As St Paul moves into chapter 3 in his letter to the Colossians, he gives us concrete advice how to be both heavenly minded and earthly good. May we all find his advice to look up to Christ, look in to deal with our sin, and look out with love to both God and neighbor to be not only practical, but also life-changing!
In Colossians 2, we discover that our Lord doesn’t want us to be bound up in spirituality that doesn’t work. No matter how hard we try to be good, how much we try to whip up devotion, no matter how many extras we add to our to our life beyond God’s command to love – the only way to begin (and continue!) to experience the abundant, resurrection life of Christ is to take hold of the baptismal promise we have by means of a living, active trust in Jesus. May we all tap into God’s best for us as we learn to live by faith instead of mere human effort.
The doctrine that we set up political authority, as a device to secure our own essentially private, local, and unpolitical purposes, has left the Western democracies in a state of pervasive moral debilitation, which, from time to time, inevitably throws up idolatrous and authoritarian reactions. – Oliver O’Donovan
This observation is from 1996 by Anglican theologian Oliver O’Donovan, and it rang out like a shot across the bow of my complacent ship. With all the hubbub over the rise of Trump in an increasingly less socially and religiously homogeneous America, I wanted to brush up on my political ethics. So a few months a go I started plodding through The Desire of Nations by O’Donovan and take my pulse and temperature politically and theologically.
I think, like many American Christians, I have taken for granted that worldly politics was best left to politicos while the Church focused on the more egregious forms of corruption or social discord that all political systems of every stripe tend to leave in their wake. But as I saw the growing tendency of Americans to confuse the Kingdom of God with the American Dream, I saw a commensurate embrace of will-to-power as a means to effect social and direct political change by the Church. Whether organizing protests and writing Congress on the left, or funding super-PACs and complaining via pulpit language about the collapse of society’s morals at campaign events on the right, I realized the de facto quasi-Anabaptist hands off approach to the Church’s relationship to the state was completely eroding.
Full disclosure, I am unabashedly not a supporter of Donald Trump. I am convinced he is stirring up the politics of hate and fear using a thinly disguised fascist playbook. And the fact that the Republican Party hasn’t the testicular fortitude to stand up to him is proof of the lack of courage our elected officials have, because power is more important than principle to them. But the deeper problem is the American Church’s embrace of societal idolatry and power-politics. The Church has confused patriotism for piety. This isn’t merely a problem on the right side of the political spectrum, the pejoratively called “God, guns, and apple pie” crowd. The left has also baptized American progressive ideology in practice without so much as requiring a wink or a nod to Jesus.
With no moral center rooted in an external source to which all people are accountable, American politics has devolved into Nietzschean will-to-power plays. And as the Church has ceded its truly prophetic voice – embracing not only the language, but the culture of unredeemed American values – we’ve become neutered in witness. Instead of demanding that Christ is the the one to whom “every knee will bow and every tongue confess” in the way we govern, we’ve taken the most expedient political course for our personal lives, then gussied it up with religious language. It’s time to genuinely start asking ourselves “How Would Jesus Govern?” and conform our political theologies accordingly. Besides, he’s already King of Kings. The question is, will the next President merely pay lip service to the morals and ethics Christ demands in how he or she governs, or will that President genuinely manifest the character and heart that Jesus demands of believing and unbelieving leaders alike? I’d like Dr. O’Donovan to remain a professor, and not be found some prescient prophet. I am anxious that may not be the case this election cycle.
Moving from Galatia to Colossae is certainly a step up in faith, even if the troubles afflicting both churches are similar. We pick up with Colossians 1 where St Paul expounds the Supreme Gospel that centers on our Supreme Lord. May we each find Jesus more than enough in this life and the next.
As we conclude Galatians (chapter 6), we find St Paul encouraging us to live in ways that build true Christian community. May we find ourselves growing closer to God and one another as we pursue unity, humility, generosity, grace, & courage.
Continuing through Galatians, in chapter 5 we discover what true spiritual freedom is – walking according to the Spirit, not according to the flesh. I pray that you might cultivate the fruit of the Spirit in order to be truly spiritual and genuine free.