A couple of days ago I was reading an article by NT Wright (published in 2002) where he makes a challenging assertion:
The very existence of the church is an affront to the principalities and powers in general (Ephesians 3:10) and to Caesar in particular, because here within his empire is a growing group of people giving allegiance to a different lord—as Luke says, to ‘another king’ (Acts 17:7). The church, through its exodus-shaped life (1 Corinthians 10:1–13), is also a revelation of the true God. Paul’s strong pneumatology, which he does not retract in the face of muddle, sin and rebellion in the Corinthian church, ensures that he sees the very existence, let alone the obedient life, of the church as a vital sign to the world of who its rightful God and Lord now are.
N. T. Wright, Pauline Perspectives: Essays on Paul, 1978–2013 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2013), 246.
In this article, as he frequently does, Wright is making the point that the gospel message of Jesus as Messiah and lord is a direct challenge to Caesar who was, himself, claiming to be the lord of the world.
In Paul’s day, the communities of people who believed in Jesus were relatively small and could have easily been dismissed as politically insignificant but this didn’t prevent Paul proclaiming his message that the man who was crucified by the Romans had been brought back to life, demonstrating the validity of his claim to be Messiah and Lord, and that his authority was supreme.
Over the centuries those belonging to the Christian church were persecuted, the Christian church became the state religion of the empire, the church became a powerful political organisation and then – in most countries – its influence declined. Now, in some countries Christians are oppressed, in others the church is part of the establishment, in others the church is free to exist and worship but isn’t seen as significant in public life.
If Paul were still writing and speaking I think he would be accused of making the same claims – in whatever context he found himself – that there is another king and that this king is Jesus (Acts 17:7). And I think that one of the challenges facing the church today is that we have allowed ourselves, in many cases, to forget that this claim is true and that it should powerfully affect all aspects of our lives. And, as a consequence, we are not being the positive influence for good that our contexts need us to be.
What difference would it make if each of us who are follower of Jesus recognised the authority of Jesus over our lives, if we were prepared to leave everything and follow him, if we were prepared to submit our desires and goals to what he wanted?
What difference would it make if all our churches fully recognised that Jesus is king, that his agenda is what is important – not ours – and he invites us to be part of his mission in the world instead of us inviting him to be involved in ours?
What difference would it make if each of us and each of our churches recognised that Jesus is king in our schools, in our workplaces, in our communities? And that he calls on us to be his representatives in those places and among the people who live and work there?
What difference would it make if we recognised our responsibility to speak out and act against those things which are wrong and unjust in our nation when those things go against the authority and kingship of Jesus?
Jesus, famously, called on his followers to be salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:13-16). Commenting on the idea of being salt, the late John Stott said this:
God intends us to penetrate the world. Christian salt has no business to remain snugly in elegant little ecclesiastical salt cellars; our place is to be rubbed into the secular community, as salt is rubbed into meat, to stop it going bad. And when society does go bad, we Christians tend to throw up our hands in pious horror and reproach the non-Christian world; but should we not rather reproach ourselves? One can hardly blame unsalted meat for going bad. It cannot do anything else. The real question to ask is: where is the salt?
John R. W. Stott and John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian Counter-Culture (The Bible Speaks Today; Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 65.
There is much more to be said about the role of those who have chosen to follow Jesus in how we can recognise, proclaim and demonstrate that Jesus is king – whatever our society would tell us. And I hope to pick this up again in later posts. But, probably more importantly, I hope to continue to work out what the lordship and kingship of Jesus should mean to me and what part I can play in being salt and light in his world.