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Why the Church Is Not And Will Not Be Revolutionary

Why the Church Is Not And Will Not Be Revolutionary
I’ve always liked to think of myself as a radical. I come by it honestly. That my parents named me after the prophet Micah should have been your first clue. When I was a kid, our family aided refugees fleeing war-torn Central America. My parents blocked trains carrying nuclear weapons. They got arrested for demonstrating at military bases. Our Christian faith was always tied up in subversive activity, undermining the status quo and demanding a more just world.

When I became a Christian as an adult, I followed a similar path. I identified Jesus as the the ultimate prophet. He spoke truth to power and overturned the rulers of this world along with the tables in the Temple. For me, nothing could be more radical than the gospel. Jesus was a revolutionary.

In many ways I still believe that. Yet in recent years I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with this Jesus-as-revolutionary paradigm. For one, it’s often used to link Jesus to left-wing politics. As if he were just an exemplar the Democratic Party, or socialism, or anarchism, or whatever other ideology we want to project onto him. But this can’t be. Jesus isn’t a spokesman for human ideology. Rather, he is the power and presence of God breaking into the world, disrupting all of our belief systems and power structures.

In the wake of the 2016 election, I’ve been encouraged to see large parts of the church finding its voice and speaking up for justice. For far too long, much of the church has hidden its prophetic light under a bushel. But in the face of the growing blasphemy of the anti-poor, anti-life, and anti-earth policies of the Religious Right, millions are re-discovering the social justice implications of the gospel. They’re speaking about it in openly theological terms. This is a hopeful sign. It could point towards a revival in an American Christianity that is rooted in the gospel of Jesus rather than the idolatry of power.

In the midst of my hope, I’m also concerned that the “progressive” church is at risk of becoming a liberal analog to right-wing Evangelicalism. The rise of the Religious Right was a disaster for both America and the church. An emergence of a Religious Left could be just as much of a catastrophe. Binding ourselves to political expediency and the dictates of human ideology, we risk once again diluting the gospel into talking points for cable new shows and slogans for marches.

This always seems to happen. From the earliest days of our faith, the people of God have often chosen politics over our allegiance to Jesus. Why? There are many factors, but one big reason may be that we on the progressive end of the spectrum have fundamentally misunderstood the relationship of Jesus to the powers and principalities of his day – and ours.

For those of us who lean progressive in our political outlook, it’s very easy to see Jesus as a scrappy freedom fighter. He’s the underdog who triumphs in the end. Jesus has the courage to speak truth to power, and the truth is vindicated. How does this occur? Maybe it’s through the power of the people. Or historical inevitability. We’re not really sure. But in any case, the meek inherit the earth and “love wins.”

In this way of looking at the world, the powers and rulers of this world are strong, and Jesus is weak. Jesus overcomes the might of the powerful through his clever teachings, charisma, and great community organizing skills. The authorities can kill Jesus, but they can’t kill the revolution – because the power of the people don’t stop. In this vision, the kingdom of God is always an insurgency, forever nibbling at the edges of the kingdoms of this world.

That’s an easy way for progressives to understand Jesus, but it’s not the truth. Just as the Religious Right warps the kingdom of God when they conflate it with their favorite politicians and a right-wing political and economic order, the Religious Left is tempted to view the kingdom of God as synonymous with a politics of resistance, and perpetual weakness.

The gospel isn’t revolutionary. Revolution is about the overthrow of the established order. It’s about the weak, the illegitimate, the unacknowledged seizing power from those who have every right to wield authority. Revolutionaries are rebels who assert their legitimacy through brute force.

Jesus is no rebel. Jesus has every right to power and authority. He is the legitimate ruler of the universe. He is not a revolutionary who seizes the mantle from the powerful; he is the king. The apparently mighty rulers, politicians, business leaders, and celebrities who lord over our society today – they’re not the established authority. They’re rebels and revolutionaries against our true Commander-in-Chief!

If Jesus isn’t a rebel, but rather the Authority, where does that leave us? We’re not radicals or dissidents. We’re loyalists. In the midst of a darkened and confused rebellion, we remember who the king is. The kingdom of God isn’t about overthrowing the rebel institutions and power structures of this world; it’s about holding fast in our loyalty to our true leader.

That has a different feeling, doesn’t it? Very different from the partisan political clawing that’s going on right now. This world begs, cajoles, and shames us into joining their ideological camps. It seeks to pull us into a sisyphean game of “king of the hill.” But we know who our king is. We have the peace that the world cannot give. We engage the suffering, degradation, and pain of this world with the confidence that comes from being not rebels, but servants of the true king.

How might this shift in perspective impact all of us who identify as followers of Jesus? Both for those of us who hold conservative viewpoints, as well as those of us who lean progressive, what does it mean for us that this world’s political, ideological, cultural, and economic systems are fallen and in rebellion against the kingdom of God? What does it mean for us to be loyalists of the one true king of the universe? How might our shared identity as citizens of the kingdom of God serve to unite us across partisan barriers?

Related Posts:

Have Progressives Made Trump God?

For Radicals, Living in Peace and Quietness Can Be A Challenge

  • broschultz

    Loyalists follow their ruler. We have to stop following the false rulers by living a life of simplicity; stop reacting to what those false rulers say; stop buying things we don’t need; stop spending money on “vacations” in places that have nothing to do with the life we are called to; watch over our hearts with all diligence for the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.

  • BCZ

    Thanks for this. It’s been on my mind for months and haven’t seen my own intuitions so clarfied and expressed back to me fully and objectively formed!

    Since this is the third time this has happened in two months, I am going to try a policy of just sitting tight on whatever troublesome nagging intuitions are bugging me and just wait for you to lay them out. Save me the work!

    • Haha, I’m glad to be of service. 😀

  • I think if Jesus is present with one, one sits with Jesus. one Walks With Jesus. One stands with Jesus. On a second-by-second basis existentially one is guided. This is a mystical relationship.

    1 John 2:27 As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you.

  • Steven Davison

    I guess I don’t agree with thee, Micah. Or, at least, I am clear that Jesus was a revolutionary. He preached a kingdom of God over and against the illegitimate puppet government of Judea and the Roman occupation. He was executed as an insurrectionist specifically for this claim on behalf of the kingdom of God. He cursed the temple state of Judea and predicted its utter overthrow. He declared this kingdom when he entered Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday while his followers sang a coronation hymn. Then he raided the temple state’s currency exchange. He denied the temple state’s right to tax the people (after you render unto God what is God’s, there’s nothing left for Caesar). He actively undermined all the other major social-reliigous institutions of his homeland—the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Herodians, the scribes and officials of the temple state’s judicial system. He preached an apocalyptic end to the entire social order. I don’t know how much more revolutionary you can get.

    Granted, he did not justify a violent means to this end, though the purchase and use of the sword at his arrest and some of his sayings (the first shall be last and the last first, etc.) throw a little confusion on that. So by revolution I mean a radical transformation of the social order, radical in the sense of transforming it to the roots.

    Nor do I see a contradiction between following him and revolution. If we were to model our own meeting life on the radical way he constructed the household church, as evidenced in Acts 2 and 4, in fulfillment of the Jubilee he declared in Luke 4:14–30, we would be reconstructing our micro-social order down to its roots.

  • ribchwi

    You’re absolutely right, Micah. Our sense of purpose as Christians is different when we consider that this world’s governments and structures are not our own, and that the true King will return to this Earth with his own ways and government that we try to represent in our corporate lives as the body of Christ.

    That frees us to stand up for the Kingdom of Heaven regardless of what others might say or think, and not to get to caught up in the partisan rancor and warfare that characterizes our age.

    I still think we’re subversive, but in a way that alarms every branch of the political and social world that is available to us today.

    Thanks for your insight.

    • Definitely subversive! Just perhaps not in the way some of us like to imagine subversion. 🙂 Thanks, ribchwi.

  • ″If Jesus isn’t a rebel, but rather the Authority, where does that leave us? We’re not radicals or dissidents. We’re loyalists. In the midst of a darkened and confused rebellion, we remember who the king is. The kingdom of God isn’t about overthrowing the rebel institutions and power structures of this world; it’s about holding fast in our loyalty to our true leader.″

    Sermon V, in That Thy Candles May Always Be Burning, opens with a very powerful proclamation of how the kingdom of God comes after the ministration of John the Baptist: The rough ways are made smooth, the mountains brought down. Then comes the King like a stone cut out of a mountain without the aid of human hands. The King comes in the power of God, not the power of man. With this power the threshing floor is purged, the chaff burned, the grain gathered into the granary. None enter the kingdom except they pass through Moses, the prophets, and John the greatest prophet born of woman. Death reigned from Moses to John, but now life is come. The power of God brings life, which is greater than the power of death. Fox stated:

    ″Therefore I say, you that know this and have felt this: no tool nor hand hath been in this work, nor man with arts and wisdom, but God’s eternal power (before arts or tools were) which is universal. Let your faith stand in this power. Here is no fear of man [for] everyone that knows it. Blessed be God forever! Through sufferings and sorrows is God’s everlasting power seen and known. (That Thy Candles… p. 101)

    and

    ″…He is come whose Kingdom is preached, his gospel is preached, his power is everlasting. Now I say, every man and woman that hath known and felt the eternal power of the Lord God almighty; let your faith still stand in it. Keep your testimony to the ancient way and primitive truth, which was first and before all times, is the same, and will be to all eternity; fresh and green as it was twenty years past.″ (ibid. p. 102)

    This theme is reiterated throughout the sermon: ″Keep your testimony, feel your testimony…″ And always the testimony we are to keep and to feel is to the actions of Christ within and among us fulfilling his offices. It is here, in witnessing the work of Christ within and among us, that we take up the cross, the power of God, that crucifies us to the world and makes us alive to God. If you have witnessed Jesus Christ to be your everlasting shepherd, then keep your testimony by following no other voice, feeding in no other pasture, or sheltering in no other fold. If you have witnessed Jesus Christ to be your teacher and prophet who opens to you the mysteries of the kingdom, then keep your testimony and follow no other teacher. If you have witnessed Jesus Christ to make you alive and bring you up out of your grave, then keep your testimony to the Son, whose words bring life and light.

    This sermon is a must-read, I can’t do it justice here. The book is available on Amazon.

  • David H. Albert

    “it’s about holding fast in our loyalty to our true leader.”

    It’s why I could never be a Christian. Just substitute the name of any two-bit demagogue or dictator you happen to like.

    This doesn’t speak to my faith in the least.

  • ≖ It’s a bit confusing to see left-wing, Democratic Party, socialism, and anarchism all mushed together, and then liberal used in juxtaposition to right-wing. In reality all these terms have very different meanings.

    • barbara.hrrsn@gmail.com

      Trouble is, most people don’t take the time to define their terms and see if they all know what they are talking about.

  • Brother Karekin Yarian

    Yes…and.

    Jesus emptied himself of all power and called us to do likewise. So, while we are called to loyalty to the King, Jesus has provided a new model of what Kingship looks like, an authority defined not by power but by love, self-sacrifice, and friendship. By precisely not exercising power or dominion over one another, either by politics, religion, or any other earthly models of domination. Jesus is the “UN-King.”