5 Ways To Be Political The Way Jesus & Early Christians Were Political

5 Ways To Be Political The Way Jesus & Early Christians Were Political February 10, 2017


Some say that Christianity by nature is political.

To a great degree, that’s absolutely true– though I think we must be careful to not simply leave it there as if Christianity is political in the way the world is political– because it’s not.

Christianity is political precisely because it declares that “Jesus is Lord.”

When the first Christians began to utter that now central confession of the Christian faith, it was absolutely a political statement. Originally the popular saying was “Caesar is Lord,” so to replace Caesar with Jesus was not just political in nature, it was actually an act of political rebellion from the system these early Christians found themselves in.

Another famous term Jesus used was “Kingdom” which is also political– it’s hard to flip a page of the Gospels without Jesus referring to it, and some of the central teachings of Jesus are directly related to how things work in his political world.

While one of the very first acts of Jesus was to categorically reject political power (something as an Anabaptist I completely affirm), there was certainly a political edge to his ministry.

The word politics itself refers to “policies” that impact the general public, and while neither Jesus nor the early Christians told the government the best way to do things, they most certainly spoke out on how people ought to be treated. Thus, as we revisit Christian origins and those who founded our religion, here’s 5 ways to be political the way Jesus and early Christians were political:

5.  Critique the political landscape in as much as you are attempting to show the world that the principles of God’s Kingdom are radically different.

As Christians we must not engage the political arena out of loyalty to a nation or political party. We must not become people who blindly carry the water for a political group. Jesus and the early Christians avoided this entirely– they were focused on building God’s other-worldly Kingdom that operated on a completely different set of principles than any nation then or now.

Instead, when we critique policies or rebuke leaders, may we do it out of loyalty to Kingdom principles and a desire to show the world that so many national political values do not line up with Kingdom values. We must critique in as much as we’re showing a difference between the two. (This principle is exactly why I, a non-voting Anabaptist/Mennonite type, still speak out on some political issues– I want to illustrate the difference between the two Kingdoms.)

4. Don’t confuse the calling to prophetically rebuke power to that of wanting/attempting to assume power.

The quest for power has the ability to suck you in– and once it does, it re-wires your brain to a degree where you’d be lucky to ever get it back. We must remember that even though Jesus and early Christians spoke out on policies that impacted people (politics) they did not get caught up in a quest for political power or positions.

Politicians may be able to make sweeping changes in policy, but we are the ones who are able to make sweeping changes in culture– and changing culture is what brings the most effective and longest lasting change to the world. This is precisely why Jesus and the early Christians focused on being culture changers instead of culture rulers.

3. Don’t wait for government to solve problems– get busy participating in solutions.

Certainly the Bible prescribes certain functions/responsibilities for earthly rulers. Throughout the Old Testament God commanded kings to tend to certain things, such as ensuring redistributive justice for the poor, the widow, and the orphan, and welcoming immigrants. However, and I’ll admit, we on the left are good at this: we must not wait for government to solve problems. Government is exceedingly slow and often inefficient.

The early Christians didn’t wait for government- they got busy thinking of solutions. For example, early Christians dealt with poverty by sharing their wealth in-kind, rejecting personal ownership of property, and redistributing wealth to the poor and needy. While government can– and I say, does, have a legitimate, biblical mandate to ensure such things– we must not wait or place hope in that. Instead, we must get busy working toward solutions all on our own.

2. Speak loudest not on the issues most important to you, but those which impact the marginalized, forgotten, and the thrown away.

Jesus and the early Christians didn’t get involved politically to speak for themselves. They didn’t argue for lower taxes so they could have more money left at the end of the year. Instead, they spoke out on the issues that most desperately impacted the marginalized, the forgotten, and those that culture had thrown away.

Jesus spoke forcefully on caring for the hungry, the naked, for immigrants, for those in prison, etc. Early Christians also focused heavily on those issues, in addition to issues such as vocally opposing capital punishment (which was universally believed by Christians to be abhorrent).

Want to speak out politically? Fine– but speak out primarily on the issues that impact culture’s forgotten and thrown away.

1. Rebuke the religious leaders who collude with political power-holders to oppress people in the name of religion.

Speaking out politically is primarily an issue of speaking to secular government. However, all throughout history there have been religious leaders who colluded with government powers for either money, fame, power, influence, or other non-Jesusy desires (think Franklin Graham).

While I believe speaking out on politics and even criticizing political leaders is part of the Christian tradition (John the Baptist was a political prisoner who was executed for rebuking the King’s sexual immorality), Jesus held his sharpest rebukes for the powerful religious leaders who tried to oppress others by enforcing their rigid religious rules on everyone else (again, think Franklin Graham).

In fact, Jesus spent most if his time rebuking this particular group because he was far more concerned with how religious leaders were treating people than how secular political leaders were treating people. It got so bad that– not to spoil the ending of the story for those who haven’t seen the movie version yet– but these religious leaders don’t just block Jesus on Facebook; they actually used their influence with secular political forces to have Jesus tortured and murdered.

No one hated Jesus more than conservative religious leaders who were knee-deep into secular politics.

Is Christianity political by nature? Most certainly– but it’s not political in nature the way the world is.

As Christians, I hope we’ll continue the tradition of being “political” but in as much as we are political the way Jesus and early Christians were political. When we speak, may we do so in order to demonstrate the Kingdom of Jesus is totally different. When we rebuke power, may we resist the the allure to become power. When we identify needs, let us be the first in line to offer a solution and support. As we speak on issues, may we speak the loudest on the issues that impact those with less privilege than ourselves.

Most of all, for those of us who want to be political the way Jesus was political, may we save our harshest rebukes for our own religious leaders who collude with the powerful in order to coerce others in the name of “religion.”

unafraid 300Dr. Benjamin L. Corey is a public theologian and cultural anthropologist who is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with graduate degrees in the fields of Theology and International Culture, and holds a doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is also the author of the new book, Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, which is available wherever good books are sold. www.Unafraid-book.com. 

Be sure to check out his new blog, right here, and follow on Facebook:

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  • Herm

    political – adjective –
    ** relating to the government or the public affairs of a country.
    ** relating to the ideas or strategies of a particular party or group in politics.
    ** interested in or active in politics.

    In this U.S. of A. the court system, the executive office and the congress are political as the three are constitutionally equal, check and balance, branches of government.

    Jesus is political, equally concerned with the government of all mankind today because He has a strategy, prompted by a love for all children of Man, to offer an eternal visa to a perfectly benevolent kingdom. Jesus is political leading, teaching and serving His disciples (all whose spirit is a child of God as is His) because He has all authority over heaven and on earth – “not to spoil the ending of the story for those who haven’t seen the movie version yet” – heaven is eternal and the earth is not, dust to dust, ashes to ashes, spirit to spirit.

    From my heart and mind I vote. I vote because my puny little influence is prompted by my love for all children of Man, not my allegiance to just the survival of my one nation at the cost of many outsiders. I am most proud to vote for the huddled masses yearning to breathe free from war torn nations, those nations that I am unable to speak out or vote to influence from within. I am most proud to be able to influence in love the best I have learned from within this nation that, so far, allows me to speak out and to cast my ballot. I am most proud when I know that someone was lifted up by my vote to find heaven when all they knew before was the hell of “me and mine before you get what’s left”.

    While the soldiers were casting their lots, Jesus politically cast the greatest vote for the good of all mankind, testifying His allegiance to all mankind as one and to our creator God, as one, who serves because They love mankind before mankind knows to love Them. The last measure Jesus marked on His ballot was the request of forgiveness for all those who knew not what they were doing in governing the public affairs of this earth.

  • Realist1234

    ‘early Christians dealt with poverty by… rejecting personal ownership of property’

    – not sure if thats actually true. More an assumption. It isnt ‘immoral’ to own property, then or now. I assume you rent your home.

    ‘Early Christians also focused heavily on those issues, in addition to issues such as vocally opposing capital punishment (which was universally believed by Christians to be abhorrent).’

    – or perhaps not: http://angelusnews.com/articles/for-catholics-trump-s-scotus-pick-may-stir-both-hopes-and-fears

    ‘No one hated Jesus more than conservative religious leaders who were knee-deep into secular politics.’

    – well specifically Jewish religious leaders who rejected Him as the Jewish Messiah, so Im not sure you can simply equate them with today’s Christian leaders. And it wasnt ‘conservative’ leaders who hated Him, it was ‘hypocritical’ religious leaders of any kind (Im sure there are few of them in the progressive/liberal camp?).

    As for ‘secular politics’ I think it is a good thing that some Christians are directly involved, such as MPs in the UK.

  • Well said, Benjamin. I agree that we in the kingdom are to change people–not control governments. Whenever Christians come into governmental power, their focus changes from Jesus to Caesar. And when they begin to force their religion on others, they have lost the kingdom ethic altogether.

  • “As Christians we must not engage the political arena out of loyalty to a nation or political party. We must not become people who blindly carry the water for a political group.” This is a good blanket summary of the Democrat Party today. The party is so out of control that its leaders have defined their mission as “total obstruction.” Now a shadow of its former self, the party lies in its own decay, trying to plot a comeback without realizing the people have rejected it. It needs to be replaced not repaired.

    “Politicians may be able to make sweeping changes in policy, but we are the ones who are able to make sweeping changes in culture– and changing culture is what brings the most effective and longest lasting change to the world.” Progressive cultural change is anti-christian. This is why it was rejected. The people have made a “sweeping change.”

    “Early Christians also focused heavily on those issues, in addition to issues such as vocally opposing capital punishment (which was universally believed by Christians to be abhorrent).” This is a statement without support. I would ask you which “early Christians” and what issues?

    “Jesus held his sharpest rebukes for the powerful religious leaders who tried to oppress others by enforcing their rigid religious rules on everyone else (again, think Franklin Graham).” Jesus focused his sharpest criticism on the Jewish religious leaders of his day. Those leaders did not oppress their members they enforced their “Law” which Jesus pointed out had become bureaucratic. Jesus said they were more interested in trivia that the weightier matters of the Law. Jewish Law proscribed the death penalty for certain offenses as did Roman Law which the Jews were subjected to at that time in history. When Jesus preached the crowds came en masse to hear him proclaim religious liberty not violent protests.

    “As Christians, I hope we’ll continue the tradition of being “political” but in as much as we are political the way Jesus and early Christians were political. When we speak, may we do so in order to demonstrate the Kingdom of Jesus is totally different. When we rebuke power, may we resist the the allure to become power. When we identify needs, let us be the first in line to offer a solution and support. As we speak on issues, may we speak the loudest on the issues that impact those with less privilege than ourselves.” But today Progressives mainly speak on lawless social issues aimed at personal pleasure. Where are the Progressives on poverty in this country; on drug use in this country; on family in this country? Answer: they are silent.

  • Steven Douglas

    One item not coveredin the other comments, is that Jesus was not opposing “conservative” leaders. The High Priest, the Sadducees, and some of the Pharisees were colluding with the Romans and had liberalized the Law in many ways to accomodate Roman sensibilities. They even tested Jesus in this manner – “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar?”. Jesus was killed as an insurrectionist as a way to preserve the nation from Rome – at least that was the High Priest’s view. Jesus never abrogated the Law, he held to its spirit. He loved those who followed it, and was angered by those who used it for their own gain and purposes – the heart of Paganism which God condemned in Deuteronomy.

    We must not make the mistake of reading our own cultural views and stuggles back on the text.

  • Rhinnie

    I think the point is you can be a Christian and not a progressive or conservative, republican or democratic, even if perhaps some of your views or ideas align with one group or the other. It isn’t right to say “If you are Christian than you must be Republican” — pretty sure heaven had no political parties.

    Also… to say progressive culture is anti-Christian?! Jesus brought progressive culture! If you are talking about modern progressiveness in the United States you should be clear because that is one incorrect generalization.

  • John

    Neither Jesus or early Christians advocated using governmental powers to carry out the work Jesus laid out for the church.

    Caring for the poor, the orphans, the widows, etc. is the job of the church. The church was never told to force everyone, even those out of the church, to participate.

  • Bones

    Not according to Bob.

    Jesus was a republican.

  • Rhinnie

    Christianity and Governement has had quite the relationship over the centuries since Jesus. To try to determine exactly how Jesus and the early church would have opporated within or outside government is fruitless as government and the church look very different at this time.

  • Rhinnie

    The original republican I am sure.

  • John

    Yet we can look at the words of Jesus and his followers and see that he never called for the church to use the government or force others to follow his teachings. He told his church to do those things, that’s it.

  • Rhinnie

    Right, my point is that our modern day democracy would be unheard of at the time the bible was written especially among a persecuted group like the Jewish people. Jesus in just being who he was did challenge the religious leaders of the time who were the powers/authorities among them.

    Plus, right now, promoting any social change is considered politics, which is ridiculous. Like if I were to say I believe immigrants should be treated with respect and be allowed reasonable ways to become a part of this country — my statement would be automatically coined as political when it is really my believe, the politics of it is a separate matter. I also do not think abortion is good or something I support…. but politically I believe making it legal is best. This is to me is what it means to be “political” and a christian = I am a christian therefore I believe “this” but the way government, politics, and society are I believe this should be run a way that could be concerned contrary, etc.

  • amylynn1022

    In the US at least, we often confuse partisan and political. The first is about supporting particular parties or politicians, the second is about taking an interest in the issues of running the state (which in a democracy we should all be doing, at least in theory). Churches can and should speak out regarding issues. What they should not be doing is advocating for certain politicians or political parties. Not just because they risk losing their favored tax status but because it is deeply corrupting for the church.

    While it is certainly appropriate for individuals to support candidates and party as individuals as people of faith we need to be careful not to mistake political stances for religious mandates. Whatever our views we need to always be willing to criticize those in power.

  • John

    Are you saying that Jesus called for Christians to institute the same kind of theocracy as the Jews were commanded to institute?

  • Summers-lad

    I agree with a lot of your post, but why do you not vote? I can understand that early Anabaptists would not get involved in any governmental positions because governments were authoritarian, and involvement would have meant at least colluding in, and probably participating in, use of violence and oppression. This was clearly a principled and honourable position, which I totally support. But in a democracy, and in view of your nos. 2 and 3, while accepting that there is no such thing as a Christian party (in the UK we have a “Christian Party”, but my view stands), and Christians don’t all agree on political issues anyway, why would you not vote for the party or candidate who comes closest to fulfilling a biblical mandate or are most likely (in your view) to benefit the marginalised?

  • Mike Smathers

    That is a simple Christian view. And true to its point. However, the reason that the U.S. government should take care of the broken, the downtrodden, the forgotten and the oppressed is because of American ideals as expressed in our founding documents and as modified by the will of the governed over the years since. It is not that America should be a “Christian” nation but that it should be a nation that lives up to its ideals..

  • John

    I don’t actually have a problem with people arguing for social programs. My problem is when people try to argue that any good Christian MUST want social programs because that’s what Jesus wanted.

  • Mike Smathers

    I do not believe that a Christian MUST support government social welfare programs, but I do think that any “Christian” who argues that Christians must NOT support government social welfare programs should be willing to sell all they have and give it to the poor. I also think that Christians have an obligation to council/complain about how the government is using our tax dollars. It is, after all, our money that supports what ever the government chooses to do, including going to war without good and sufficient reason.

  • Amy Archie

    Good luck finding a religious leader who is not in bed with political leaders on one side of the other.

  • onebluestocking

    Unfortunately there are more needy people than churches alone can feed, house, train for employment, etc. unless all Christians sell their possessions and give the money to the poor as the Bible instructs. Realistically that isn’t going to happen, but the government can help with social programs, rather than have the streets overrun with homeless people turning to crime out of desperation. In that case, the least the Christians can do is not complain that SOMEONE is taking care of the poor when they didn’t.

  • John

    Jesus didn’t make utilitarian arguments. He didn’t tell christians to go out and do what’s necessary in order to feed the poor. He told Christians to go out and feed the poor, themselves.

    Christians are welcome to argue for social programs. My problem is when they pretend like their Christianity compels them to do so.

  • JD

    See Shane Claiborne.

  • JD

    It doesn’t matter whether a democracy or authoritarian state…they are both propped up by the use or threat of violence. Voting, even in a democracy, is colluding with an inherently violent entity. It’s impossible to separate violence from man’s governments, because every single law is enforced through violence, or the threat thereof.

    But, let’s take a look at this election we just had in the US. Trump vs Hillary. Neither of these candidates possess a worldview that is remotely consistent with the teachings of Christ. Even if you want to go down to the 3rd parties, none of them possess a Christ-like worldview, especially given that their concepts of governance require the use of violence to some degree or another.

    You seem to be making the argument that I often hear every election cycle of voting for the “lesser of two evils”. I get the pragmatic argument for doing so, but Christ’s teachings are based on pragmatism. We aren’t called to ever embrace “lesser evil” because “lesser evil” is still “evil”.

    But, that’s my perspective on it as a Christian, pacifist and voluntaryist.

  • Summers-lad

    Thank you for your perspective. (I presume you meant to say “Christ’s teachings are not based on pragmatism.”)
    Can I ask you how you define violence? Granted, every government depends on violence or the threat of it in their defence policies, but I would not say that most laws depend on violence for their enforcement.
    Here we are fortunate in having more political parties than you do. In the Scottish Parliament we have two parties – SNP and Green – who are committed to the removal of nuclear weapons. Individual politicians of other parties share this commitment, including my local Labour candidate at the last UK election. I have other reasons for not voting SNP, but this policy is to me more of a “good” than a “lesser evil”. In the UK coalition government of 2010-2015, the Liberal Democrats prevented the Conservatives (for the period of that Parliament) from commissioning the renewal of Trident. I could use other examples of supporting good policies but this one very specifically relates to reducing the threat of violence.
    I work in local government. My job is planning and co-ordinating public transport. This I believe contributes to the good of society, although in times of austerity such as now there is a strong element of limiting the effect of cuts rather than making positive developments. I also like the fact that I am not supporting a specific commercial interest against competitors.
    So that’s something of my perspective.

  • David

    Probably one of the most lucid arguments I’ve read on the evils of voting. As a Christian voluntaryist myself you perfectly articulate my own sentiments. I’ve written about the somewhat from a secular perspective but still in line with what you wrote. Good job, well done. http://thirdway.crosstherubicon.us/why-i-dont-vote/

  • BT

    I believe my faith compels me to use all the tools at hand to address the needs of the less fortunate. Public, private – all is fair game. Divisions between the role of private vs public charity are, to me, completely irrelevant.

    The Old Testament is relatively clear that A nation is judged in part on how it treats is underclass. There isn’t a firm distinction between public and private. That’s a modern twist.

  • John

    The Old Testament also had zero knowledge of the kind of welfare state that exists today. So to use it in support of your positions seems extremely anachronistic.

    Do you think that taxation can become equivalent to theft at any point? Say a government that confiscated 90% of all incomes?

  • BT

    It’s funny. The anachronism argument is what I would use as support. It cuts both ways – since the idea of a welfare state is new, but the idea of a civil social safety net most certainly is not, to say that government has no role in seeking social welfare is reading a modern conservative ideology into a historical document. The way I read the Bible, the seeds of modern welfare thought are self-evident in the OT.

    My reformed theology is somewhat on display there. Christ enters the world to redeem ALL things – including government- in bringing his kingdom to fruition.

    As far as taxation being theft? No, I don’t believe that to be the case, though there are levels of taxation that might obviously be counterproductive. Speaking as an economist, it’s evident that we are below that level (i.e. the inflection point on the so called Laffer curve.)

  • John

    Did I say that civil society has no role in providing for the poor? No, I did not. I said that Jesus did not command us to provide for the poor through governmental action. He did not tell us to force others who are unwilling to give charity, to give charity.

    His call was for Christians and for the church. We are supposed to be a light to the darkness, not force the darkness to act like light.

  • BT

    “The party is so out of control that its leaders have defined their mission as ‘total obstruction.’ ”

    Which party are we talking about?

  • Funy. But I’ll answer anyway.
    The party who is meltdown mode because they lost the election. The party who is hiring professional protesters to harass and intimidate republicans at town hall meetings. The party who has created and is obsessed with a fictional Russian connection to try to delegitimize the current President only to expose the fact that their party surveilled the opposition candidate. The party who feels that baby killing is a “reproductive right.” The party that is gone for the next 30 years just like after Carter but doesn’t know it yet like a fish with it”s head cut off. Sound familiar?

  • BT

    Not really.

    When I was a republican, we would have gone apeshit if one of us had serious questions being raised about contact with Russian intelligence. Even the hint of it would have brought serious inquiry. Now it’s just shrugged off and denied. No one cares now. There’s hardly even any curiousity about it. It gets denied, and people just say “Well, there you have it. Didn’t happen. They said so.”

    We’ve gone from christians supporting a particular party to a particular taking what was once a real spiritual faith and turning it into some form of American civil religion.

  • BT

    Where does he say we can’t use government for that purpose?

  • John

    When Jesus tells you to do something a certain way it generally means that he wants you to do it in that way.

    With that said, I’ve already said that I think the government has a role to play. My issue is with the person who says that Jesus, himself, compels us to do so.

  • BT

    I’m doing it the way he said it. Where does he say I can’t also do it this other way?

    Does it have to be X or Y? It can’t be both X and Y?

    You’re basically arguing from silence there, which leads into all sorts of crazy places. What you’re really doing is searching for justification in the Bible for conservative politics, which is exactly what you object to from the left.

    Again, the irony….

  • John

    You CAN do that other way. The problem is when you say that every other Christian MUST do it the other way if they want to take Jesus seriously.

    Please actually read what I’m saying.

  • BT

    I did read it. And I understand it. I just have a different viewpoint and theology that says Christians who actively block aid to those less fortunate haven’t listened to the person they claim to follow.

    Much of what gets labeled Christianity these days is just American Civil Religion – a collective mythology intended to support an economic and social conservative ideology. Nothing more. We kid ourselves when we say it’s anything other.

  • John

    Right, so you think that Christians are held to a standard that was never actually espoused by Jesus or his apostles.

    That’s where we disagree.

  • BT

    Not at all. I just see certain principles being communicated and try not to let 21st century political ideologies blind me to that.

    From the perspective of the reformed tradition that I come from it’s perfectly consistent.

    You’re still arguing from silence though. At least I have a basis.

    Nuff said. Just writing all this for the benefit of someone who thinks all “Christians” believe like this.

  • John

    You’re still arguing from silence though. At least I have a basis.

    This is just plain non-sense. What claim have I made from silence? My entire argument is that you are making a claim beyond what Christ and his apostles ever made.

    Tell me, where does the Bible tell the church to force the darkness to act like light?

    As a side note: please don’t pretend like this flows from your “reformed” theology. None of the reformed theologians (as described by the Westminster Confession) I’ve ever heard would agree with your interpretation. They are almost without fail the most politically conservative branch of Christianity in the world.