Here’s a sermon I preached at Cottage Church on the weekend. (For anyone who heard it, yes, I went a little off-script a few times; hence why this text might read a little differently!
A World Divided: Failed Politics.
Francis Fukuyama, in a famous article titled ‘The End of History’ (1989), makes the astonishing claim that we’ve found the perfect political ideology. As the world converges ever more on the liberal democratic state and on free-market capitalism, the evolution of human civilisation is over. We will move inexorably towards a lasting global peace.
This ideology has achieved the following things: Wars (Iraq, Afghanistan). Devastating financial meltdowns across the world always hitting the poor the hardest (particularly in Latin America, but most spectacularly in the United States and Europe). The justification of torture and violence as a means of making ‘peace’ (aspects of the global ‘War on Terror’). Social isolation and disruption (the Occupy movement). Heart hearts towards children, the elderly, the poor and refugees (the latter nowhere more than our own nation of Australia). Matters of sexuality, lifestyle and even truth itself are reduced to ‘personal choice’.
Being a community, in this worldview, means ‘You can do whatever you want, as long as it doesn’t stop me from doing whatever I want.’ And so we have: Conflict. Division. Inequality. Alienation.
This politics has failed.
These effects are not restricted to the liberal democratic state and is the same with every form of political community and structure which humans have pursued. Ancient Greece. Fascism. Socialism. Liberal capitalism. Communism. Every politics constructed by human hands has failed. The reason for this is so obvious that we are often blind to it: the world is full of evil. This is true of our social structures and economic agendas; and it is true of our own hearts, filled as they are with selfishness, greed, envy, malice, and violence—be it physical, social, psychological, political or economic.
In Ephesians 2 (which you should read at this point!), we see that in Jesus Christ, God has achieved and established a new politics for a new humanity.
The root of the problem.
The problem, we see, is twofold: all humanity is alienated from God (2:1-3) and alienated from each other (2:11-12).
The passage moves from the alienation of God and humans to the alienation between people: especially the primary category of God’s people and the world. Gentiles (non-Jews) were doubly in trouble: hopeless and godless, without the covenant promises given to Israel. (Although it is true that God always intended to include them in those promises: see Genesis 12:1-3 and plenty of places in Isaiah.)
In Jesus, God solves this double alienation. In Jesus we are reconciled to God the Father (2:4-10, 16). In Jesus, by his blood shed for us, God deals with our guilt, rebellion and ignorance towards him (2:6, 13, 15). In Jesus, by abolishing in his body the law with its commandments and regulations, God removes the barrier between God’s people and the rest of the world (2:13-16).
The result of this lavish grace and mercy is nothing less than a new humanity! A new community marked by union with Christ, a shared faith, a shared salvation, and shared access through Christ to the Father by one Spirit. In this new humanity (the plural form of ‘man’ is used in the Greek, to mean ‘mankind’), there is perfect equality before God and with each other. Since there is now no barrier stopping any people from any nation joining with God’s people, all enter by the same route: faith in the Lord Jesus, the Messiah promised to Israel for the whole world.
One of the ways this is summed up is citizenship in the people of God (2v19). Sharing allegiance to the true Lord and King of the world and bound together by our union with Christ, the Church is a new community of peace.
In this way, our reconciliation with God and each other is a political act. No longer is our primary community Newtown or New South Wales or Australia: our primary community is the Church, a community under the rule of King Jesus.
This is the only true community. This unified people is precisely what all human political systems have tried and failed to achieve!
In Jesus, the formation of a true and lasting political community is achieved. Only Jesus, by the shedding of his blood for us, is able to deal with the root of the problem which causes all other politics to fail: Jesus overcomes the problem of disobedient, enslaved and broken hearts.
A Christian politics.
The worldview of liberal democracy championed in the rich world (and increasingly in the majority world) is, we have seen, a politics of division and alienation. It is a worldview which, because of our broken humanity, continues to disenfranchise, dislocate and dismantle communities.
How different to the new humanity created in Jesus’ body! In contrast to the world’s politics of alienation and division, the gospel is a politics of welcome and peace.
And the Church, as a political community, has a political task in the world. That task? Preaching peace to those who are near and those who are far off (2:17).
John Stott observes that ‘he preached peace’ (2:17) cannot refer (at least primarily) to Jesus’ earthly ministry. This preaching peace is precisely the announcement of what Christ has achieved by the shedding of his blood: a new, unified humanity! This is how Christ began his teaching when he appeared to his disciples after his resurrection: ‘Peace be with you!’ (John 20:19).
The political task of the church is nothing less than to snatch people away from any allegiance other than to Christ. As the Church preaches (and, importantly, embodies) the peace of Jesus, people are pulled out from under the rule of the kingdom of the air (as well as Gillard, Obama, Merkel, Sarkozy, Hu Jintao and Hun Sen) and united with the new humanity under the rule of Christ. This is the root of what we might call a ‘Christian politics.’
The gospel, therefore, is unavoidably political. To say this is not to say that Biblical Christianity gives us a set of clear political policies (although I do think there are important Christian things to say on matters of policy). The political claim of the Gospel is much grander than that: the Lord is King (there is no other), and he has created in himself a new humanity, a united people of God; this is the only true human community, in which there is no inequality, no division, no alienation. Instead, there is peace. This is the only politics that works. This is the only politics that sustains hope. This is the only politics that truly unites.
The Church here in Newtown is not facing the same problem as the Ephesians; among us there is no great schism between Jew and Gentile. Yet the issue of being at peace with one another is still a significant one. We’ve had moments in our little community where being at peace has been a struggle. That’s normal for any community! I think we’ve actually managed rather well.
But we need to keep struggling together to be of one mind: following Jesus and letting the peace we have with him and with each other bear witness to the achievement of Jesus Christ on the cross among the people of Newtown.
Paul, writing to the Colossians on the same theme, says this:
For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:3-4)
This is who we are. This is our community. This is our story.
Western society often tries to push the Church out of the public square: ‘religion is a private matter; politics is public.’ But our Gospel is political. Let no one convince you that the church is anything other than the new, true and primary human community, which has and will overcome the world through Christ. We are seated in the heavenly realms in Christ (2:6), now, and forever. The church is the world’s true community, even though the world is blind to it.
And so be assured: because your faith is in Jesus, you are taking part in a Christian politics. For a Christian politics is first and foremost to be the one new humanity he has made, and through being so to witness to the peace won for us in Christ Jesus. To those both near and those who are far, the peace of our community points to the One who has made that peace in his flesh.
Francis Fukuyama is right: we have, in a sense, reached the end of history. Although we wait for Christ to return to make his victory finally and fully known, we have already been given the perfect, effective politics of peace, achieved by the blood of Jesus and by our union with him in his death and resurrection made manifest in the community of the church. A true community in which there is no division or alienation, but peaceful citizenship of God’s people and membership of his household.
Jesus is the cornerstone of this community. He has made it possible. He has achieved it, through his blood on the cross and by his Spirit giving us access to the one Father. Only faith in him and the work of the Spirit in his people can hold this politics of peace together.