Political Life Begins in the Church


The Scriptures call us to submit to the governing authorities (Rom. 13; 1 Pet. 2). However, there are also plenty of examples of God’s people subverting the system.

Jesus declared the kingdom in a midst of the Roman Empire. Paul proclaimed a subversive message that got him thrown in jail. Daniel defied the Babylonian empire. Nathan critiqued and confronted Israel’s king. John the Baptist spoke against King Herod’s marriage. John the Apostle was exiled to the island of Patmos by Rome. And when the apostles were told to stop preaching the gospel, they said, “We must obey God rather than human authorities” (Acts 5:29).

The most subversive thing we can do is exist as the kingdom of God amid the kingdom of man.

This was Jesus and Paul’s main political action. They came announcing a new way and forming a new community. We too witness to the world about the king and his kingdom where justice, peace, and harmony reside. Jesus didn’t seek to change the structures around him. He preached another politic, another way.

And this alternative politic is manifested where? In the community of believers we call the church.

That is one reason it is so important to be a part of a local church and around other Christians that remind you of your true loyalty and the kingdom to come. Whenever a preacher preaches, he makes a political speech, reminding you that Jesus is King in the present. Whenever you receive communion, you re-pledge your allegiance to Christ’s kingdom. And whenever you share the gospel of Christ with a neighbor, friend, or family member, you are helping advance Christ’s campaign among the nations.

For a Christian, the political life must begin inside the church.

Though this might sound like “standard Christian advice,” it is of utmost importance. The local church is the political rallying point for all of God’s people. We all occupy different stations, but we are all politicians.

Stay-at-home moms might wonder what the “political gospel” has to do with them. In training their kids to love the heavenly king, they are the first specialists for a new heavenly citizen. Businessmen and women are ambassadors for a new regime behind enemy lines. Artists and creatives provide symbols and images for a new kingdom. Musicians craft songs and liturgy that form our desires and imaginations for a new city. Teachers and students are training for a life of influence under the reign of their sovereign.

Our primary subversive political witness is to create a community that is loyal to King Jesus and make all other political allegiances pale in comparison. A political gospel subordinates all other tribal instincts. And this will have a leavening effect upon society.

We must remember that we have ordered allegiances. There is something Christians must yield to Caesar, but they must not yield what has previously been demanded by their Creator. Though Paul claimed he was a Roman citizen, he never sang, “I am proud to be a Roman, where at least I know I’m free” (as far as I know).

The million-dollar question is when and how do we subvert the state? No easy answers present themselves, but it’s important to remember that the church had minimal direct confrontation with the empire. Though Paul’s message was interpreted as defying Caesar, Paul did not denounce Caesar. He proclaimed another king; he didn’t seek to unseat Caesar. His critiques were indirect and incidental, not direct or deliberate.

In the words of Oliver O’Donovan, “God has no spies; he has prophets.”1 The church speaks of God’s rule in prophecy and prayer, not through the gun and sword. The Holy Spirit gives the church the authority to confront civil rulers. The church prophecies to the world about Christ’s reign and the coming judgment. But she also prays for the world, asking God for his mercy upon it (1 Tim. 2).

The church conquers and subverts the state from below, not from above.2 Paul wasn’t interested in a top-down approach. The church is a grassroots movement, as the kingdom is not a fully-grown tree. It is a seed planted in the ground that grows slowly. Sometimes this growth goes undetected because, in our new condition, we become better citizens of the state by reminding them of their duty.

The best way we can be politically subversive is not marching downtown, not seeking to install new judges who agree with us, not electing Presidents who will promote Christian values—though all of these things might be limited goods. No, the best thing we can do is to establish strong political (not partisan) churches who proclaim the gospel of Christ that transcends any earthly party or politician. This is our primary political witness.

Excerpted with permission from Political Gospel by Patrick Schreiner. Copyright 2022, B&H Publishing.

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[1] O’Donovan, The Desire of the Nations, 11, 187.

[2] O’Donovan, The Desire of the Nations, 193.

Patrick Schreiner

Patrick Schreiner is an elder at Emmaus Church in Kansas City, Missouri, the Director of the Residency PhD program and Associate Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and the author of Political Gospel. You can find him on Twitter at @pj_schreiner.

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