Welcome to this instalment of the series, The Church and Politics. If you’ve not been following the series, please go to www.myilluminare.com/the-church-and-politics/ to read the last nine instalments.
One of the arguments advanced against Christians participating in politics is the fact the apostles never did. That is a curious argument considering the Roman authority regarded Christians as the radical opposition. Christians were a political threat to Rome. It’s why Rome went after them, viciously. That was the whole purport of the latter part of Hebrews 11, the part we choose to ignore in our definition of faith. Many were slaughtered on political calculation. They “were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.” (Hebrews 11:35-38 NLT) They were victims of political persecution.
We also tend to forget Christianity evolved in form and structure. The people weren’t called “Christians” originally. There was nothing like that. It was years after the Church began that the people were labelled “Christians”, and that was in Antioch in Syria. (Acts 11:29) They didn’t give themselves the name “Christian”. The world did, and it stuck. But it was appropriate branding. Christ is the root identity. It was far better than being described as belonging to “The Way.” (Acts 9:2) That was inelegant. The Way was considered a cult actually, which was why they were said to belong to “the sect of the Nazarenes.” (Acts 24:14, Acts 24:5 NLT)
The word “Christian” appears only three times in the Bible – Acts 11:26, Acts 26:28, 1 Peter 4:16. The early Christians actually preferred “Disciples”. The word “disciple” is “mathetos” in Greek. It means someone trained or taught. “Disciples” appears 31 times in the book of Acts. Paul also used the word “saint” extensively. The word is “hagios” in Greek, “kadosh” in Hebrew. It means “set apart” or “separated.” It doesn’t mean holy person or dead Christian.
The early church adapted and evolved, and they read the evolution as the move of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit confirmed these adaptations with signs and wonders. When Gentiles were baptised in the Holy Spirit, it signified the direction of expansion of the church. (Acts 11: 15-23) The word “church” came much later. It’s from the latter Greek word, “Kyriakos”. The New Testament word translated “church” is “ekklesia”. It means a gathering of citizens called from their homes into a public place or assembly. The word was borrowed from Greece. The Ekklesia in Athens was the principal assembly of the democracy of the ancient city-state, the popular assembly. It was open to all male citizens as soon as they came of age (18). The Ekklesia had final control over policy, including the right to hear appeals in the public court, take part in the election of chief magistrates, and confer special privileges on individuals. “Ekklesia” (church) is thus a borrowed political terminology by the Church. Which explains why both Peter and Paul called Christians “citizens.” (Ephesians 2:19)
The early conception of the Church, the earliest understanding of what the Church was, was political, not religious. In fact, the job titles we deem “spiritual” in origin – “bishop”, “deacon” and “elder” were borrowed from the world around. The Greek words are episkopos (bishop), diakonos (deacon), presbuteros (elder). Bishop simply means “overseer,” or general manager/superintendent in today’s terms. The Episkopoi or bishops were Athenian officials sent into allied cities in order to set up a democratic constitution.
Diakonos or deacon simply means “servant”. It’s from the word, “Diakonia”, which means “to serve especially at table”. The first set of deacons in the church oversaw food service. (Acts 6) Presbuteros on the other hand simply meant “elder”. It wasn’t a specially coined word for Christianity. Among the Jews, it meant those in separate cities who managed public affairs and administered justice. Which explains why Paul left this instruction for Titus: “For this reason I left you behind in Crete, so that you would set right what remains unfinished, and appoint elders in every city as I directed you…” (Titus 1:5 Amp) The first set of deacons were appointed to take care of the poor – “The Twelve called a meeting of the disciples. They said: “It wouldn’t be right for us to abandon our responsibilities for preaching and teaching the Word of God to help with the care of the poor. So, friends, choose seven men from among you whom everyone trusts…” (Acts 6:1-4 MSG)
The early church organised based on imperatives. The organogram of the Church was driven by exigencies and mission imperatives. There were social imperatives, economic imperatives, political imperatives, cultural imperatives. The Church responded to those imperatives.
The three most potent factors militating against the early church were persecution, heresy and poverty. And the Church rose to the occasion. In response to persecution the people fanned out and the gospel spread internationally: “Those who had been scattered by the persecution triggered by Stephen’s death travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch but they were still only speaking and dealing with their fellow Jews. Then some of the men from Cyprus and Cyrene who had come to Antioch started talking to Greeks, giving them the Message of the Master Jesus. GOD WAS PLEASED WITH WHAT THEY WERE DOING AND PUT HIS STAMP OF APPROVAL ON IT—quite a number of the Greeks believed and turned to the Master.” (Acts 11:19-21 MSG) In other words, the early disciples were pro-active. God then put his stamp of approval on their actions.
In response to the heresy of Docetic Gnosticism, people like Apostle John took up the gauntlet through literary work. John insisted Jesus came bodily, died bodily, rose bodily: “There are a lot of smooth-talking charlatans loose in the world who refuse to believe that Jesus Christ was truly human, a flesh-and-blood human being. Give them their true title: Deceiver! Antichrist!” (2 John 1:7 MSG) “Here’s how you test for the genuine Spirit of God. Everyone who confesses openly his faith in Jesus Christ—the Son of God, who came as an actual flesh-and-blood person—comes from God and belongs to God.” (1 John 4:2-3 MSG)
In response to the challenge of poverty, the church evolved programmes and strategies. The early disciples weren’t rich. Most were poor. As Paul wrote, “Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you.” (1 Corinthians 1:26 NLT) There was a sprinkling of rich folks – people like Ananias and Sapphira, and Barnabas. They sold their land and donated the proceeds towards the poverty alleviation programmes of the church; though that ended up pretty badly for Ananias and Sapphira. (Acts 5:1-11) The fact is, the church innovated a solution for poverty: “There were no needy people among them because those who owned land or houses would sell them and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need.” (Acts 4:34-35 NLT)
Paul also organised offerings for the Church in Jerusalem. The Corinthian church was rich and were known givers, but the Macedonian church was poor and yet they gave: “They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity. For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will. They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem. They even did more than we had hoped, for their first action was to give themselves to the Lord and to us, just as God wanted them to do.” (2 Corinthians 8:2-5 NLT)
The Church reacted to situational imperatives. That was the spirit, and that spirit is in no less demand in the 21st century. The critical question is, what are the challenges the church faces in the 21st century?
Without a doubt, the political context remains a challenge for the Church. Satan still leverages the power of the state against the Church. We find Christians being persecuted in many countries. There’s also the cultural challenge. Sociology is being edited contra scriptures and poverty remains a challenge. The 21st-century church must adapt and innovate to meet these challenges. Christians CANNOT in anyway abandon the political, social or cultural space. They will be in peril if the world history is any guide. Get involved in politics!
We continue the series next week. To read the full version of The Church and Politics Part 10: Extant Imperatives go to www.myilluminare.com/the-church-and-politics/
If you’ll like to receive Jesus into your life please pray this prayer: “Father I acknowledge that I am a sinner, that Jesus died for me, that you raised him from the dead. Father, please forgive me. I accept Jesus today as my Lord and my Saviour. Amen.”
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Christians CANNOT in anyway abandon the political, social or cultural space. They will be in peril if the world history is any guide. Click To Tweet