Colossian Blog
January 28, 2013 | Daniel Camacho

Politics in the Church?

Politics can get nasty. Just recall the Facebook comments, “debates,” and “purges” that accompanied our nation’s last presidential election. Discussing politics with others—whether it’s on the topic of gay marriage, gun control, or taxes—does not seem to be worth the price for all of the incendiary reactions that ensue. The results appear to be even worse when we try to bring politics into the church. As Christians, we can mimic the polarization in our society and end up with pews that are painted red and blue.

In responding to the dangers of partisan politics, the temptation then becomes to assume that the gospel is apolitical. The church should focus more on worship and personal evangelism rather than politics. However, upon further reflection, this turns out to be a contradiction in terms. Our worship is and always has been political.

What does it mean that our worship is political? For some, this might sound odd. Confusion arises over what is meant by ‘political’ because it can be understood in different ways. In our commonplace usage of the word today, ‘politics’ refers to government, policy, or even pursuing one’s own interests in other contexts (e.g. ‘church politics’). But there is another, older, sense to this term. Our word ‘politics’ finds its roots in the Greek words politika (affairs of the city) and politikos (relating to citizens). In this sense, politics includes things such as policy but also encompasses much more. Politics are about how a community is ordered. In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle subsumes his inquiry about ethics and human flourishing under political science. The good of the individual is inextricably bound to the good of the polis, the city or state, and its ordering.

It is in this latter, and broader, sense that worship is political. Worship initiates and trains us into the Christian community. Beyond the state, the notion of polis as a moral community can also be applied to the church. Scripture describes the church as a “holy nation” (1 Pet. 2:9) and our participation in that community as a “heavenly citizenship” (Phil. 3:20). In following Christ, we become oriented towards a new community that requires our primary allegiance: the church, the city of God, the Body of Christ. Rodney Clapp, in A Peculiar People: The Church as Culture in a Post-Christian Society, shows how it is no coincidence that the New Testament—in continuity with the Old Testament—uses many words (e.g. kingdom, gospel, liturgy, church) that were politically charged for its time. Clapp writes:

[div id=”blockquote”]Perhaps the main reason the Bible has, at least in recent centuries, seemed to offer scarce political or cultural guidance is that Christians have read a “rank anachronism” back into its text. The strict split between “religion” and “politics” belongs to centuries much later than the first. As N.T. Wright remarks, “No first-century Jew…could imagine that the worship of their god and the organization of human society were matters related only at a tangent.”[1][end-div]

As Clapp and Wright have argued, the split between religion and politics, and the distinction between public and private, do not adequately explain the nature of Christian worship. There was a good reason why the early Christians were persecuted when they recognized Jesus, and not Caesar, as Lord. To split our faith from our politics is dangerous because it blinds us from seeing competing allegiances. In the context of Apartheid South Africa, loyalty to the government’s policies entailed a contradiction of Christian baptism, a denial of the church’s catholicity, and a distorted view of the Imago Dei.

Separating our worship from our politics neglects the way in which our worship is a form of politics, and the way in which it can inform our involvement in our government’s politics. From this vantage point, a Christian is always involved in two kinds of politics. To borrow from Augustine’s The City of God, Christians are simultaneously involved in the politics of the heavenly polis and the politics of the earthly polis. Our participation in the Body of Christ gives shape to our involvement in society at large.

Tithing and providing resources to the needy—to think of one type of example—are practices in the church that reflect how our worship is political. Living and acting out of a deep trust in God’s provision ought to shape all of our economic practices. Therefore, the way in which we handle resources, or money, speaks about the kingdom we are members of—a kingdom that does not operate out of a fear of scarcity (Matt. 6:25-34). Understanding this ought to help us imagine and negotiate the economic realities in broader society.  To separate the economics implied in our worship from the economic policies of markets and governments is to short-circuit the implications of our discipleship to Christ.

Here at TCF, we are not into partisan politics, but rather when we discuss politics we understand the political in a broader sense that affirms the public nature and implications of worship. As our Manifesto states: “Worship trains us in our rights and duties as citizens of the City of God.” When it comes to politics understood in the more narrow sense (i.e. in the earthly city), and to specific policies, we realize that Christians can often disagree. Nevertheless, we want to affirm that our shared practices of Christian worship constitute a “civics class” for us as a church, a training that can help us navigate through the ‘nasty’ politics, together, with charity.

[1] Clapp, Rodney. A Peculiar People: The Church as Culture in a Post-Christian Society. InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Suggested Posts
Growing Virtuous Youth through an Origins Symposium
February 22, 2017 | Andy Saur
Growing Virtuous Youth through an Origins Symposium
Students at Front Range Christian School in Littleton, Colorado prepped for months to participate in the all-day Origins Symposium that was held at their school in late January. They met in their weekly small groups to discuss faith-and-science questions, worked through teachFASTly activities in their Bible and science classes, and registered for breakout sessions on topics as varied as “How would a young-earth creationist explain ape man fossils?” to “Is it appropriate to go to the Bible for scientific truth?” But even with that preparation, many were unprepared for the experience of listening to TCF partners Darrel Falk and Todd Wood explain their different perspectives on human origins. How is it that two faithful Christians could disagree so significantly on such an important issue and still care for each other? Who had the “right answer” to the origins question? When teachers heard their students voicing these questions, they knew the symposium was on the right track. As Kevin Taylor, director of the school’s Veritas et Caritas Institute, explains: “We want our community to be able to speak their convictions with boldness and courage, but also be able to hold love as part of the process too.” To know one’s convictions, a person has to understand both what he or she is moving toward and away from. Even as the students began forming their own opinions on the origins topic through what they learned in preparation for and at the symposium, they also started developing an equally important skillset of holding in tension their growing opinion on the issue with their care for a Christian brother or sister who holds a different viewpoint. This hard work of forming thoughtful disciples of Christ is at the heart of The Colossian Forum’s mission and we were delighted to partner with Front Range Christian School to continue this work among its student body through this symposium. And we whole-heartedly echo the words of Kevin Taylor: “When the world looks at the church, I’d like them to see it appealing because we behave virtuously and civilly in a world so polarized.”
Meet Our Board Members
February 15, 2017 | Jennifer Vander Molen
Meet Our Board Members
Here at The Colossian Forum, our staff is one part of a greater team of partners, fellows, and advisors. The wisdom, direction, ideas, and challenges provided are a key part of shaping our mission, vision, and ministry. We're pleased to introduce you to The Colossian Forum's Board of Directors! Our board provides strategic and practical oversight to The Colossian Forum and serve faithfully through leadership, governance, and approving policies. Each brings a wealth of unique and diverse experiences and wisdom to TCF and are unified in their commitment to equip leaders to transform polarizing conflict into deeper spiritual witness. We now have pictures and short bios of all of our board members online. You can meet our Board of Directors here (along with our staff and fellows).