“I guess I’m more conservative than I realised…”
That was what popped into my head as I was haranguing a group of students last night about how their allegiance to Jesus should impact their politics.
Because Jesus is risen, his authority trumps every human authority claim — in the household or the polis.
According to Colossians 3.22-25, Christian slaves are to recognise that ultimately they serve the Lord Christ over and above any earthly master.
Paradoxically, though, this motivates a thoroughgoing obedience. “In everything”, Paul says (verse 22).
For slaves this was to be expressed in enthusiastic and willing service. And not merely when that might earn their earthly masters’ recognition.
On the flip-side, Christian slave masters too were reminded that their authority was relativised by the superior claim of the Lord Jesus.
Colossians 4.1: “Masters, supply your slaves with what is right and fair, since you know that you too have a Master in heaven.”
And similar logic is on display in New Testament thinking about political authority.
Caesar is called on his claim to provide life, peace, salvation and protection. For these are things the risen Lord Christ alone provides.
As a result, Christians mustn’t worship earthly political leaders — or drift with the tide in ascribing to them ‘magical powers’ (to borrow a phrase Ben Myers picks up from Bonhoeffer).
At the same time, Christians are summoned by Jesus to be better citizens than the citizens of this world. Paying their taxes ungrudgingly. Honouring the Emperor. Seeking the common good.
This is where my thought about being more conservative than I realised comes in.
By putting earthly authorities on notice, Jesus leaves them — including governments — a relatively minor role (certainly compared to their more grandiose ambitions to deliver life and lasting peace).
And this chimes in with a typical conservative theme — governments need to learn their place, stop overstepping their bounds, and just butt out!
So there you have it: more conservative than I realised.
(Ah, well. There goes my left-leaning,
Karl Barth-, N.T. Wright-, and Stanley Hauerwas-reading Christian hipster cred…)