Can I ask you to speak to the idea that the Kingdom of God is “not a political movement?” How are we to understand Paul who said “the kingdom of God is not meat and drink but righteousness, joy, and peace in the Holy Spirit”? This seems to be the most common scripture I hear in response to the idea that Christians should work to see the Kingdom of God impact all of society. This in addition to quoting Christ who said “My kingdom is not of this world.” I should clarify that I was suggesting that when people try to discourage me from reading so called social reform in the New testament they are implying that I am looking to the state or to man made laws to cure society…. They just cannot fathom how changing law’s is supposed to change people. You “cannot legislate morality” after all!
Noa in Hawaii
Thanks for asking your question. My “smoking crack” comment was an attempt at a little levity that fell flat. It’s just that it is hard for me to understand how people can’t understand the simple concept that we are talking about.
First, I honestly have no idea how anybody could appeal to Romans 14:17 as a passage to prove that the Kingdom of God does not or should not have impact on our varying cultural institutions (including but not exclusively our political institutions).
16 Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,
Keep in mind Noa, that the passage here is in the context of the issue of disputable matters which includes differing convictions of believers on what foods should and should not be consumed. St. Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is making the case that the kinds of matters brought up in Romans 14 are what are called adiaphora (actions that morality neither mandates nor forbids). St. Paul is communicating that the Kingdom of God is not concerned with the adiaphora. He is not commenting on the impact of the Kingdom of God upon the cultural institutions of those who are occupants of the Kingdom of God.
St. Paul is warning against trivializing the Kingdom of God by majoring on the minors. In Romans 14 both contesting parties are making a big to do about comparatively nothing. It is hard to see how Romans 14 can be twisted to prove that the Kingdom of God is inert in effecting any number of movements.
Secondly, in terms of the next text (John 18:36) people use to dismiss you I would note that John 18:36 does not teach that the Lord Christ abdicated His authority in the public square. What is being taught in this phrase was captured by the Scholar B. F. Wescott, speaking of John 18:36 could comment,
“Yet He did claim a sovereignty, a sovereignty of which the spring and the source was not of earth but of heaven. My Kingdom is not of this world (means it) does not derive its origin or its support from earthly sources.”
The Gospel According To John — pg. 260
Dr. Greg Bahnsen echoing Wescott’s work wrote,
“‘My kingdom is not of [ek: out from] this world,’” is a statement about the source — not the nature — of His reign, as the epexegetical ending of the verse makes obvious: ‘My kingdom is not from here [enteuthen].’ The teaching is not that Christ’s kingdom is wholly otherworldly, but rather that it originates with God Himself (not any power or authority found in creation.)”
Dr. Greg Bahnsen
God & Politics — pg. 27
John 18:36 is often put forth as a defeater passage for the comprehensive Kingship of the Lord Jesus over this world. Bahnsen clearly shows here, quite in agreement with the Greek scholar B. F. Westcott, that God’s Kingdom, as it manifests itself in this world, is energized by a source outside this world. This is important to emphasize because many people read John 18:36 as proof that the Kingdom of Jesus does not and should not express itself in this world. Often this verse is appealed to in order to prove that God’s Kingdom is only “spiritual” and as such Christians shouldn’t be concerned about what are perceived as “non-spiritual” realms. Support for such thinking, if there is any, must come from passages other than John 18:36.
What we get from some contemporary Calvinists, is the quote of Christ telling Pilate that ‘His Kingdom is not of this World,’ as if that is to end all conversation on the Lordship of Christ over all cultural endeavors. What is forgotten is the way that John often uses the word ‘World.’ John often uses the word ‘World’ with a sinister significance to communicate a disordered reality in grip of the Devil set in opposition to God. If that is the way that the word ‘world’ is being used in John 18:36 then we can understand why Jesus would say that His Kingdom ‘was not of this world.’ The Kingdom of Jesus will topple the Kingdoms of this disordered world changing them to be the Kingdoms of His ordered world, but it won’t be done by the disordered methodology of this World and so Jesus can say, “My Kingdom is not of this World.” Hopefully, we can see that such a statement doesn’t mean that Christ’s Kingdom has no effect in this world or that Christ’s Kingdom can’t overcome the world.
John 18:36 is often appealed to in order to prove that the Kingdom of God is a private individual spiritual personal reality that does not impinge on public square practice(s) of peoples or nations corporately considered. Those who appeal to John 18:36 in this way are prone thus to insist that God’s Word doesn’t speak to the public square practice(s) of peoples or nations since such an appeal (according to this thinking) would be an attempt to wrongly make God’s Kingdom of this world.
The problem with this though is it that it is a misreading of the passage. When Jesus say’s “My Kingdom is not of this world,” his use of the word “world” here is not spatial. Jesus is not saying that His Kingdom does not impact planet earth. What Jesus is saying is that His Kingdom does not find its source of authority from the world as it lies in Adam.
Jesus brings a Kingdom to this world that is in antithetical opposition to the Kingdom of Satan that presently characterizes this world in this present wicked age. The Kingdom that Jesus brings has its source of authority in His Father’s Word. As a result of Christ bringing His Kingdom with His advent there are two Kingdoms that are vying for supremacy on planet earth. Scripture teaches that the Kingdom of the “age to come” that characterizes Christ’s present Kingdom will be victorious in this present spatial world that is characterized by “this present wicked age,” precisely because, in principle, Christ’s Kingdom is already victorious in this present spatial world.
What this means of course for many many Christians is the necessity to jettison the Humanist thinking that insists that we must have separation of Christianity and State. If we separate and divorce Christianity and State … if we separate the State, from the Kingship of Christ, the result will be that the State itself will take up the mantle of Christ’s Kingship and we will then be ruled as by a Tyrant.
Thirdly, if we are looking to the State to effect cultural change it will be a looking to a state as it is manned and directed by Biblical Christians. Your “friends” who seem to be dismissing your thoughts don’t seem to realize that we do not view the state as an abstraction. The state runs by the men who occupy it. If those men are pagan the state is going to give us pagan laws. If those men are Christians the state is going to walk in terms of God’s law. The state will not bring in the Kingdom of God but the Kingdom of God will bring in a state as leveraged by Christian men and the way that God will do that is to raise up Christian men who call on those men who comprise the pagan state to repent, much like John the Baptist called on Herod to repent for having his brother’s wife.
Finally, as to the quip, “you cannot legislate morality,” I have to ask, “what else can one legislate except morality?” All legislation is an expression of someone’s morality, which in turn is an expression of the God of those doing the legislating. I would say, to the contrary, that all one can do is legislate morality. Now, the question is; “whose morality do we desire to legislate?” It is quite true that legislation will not change men’s hearts. However that has never been the intent of the politicus usus of the law. The intent of the political use of the law is govern sinners according to God’s standards. The political use of the law does not convert sinners but it does restrain sinners from being as totally depraved as they might otherwise be. So, whoever is trying to use the argument that “you can’t legislate morality” as some kind of proof that the Kingdom of God is not supposed to impact men’s institutions just does not have a grasp on the different uses of God’s law.
Should God be pleased to grant Reformation and so the reappearance of Biblical Christianity you just wait and see how much morality can be legislated. Christian legislators will legislate morality at every turn. However, that legislation still will not and can not convert men’s hearts.