as clearly a marginal population within Judaism, much less within the Roman world as a whole, where Judaism itself was marginal, and Christianity was thus doubly marginal as the marginal outcasts of a marginal outcast community.  And so it has remained for those who have remained faithful to God’s commandments in a world that has prided itself on rebellion against God’s ways throughout humanity’s history.  It appears that it was only when Hellenism had already infiltrated Christianity to a large degree during the time of Augustine that the city of man and the city of God sought to position believers as having a dual sovereignty that nevertheless sought to protect the city of God from suffering a loss of reputation due to the failures of the city of man that was itself ruled and governed by nominal Christians.  This is a problem that has never gone away.  The failure of Christians to live out their beliefs and to govern effectively and righteously has always brought the institutional church into disrepute, regardless of how people have tried to separate the two kingdoms of the political and secular world on the one hand and the religious world on the other.

Nevertheless, there remain questions for those of us who believe that God’s laws will govern the earth in the world to come.  How is it that we can mentally prepare ourselves to interpret and apply God’s laws in an ideal world while we live here.  To what extent can our self-government and our observation of the failures of mankind to govern itself and to restrain itself from evil prepare us for governing in the world to come?  Without the idea of dual citizenship there is no obligation to intervene in the fallen systems of the world, but at the same time there is no expectation of things getting better, given the lack of expectation in a wholesale repentance to God and a change of ways.  And that is perhaps the most fundamental difference one finds between Hellenistic Christianity and biblical Christianity when it comes to such matters, the expectations one has of life in this fallen world.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Christianity, Church of God, Musings and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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