As a child growing up in a Christadelphian household, I always had trouble understanding the Christadelphian view of politics. Not that I didn’t understand what the Christadelphians taught about politics: that’s always been fairly clear. The Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith’s 35th clause in the “Doctrines to be rejected” sums it up rather nicely:
“That we are at liberty to serve in the army, or as police constables, take part in politics, or recover debts by legal coercion.”
But, what I didn’t understand was why we had this view of politics. It certainly didn’t seem to agree with what I was reading in the Old Testament. Most of my Bible heroes were my Bible heroes because they did exactly those things forbidden in this clause. I admired Joshua because he led Israel’s army in battle against the Caananites. I admired Solomon because he brought wicked people like Adonijah and Shimei to justice. King David didn’t only take part in politics; he was the king of the entire nation. If politics were so bad, why were all these Bible characters heavily involved in it?
I really didn’t have a good answer for this question that was bouncing around in my head until I decided I wanted to be part of Truth Corps in the summer of 2007. For those of you who don’t know, Truth Corps is a program put on by the CBMA, where a team of roughly 6-10 people devote 7 weeks of their summer to preaching God’s word throughout the Americas. However, to actually get a spot on this team, you have to do a fair bit of homework, including one-page papers on a variety of subjects, such as “The Olivet Prophecy”, “Who Am I”, or “The Kingdom of God on Earth”.
I figured that last one (“The Kingdom of God on Earth”) would probably be the easiest, since while I was growing up, I’d heard class after class on the Kingdom of God. I knew that it would be established on earth when Jesus returned, that it would have Jerusalem as its capital, that it would be full of peace and righteous- ness, and basically, was a really good thing to look forward to in the future. So, one Saturday, I decided to sit down and get it done. Since, of course, I wanted to this to actually be a Bible-based paper rather than just a compilation of “stuff I’d heard”, I pulled up a computer Bible program, searched for every instance of the word “kingdom”, and ended up with some passages like this:
“In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 3:1-2).
That sounded good. Based on my previous beliefs, I interpreted that to mean that John the Baptist’s main message was that the Kingdom of God was coming soon. Of course, “soon” for him was evidently more than 2000 years in the future, but to God, that’s only like a couple of days.
“From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, ‘Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ ” (Matt 4:17).
Same idea, except Jesus was preaching the same thing. Evidently, this was an important message.
“Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matt 11:11-12 ESV).
What in the world?
Considering my understanding of the Kingdom of God as a future coming king- dom of peace and righteousness, this made no sense whatsoever. Clearly, Jesus was saying that the Kingdom of God had existed at the very least from the days of John the Baptist until then. And, even more stunningly, he was saying that it was suffering violence, and the violent were taking it by force. That doesn’t sound particularly peaceful.
So, I did some more study. And some more study. By the end of the day, despite hours of Bible study, I still hadn’t gotten the paper done, although I’d rewrit- ten the first sentence about 20 times. Over the next few weeks, I kept thinking about it, because I still felt I didn’t fully understand the Kingdom of God, but I needed to get that paper done to go on Truth Corps. Eventually, things started to coalesce into a clearer picture. As I read more passages about the Kingdom, I came to a great realization: the Kingdom of God that John the Baptist and Jesus were preaching about wasn’t just something that was coming in the future. It was also something that existed right then. When they said “the kingdom of heaven is at hand”, they didn’t mean that it was coming soon. They meant that it was now accessible. Which is why, when Paul wrote to the Colossians, he could say that they were already in the kingdom:
“Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son” (Col 1:12-13).
The way a kingdom works is this: A king gives the orders, and his subjects follow them. So, since anyone who’s living a sinful life is following their own sinful desires, in a way, they’re living in a kingdom ruled by “Sin”. That’s the “power of darkness” that Paul is referring to in Colossians. But, when you become a Christian, you stop following the orders of “Sin”, and start following the orders of Jesus Christ. You’ve switched kingdoms! Now you’re part of the kingdom of Jesus Christ, because you follow his orders, rather than Sin’s orders.
If this is sounding familiar, that’s because I’m quoting practically every baptism talk I’ve ever heard. That was my second great realization. What I thought was a “new” understanding of the kingdom of heaven wasn’t new at all: it was some- thing that had been implicitly assumed in a lot of Christadelphian teaching, and I’d just missed it. In fact, as I started to understand the concept more, it started to answer a lot of other worrying questions I’d had about Christadelphian doctrine, including our view of politics.
Despite this point about how your king is the person whose orders you follow, in real life, it’s not quite that easy, as anyone who has tried to change their citizen- ship will tell you. Simply stating that you’re going to start following the laws of the United States of America doesn’t make you an American citizen. If a Canadian wants to become an American citizen, he’ll have to go through a complicated immigration process, which may or may not succeed. Suffice to say, switching citizenships is not a trivial matter.
However, there is one method of gaining American citizenship that works, every single time: If you are born into it. And, coincidentally, this is also the method of gaining citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven. In practically every Christadelphian baptism talk you’ll ever hear, at some point the speaker will quote Romans 6:4 to explain what baptism symbolically represents:
“Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4).
As that verse states, baptism represents a death and a rebirth. By being baptized, you are symbolically saying that you have died to your old life, and are born again into a new one, where you will follow Jesus Christ, rather than your own fleshly desires. In other words, you’re giving up your previous citizenship in the world, and becoming a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven. A baptized Christadelphian is no longer primarily a citizen of any worldly kingdom; he’s firstly a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven.
However, there’s an issue. The Kingdom of Heaven is still in heaven, and we’re on earth. The kingdom that we’re living in is not our true home. As Hebrews 11 points out, we Christians, and in fact, all the faithful throughout time, have lived as “strangers and pilgrims on the earth”, since we’re citizens of a heavenly country, not an earthly one.
But, what does that mean? Well, if you were a Canadian citizen, but happened to be living in the United States for an indefinite period of time, we’d call you a “permanent resident”, or a “green carder”. If you look up “Permanent Residency” on Wikipedia, you’ll find out that permanent residents are people who live in a country, and can work in country, and in many ways have all the rights of a citizen of the country, except for the following:
• They may not vote
• They may not stand for public office
• They may not apply for public sector employment
• They may not apply for employment involving national security
• They do not have access to their country’s consular protection
So, a permanent resident is just like a citizen, except they can’t vote, they can’t be politicians, they can’t be policemen, and they can’t be soldiers. Oh, and in case you haven’t ever gotten one, any jury summons you get will have a variety of boxes you need to check to determine your eligibility. And the very first one will almost always be “I am a citizen of the United States of America”. So a permanent resident can’t be a juror either. In other words, being a permanent resident of a country is an awful lot like being a Christadelphian.
Suddenly, BASF Doctrine to be Rejected #35 doesn’t sound so strange after all.
Even though we Christadelphians may live in the United States, or Canada, or Great Britain, we’re not actually citizens of those worldly nations. We’re citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. So, while we live here in the world, we live as permanent residents. We obey the laws of the land. We pay our taxes. But:
• We don’t vote
• We don’t serve on the jury
• We don’t get involved in politics
• We don’t join the army.
We’re permanent residents, but not citizens. And when you understand it like that, everything starts to make sense.
For instance, I always thought Christadelphians showed a total double standard by refusing to vote in national elections, but having no issue with voting in ecclesial elections. But, once I realized why we didn’t vote in national elections, it made perfect sense: there’s nothing wrong with voting, it’s just that permanent residents aren’t allowed to vote. We’re all members of the ecclesia, so it’s perfectly fine to vote in an ecclesial election. But, we’re not citizens of the nation, so we wouldn’t vote in their elections, just like we wouldn’t let strangers vote in our ecclesial elections. It wasn’t a double standard. I just didn’t understand why we refused to vote.
So, to answer my original question, yes, in the Old Testament, Joshua and Solo- mon and David did things Christadelphians are not allowed to do now. They were soldiers and policemen and politicians. But, that was because they were all citizens of the Kingdom of Israel, not just permanent residents. And, at that time, the Kingdom of Israel was the Kingdom of God on earth (1Chron 28:5). As a result, the people of God could behave like citizens, and they did.
But now, God’s kingdom is not the Kingdom of Israel on earth, but the Kingdom of Heaven. As such, while we live on the earth, we act like permanent residents, because we’re not living in our country of citizenship.
Fortunately though, it’s not going to stay that way forever. I’ve been saying we’re “permanent residents”, but in one sense, we’re not permanent at all. We only plan on living in the kingdom of men temporarily, while we wait for Jesus Christ to come down from heaven, and establish the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth. That’s why, when Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he taught them to pray for that Kingdom of Heaven to come down to earth.
“After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hal- lowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:9-10).
We don’t want to stay as strangers and pilgrims forever, separated from our true homeland. We joined the kingdom of heaven because we want to live there, and we can’t wait until Jesus comes and establishes it. And when he does, we’ll no longer be permanent residents. We’ll be full citizens, living in our homeland, and reigning on the earth. May that time come soon.
James Robinson (San Francisco Peninsula, CA)