Politics and the church: understanding the political nature of the church
By Leke Alder
Some Christians struggle with the notion of Christians participating in politics. But what should be the relationship of Christians with politics? Pertinent question. Some Christians believe Christians SHOULD participate in politics but then struggle with the quality of that participation as per values and morality. Politics is dirty they say. And some believe Christians ought to be heavenly minded and so should focus exclusively on the millennial kingdom.
The Church is a political organ. That fact is established in scripture and the references are replete. But the simple deductive logic about the political nature of the Church is the fact the central figure, Jesus is a political figure. Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords. These are political appellations. You cannot separate the body of Christ from the Christ. If Jesus is a political figure, the Church is a political organ. As conceived, the Messiah is a political figure.
This is Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the Messiah: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom…” (Isaiah 9:6-7 KJV) Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 9:6-7 clearly establishes Jesus as a political figure. He’s a prince with political authority who runs a government and has a kingdom. The programme of the Messiah is two-pronged: redemptive & restorative, and then the political. (Isaiah 49:6-7) Jesus has already fulfilled the redemptive.
But what about the Church? Why is the Church a political organ? Turns out that, that political figure called Jesus had a rather interesting take on the Church. Jesus saw the Church as an administrative organ. Look at what Paul wrote: “God raised him (Jesus) up from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being but forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the centre of all this Christ rules the Church. The Church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the Church. The Church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.” (Ephesians 1:20-23 MSG) And so the Church is not only an administrative organ, it is a medium of expression of the political authority of the Christ. It is an agency for the due exercise of political power.
It is Christians who are conflicted about the political nature of the Church, neither Jesus nor Satan are. Jesus made a very important statement: “…I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” (Matthew 16:19 NET) Matthew 16:19 clearly establishes a contest for political hegemony between the Church and the Gates of Hades. In order to fare well in this contest, we see Jesus delegate political authority to the Church: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19) The Church is expected to exercise political authority on earth. And the whole authority structure is predicated on the revelation of Jesus as the anointed One, the political figure called the Christ. “Christ” simply means anointed one. He is the anointed King. Our sphere of exercise of political authority is the earth, and we find validation of this viewpoint in the words of that very popular prayer, perhaps the most popular prayer in the world – the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father in heaven, may your name be honoured, may your kingdom come, may your will be done ON EARTH as it is in heaven…” (Matthew 6:9-10)
Every petition in the Lord’s Prayer rests upon the political largesse of the political figure with the title of “Father”:
- Give us this day our daily bread,
- forgive our trespasses,
- deliver us from evil…
These are political petitions. The Lord’s Prayer contestably ended, “Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory…” Why? It’s a political petition.
From the Lord’s Prayer we see that the title, “Father” is first and foremost an authority appellation. “Father” has a procreative dimension no doubt but God is not called “Father” because he gave birth. Father is a political title for the fount of creation. “Father” is a political appellation for the source code and fount of creation. He has authority over creation. It’s why the Messiah is called “Everlasting Father” though not God the Father. It’s a political title. (cf. Isaiah 9:6)
So determinate is the Devil concerning the political nature of things that the titles on his organisational organogram are blatantly political: “Principalities”, “Powers”, “Rulers of Darkness of this World”, “Spiritual Wickedness…” (Ephesians 6:12) These are all political titles. Satan is under no illusion he is engaged in political contest. The NLT translation of Ephesians 6:12 is as follows: “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12 NLT)
Suffice to say Satan is maniacally focused on political control of the nations of the earth. According to Ephesians 6:12, the earth is a theatre of war. There are two powers battling for the soul of Planet Earth, and right in the centre of this battle is the Church. Satan contests every nation on earth using a variety of tools and strategic implements. A Christian has to be awake to this reality.
The Church and State
The year 2018 was annus horribilis for the Pentecostal movement. It was the year the image of the Pentecostal pastor sank so low many pastors dropped the honorific from their social media handles. The word “pastor’ became synonymous with greed, avarice and exploitation.
The way and manner some pastors responded to the crisis of confidence was even worse. What many didn’t realise was what was powering the issues was not so much inside the church but outside it. Outside the church was grinding poverty, hopelessness and despair. There are few economic opportunities for youths. They feel buried alive in the concrete tombs of our national misfortune. Youths constitute more than half of the population. There are no jobs. The unemployment rate is high. Many of those who have jobs are underemployed. In this kind of situation any flagrant or boastful display of ostentatious wealth by anyone is bound to attract acrimony. Unfortunately, Nigerian pastors tend to display prosperity as affirmation of technology of faith.
But the tithe crisis brought out the following facts:
- Pastors are generally unaware of context. This is why Alder Consulting undertook the State of the Church research, to give pastors insight into society.
- The church is unaware of her political status, and this despite copious amounts of scripture. The church stubbornly sees herself as a social intervention organ, not a political entity.
- The church is not strategic in approach to issues. It tends to be responsorial, acting only when things begin to boil over. And the responses are mainly prophetic proclamations and prayers. There’s no pre-emptive strategy.
- The fast food theology favoured by Pentecostals finally caught up with the church. It became evident there was no theological depth in the church. For instance, many did not know the relationship between the old and new testaments during the tithe controversy.
- The ministerial class does not have a strategic framework for political engagement outside the purview of political endorsement and request for personal favours from state actors.
- The church despises her rational assets. She considers them unspiritual. This deprives the church of intelligent approach to national issues.
Without a doubt poverty is Nigeria’s biggest challenge. It’s what’s fuelling crime, terrorism, militancy and insurgency. What the church does to tackle poverty is social intervention – we feed the poor, take care of orphans and widows, get street urchins off the streets, repurpose “area boys”, build schools, offer scholarships, facilitate workshops for skill acquisition, etc. Our faith demands we take care of the socially disadvantaged. But we are merely ameliorating human condition we are not solving the problem of poverty in our land. The problem of poverty in Nigeria can only be solved at the policy level. Which means more Christians have to get into politics and use the instrumentality of state policy to crack the poverty challenge. We need policy missionaries. That doesn’t mean the church should stop social intervention, but national problems sometimes require national implements.
If we don’t resolve our human development challenge as a nation, sort out our educational system as well as healthcare system, stimulate the economy and encourage enterprise development poverty will remain, even if we pray till kingdom come. There’s a reason God asks us to pray for those in government. It is to foster peace. Without peace there can be no development.
Our second favourite solution to the problem of poverty fares no better. We imagine we can solve the problem of poverty by teaching individuals how to sow and reap. Again, this is good, but it is a retail solution. “Sowing and reaping” is not a wholesale solution to the problem of poverty. It is wholly inefficient at the national scale. It has a geographical ratio limitation of 1:4. But more than the issue of geographic efficiency the critical take away is that the teaching of the law of sowing and reaping does not tackle the issue of national poverty it only tackles the issue of individual prosperity.
Perhaps the reason the youths in Nigeria blame the church for the failure of the state is because they transcendentally know the church is a political institution. What if the youths aren’t wrong? What if the church is indeed a political institution? The evidence from the Bible suggests they may be right.
Let’s start with Jesus: all the titles of Jesus are political titles. “King of kings,” “Lord of lords” are political titles. And he has ministerial portfolios – Jehovah Rapha (the Lord my healer) is his health portfolio, Jehovah El Roi (the Lord my righteousness) is his justice portfolio, Jehovah Nissi (the Lord my banner) is his defence portfolio. The list goes on.
Jesus is also the Messiah. To the Jew the Messiah is a military and political figure. It’s why the disciples wondered if Jesus would restore the kingdom of Israel at that point in time. According to the prophets the Messiah has two programs – the spiritual and the political. Jesus has already fulfilled the spiritual. The outstanding is the political. Jesus is a political figure he’s not a religious figure. Salvation is a citizenship program.
Political nature of the church in doubt?
But if the church is in doubt of her political status the adversary is not. His response is political. Satan’s organogram is wholly political. The job titles are blatantly political – Principalities, Powers, Rulers of Darkness… The Principalities are the political strategists, the Powers have executive power. They’re in charge of governments and nations. They influence policy and coordinate national programs. We’ve been concentrating on non-political actors like witches and wizards when we should be concentrating on the Principalities and Powers. They’re in charge of policy misdirections. Wars, rumours of war, coups, anarchy, unrests, insurgencies, economic meltdowns and leadership ineptitude are coordinated by the Powers.
Even the titles we use in church are borrowings from the political sphere. Take the word Bishop. The Greek word is episkopos. In Ancient Greece the title Bishop was used for government officials. These were Athenian officials sent into allied cities to set up democratic constitutions. The early church borrowed those terminologies for a reason.
Paul laid out a progressive vision of the church. He himself would not step into it but it is a picture of political evolution. We find it in Ephesians 1:20-23 MSG: “God raised him (Christ) from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the centre of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.”
In other words, the church is a political nucleus. There is therefore a dimension to the church we haven’t stepped into. The progression of the church is not a re-enactment of the past, it is an evolutionary movement into the future.
There are a number of steps the church needs to take in order to be politically relevant in Nigeria:
- Have a long term political strategy. The church must plan at least twenty years into the future it it must be relevant in politics. We tend to wake up very close to elections or when there’s crisis. By then the issues are already defined and we’re voting on candidates chosen for us by a motley crew of interests that are not necessarily amenable to Christian ideology.
- Christians must join political parties. In a democracy the platform for access to political power is the political party. Many Christians unfortunately see politics as abomination.
- Churches should set up schools of government, like the Kennedy School of Government and not just schools of ministry. A school of ministry is nothing more than a personnel training institute for the church.
- The church should set up secular media. A CNN is ultimately more powerful than a TBN (Trinity Broadcasting Network). A Christian TV station has limited reach whereas a secular TV station has unlimited reach. The church needs to learn to engage the polity. CNN speaks to the polity, TBN speaks to Christians, and in tongues.
- The Church needs to make use of her secular assets. Christianity is a Melchizedek proposition. It has both priestly and kingly dimension. One of the reasons the church is weak is because it tends to rely solely on her priestly assets – the pastors essentially. It is an inversion of the principle laid down in scriptures and it does not represent the diversity Jesus had in mind when he conceptualised the church. There’s a reason Jesus chose tax agents, doctors, activists and entrepreneurs as disciples. It was a radical shift from Old Testament template. Unfortunately, many pastors are operating in the Old Testament mold. It’s why pastors imagine themselves Elijah. It’s why pastors seek to anoint candidates in a democracy. It’s a conceptual impossibility. Anointing goes with monarchy.
- In line with modern imperatives church curriculum has to change. The issues of the future are not the issues of the past. Children’s church is a breeding ground for a new generation of Christians. The new generation must be a Daniel generation – able to function in secular society as well as in government. They must be able to answer to the issues of the day.
- The church must connect with the next generation. That generation feels cut off from opportunities. The church must connect with youths, understand their issues, and address their issues.
- The church must encourage reasoning capacity development. The Holy Spirit is an intellectual. He inspired the writings of Paul. Paul was an intellectual. The church must breed a thinking generation that is able to question issues. An unreasoning, unquestioning and un-examining generation of Christians is a danger to the faith and a danger to their nation.
- Theology must be taught in church. Enough of fast food diet – Seven Steps to Prosperity, Three Steps to Answered Prayer, How to Fast for A Husband… The fast food diet theology has created spiritually obese individuals who unfortunately imagine themselves a symbol of corporeal health. The history of the church must be taught as well.
- The church must strategically interface with government. A platform of engagement must be created. This platform cannot be PFN (Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria) or CAN (Christian Association of Nigeria). They are not broad enough to accommodate the secular assets of the church
If the Church must be relevant in future politics we need new thinking, new approaches. The environment is changing around us. Nigeria is in transition.