The Church is too skittish about politics. Has anyone even heard a sermon giving advice for an upcoming election? I know I haven’t. With an upcoming provincial election in Ontario I’d like to give some practical advice for Christians trying to negotiate a faithful presence at the ballot box. Obviously what I’m proposing is not exhaustive, but is just one perspective on the process.
One starting point for looking at this is to revaluate our definition of the church. Peter Leithart points out that when Paul discusses the church in the New Testament, he deliberarely chooses to use Greek political terms.
Nearly every word used to describe the church in the New Testament was used by Greek political writers. The most common term for the church in the New Testament is ekklesia, the word behind the English “church.” In the Greek world, ekklesia referred to the assembly of citizens of the polis. When Aristotle spoke of the sovereign “assembly” in Greek democracy, he spoke of the ekklesia. Koinonia likewise, normally translated colorlessly and apolitically as “fellowship,” was also a political term. Aristotle’s Politics begins with the claim that “every state is an association (koinonia),” a term that in some translations is rendered as “community.” Aristotle recognized that there are various kinds of associations, various ways in which men share projects, goods, and talents with each other, but the city (polis) is the highest kind of koinonia, a political koinonia.
The political ramifications of this are enormous. As the NT adopts this imagery what we end up with is a canon inflamed with political overtones. Even such innocuous words like ‘church’ and ‘fellowship’ become dangerous. There’s no Lutheran two kingdoms schlock for Paul (sorry R. Scott Clark). Paul’s gospel confronts all the cities and empires of the world with the claims of an alternate city and empire. When Paul in Philippians says that we are citizens of heaven he, egads, actually means what he says. As Christians, though we are citizens of various nation states, our primary allegiance is to another nation that is not ephemeral or gnostic: the City of God. And contrary to popular parlance, water is thicker than blood.
This means then that when it comes to the ballot box, our chief interest is to be the church, not our nation. Canada, Ontario, Toronto. Though these are important spheres of interest they are not primary. We can see this prioritization in the teachings of Jesus and the early church. A common belief is that Jesus taught that our standing in the final judgment will be based on how we treated ‘the least of these’ or the poor. In his excellent commentary on Matthew, D.A. Carson has shown that the ‘least of these’ refer not to the poor in general but to our brothers and sisters in Christ. This emphasis is seen also in Galatians. In 6:10 Paul entreats the Galatians to do good to all people, but especially to the people of God.
I realize that this is just one perspective on voting priorities, but nevertheless, it’s a neglected perspective and should be focused on. The lads and lasses over at Empire Remixed believe that the church should focus on the poor when it comes to the ballot box and rightly so. But, never at the expense of the church. If the church is to be our primary political context, we should be asking ourselves questions like: what party will help serve the interests of the kingdom of God? Which party will do the most to stifle the preaching of the gospel? It’s when those questions are answered that we can move along to other social justice issues. Our agenda must not be set by the Fraser Institute or the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Social justice? Yes. But, first for the baptized.
With this in mind then, the question is, what provincial party will best serve the interests of the church? What do you think?