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In the World, Not of the World - The Book of Revelation
Week 31, 2016
The world has changed in profound ways from the time of the prophetic church of Pergamos. Even the forms of government are different. We still have many autocratic governments where power is centered in a strongman (or woman) and usually supported by an elite political class. We also have a number of more democratic governments. However, the issue of how governments and the church, or other religions, relate to each other remains.
As we have covered, when Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire, making it mandatory for anyone holding a position in government to be a Christian, many unsavory and unprincipled people claimed to be Christians. Although true Christians may have raised the civil government’s character for a time, far more happened to corrupt the church than was done to elevate the government.
Before this, Christians had lived almost exclusively for the next life. There was little opportunity for them except the chance to be tried in the fires of persecution. When Christianity was made the state religion, suddenly worldly possibilities were everywhere, as Christianity became the fastest path to wealth and power. It seems that the devil’s strategy against the church was, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” This is an example of how the mixture of the state and church brought devastating corruption to the church that has many Christians today not wanting anything to do with civil affairs. Because of this example, they may have a good argument for their position, but is it right?
As stated, since this time there has been major change in the form of many governments. Until the American Revolution, virtually all governments were imperial. With the release of democracy and republican governments that resulted directly from the teaching of the Reformation, the people became the sovereign in these nations— governments existed to do the will of the people instead of the other way around. From this time, being “salt and light” was also interpreted as bringing Christian principles and standards of morality and integrity into government and the daily life of society.
This still opens important questions about how much Christians, or churches, should be involved in civil government. Jesus said that His kingdom was not of this world, so why should those seeking to prepare the way for the kingdom of God become engaged in any earthly government? The answer for many has been the Great Commission that is to disciple nations, not just individuals. We are here to prepare the way for the Lord and His kingdom, and one way that we do this is by standing for His righteousness and justice in government.
Large church denominations and movements have come from doctrines that sought to clarify this “two kingdoms” issue for Christians. These have had a major impact in the church and in government. This began when modern democracy and republican forms of government were birthed out of the Swiss Reformation under John Calvin, who is rightly called “the father of modern democracy” by many. Even though Calvin intended the form of government he taught to be for the church not civil authority, the two were so intermingled at the time that it naturally carried over into civil government.
Even with the great tragedy of the church at Pergamos and the terrible trials and mistakes of over one thousand two hundred years—a large part of the message of the rest of the Book of Revelation—the church finally landed on teachings about this that preserved the church’s nature and was a great benefit to the world. All of this unfolds in the Book of Revelation, but before we go there we need to cover more of the message to the church at Pergamos.
Once we answer the question that Christians can have a calling to civil government, how do we do this and remain the pure virgin waiting for the wedding feast of the Lord? If we perceive the church as a “holy nation,” our first identity should be to that more than any earthly nation. That does not negate the calling to civil government, but if a Christian in any position does not keep their primary devotion to the Lord and His kingdom, they are vulnerable to corruption by the spirit of the world. The unfolding message to the rest of the seven churches includes some other answers as to how individual Christians, and the church, must navigate this.
next week 32