Church and Politics, Part Two

“Give us a king to lead us…”. – I Samuel 8:6

God has a dream for this world, a dream in which justice and peace prevail for all people. A dream in which all that sin has destroyed is restored and all Creation is renewed. The Bible calls that dream “The Kingdom of God.” And because this is God’s Kingdom, God is the King who rules with justice and righteousness to make it so.

Until God’s people looked and saw that the nations around them had human kings to rule over them. And they said to the prophet Samuel, “Give us a king to lead us.” Samuel knew this was an epic mistake, replacing their righteous King, Yahweh, with flawed, human kings. He warned the people, saying…

“This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the LORD will not answer you in that day.” – 1 Samuel 8:11-18

But the people didn’t listen. They insisted upon having a human king.

Samuel was both right…and wrong. God allowed the Israelites to have kings, and with a few notable exceptions (eg. Hezekiah) the kings abused their power, unjustly oppressed the orphan, the widow and the alien, and brought the nation to the brink of ruin. The role of the king was to represent the righteous and just reign of God on earth, but they failed. The gravitational pull of sin was too strong. They gave in to selfishness, fear, envy and greed. Sound familiar? It’s no different than any human government we have ever known. Samuel got that much right.

But when the people cried out to God, God did answer them. That’s what Samuel got wrong. And one of God’s gracious responses to the cries of his oppressed people was to send prophets. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Micah, to name a few. The prophets boldly and publicly pointed to the gap between the human kings’ reign and God’s dream for the world. The prophets condemned in the strongest terms the injustice they saw in the political systems of their day. Most of the kings didn’t like the prophets, but the prophets were God’s gift to God’s people.

All human leadership is accountable to God, from the Hebrew kings to the Roman Caesars to our own legislature. And God continues to gift God’s people with a voice that advocates for the values of justice and peace and equity for all. That voice was embodied in the prophets of old. And today it is embodied in the Church. We are called to be the voice that holds leadership – Church leadership, corporate leadership, governmental leadership – accountable to the values of God’s dream, especially as they are revealed in the life and teachings of Jesus. Being flawed ourselves we don’t always get it right, or do it in the right way. But we do it anyway, trusting in the Spirit’s guidance. That’s why politics belong in the Church.

In next week’s blog I want to expand on the idea that politics belong in the Church if we’re going to be faithful to our calling. We’ll look more deeply into the prophetic traditions of Isaiah and Micah, understand just how politically subversive it was to confess “Jesus is Lord” in the first century, and see Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem as nothing short of a protest march.

Jeff Marian serves as lead pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, MN

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