Waterstone has a deep commitment to being a Jesus-centered church on mission with him, empowered by His Spirit to proclaim and demonstrate God’s kingdom. This allegiance to Jesus has two vital implications. First, we imagine Christianity not as a religion, but as an interpretation of history, and thus it is inherently political. Christianity as politic grapples with:
How do we live together?
How do we deal with offenses?
How do we arrange marriage, families, and social structures?
How do we deal with enemies and violence?
How is authority established and mediated?
How do we deal with money?
How do we order passions and desires?
Where is human history going?
What does it mean to be human?
How can human life flourish in peace and justice?
We believe that Jesus decisively answered these questions when he came among us to say, “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15).
The second implication of allegiance to Jesus is that we do not allow ourselves to be distracted by lesser political agendas. Someone once asked a pastor, "Is your church right-wing or left-wing?" The pastor answered, “We’re for the whole bird.” Heaven’s Dove rested on Jesus at his baptism to proclaim him as the Hope of the world. If his claims are true, then captivity has been taken captive and death has been overcome. Starting there, with the risen Christ, comes the call to our best and most compelling kingdom conduct in this political time. Jesus conveys this calling with two words: Salt and Light (Matthew 5:13-16).
You are the salt of the earth.
In the original language, Jesus deliberately inverts the normal sentence structure to emphasize the subject. “You folks are the very salt of the earth and light of the world!” Jesus holds a high opinion of his followers – that they are the most significant influence on the planet. At that moment, it had to be considered bold, if not foolish, that Jesus would give his motley group of nobodies a global vision. But here we are.
Salt preserves (primarily then) and flavors (primarily now). Jesus says that our power in the world lies in the fact that we are different from the world. Being different, we exist to infiltrate the earth with the influence of the kingdom of God. Even in the political realm, we are out of the shaker.
Our influence ensues in two ways. First, we demonstrate kingdom politics. We believe Jesus, as King, answers the political questions of society and life (those questions above), which is why Christians are not the conservatives or liberals of this culture; we are the preservatives. As followers of Jesus, we engage the political process, but the politics of the world do not claim our ultimate allegiance - no party or leader or government. The fundamental identity of American Christians is in being Christian, not in being American. The apostle Paul writes, “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). That we are so harshly partisan and divided within the church is not only our failure of Christianity, even more it is devastating to our witness. The politics of the world must not be allowed to induce hostility among those who practice the politics of Jesus.
What does salt-preservation look like? Here is one shake of the salt on a currently divisive issue. God reveals himself as deeply concerned about justice and mercy for people most at risk in a society. Hear the prophet Zechariah, for instance, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart’” (Zechariah 7:9-10). Knowing this is God’s heart, the Church has to engage the immigrant challenges of their nation. But how?
Wheaton political scientist Mark Amstutz[i] offers guidance. He notes that both national and international flourishing involves building individual national entities (communitarianism) and having wide access into a country (cosmopolitanism). While each follower of Jesus may hope and advocate for a generous and orderly access of immigrants into their country, this tension and control belongs first to each national government. The responsibility of every follower of Jesus is to love their neighbor at the real, individual and actual encounter. In other words, the local church's job is not to say, "Here's the right number of people who should be allowed to cross the border." The local church’s job is to say, “To the end of history, we Christians cannot first and foremost be concerned with a border but must be more concerned with our neighbor on either side of that border, more concerned with our sister and brother in Christ on either side of the border. Walls and borders must always be granted provisional importance, not ultimate importance.” A church’s job is to say, “If you are a follower of Jesus, you will care for the foreigner,” even as we are doing at Waterstone through the Colorado Hosting Asylum Network.
The second way we live as salt of the earth is to be desirable flavoring within the culture by demonstrating Jesus’ humility. Because politics involves power, it carries constant temptation to arrogance and hubris. Part of our kingdom formation has to be that when a sense of judgment or superiority wells up inside us… stop. Look inside. Humble yourself. This is a beautiful thing.
Have you noticed that people can get emotional and unreasonable discussing politics? Have you noticed that news networks and digital media platforms generate ratings with nightly servings of combustible emotion from an "us –vs- them" bunker mentality? Much political programing feeds our addiction to outrage. So we check the fruit. If political programming is a regular part of your diet, do you find yourself dehumanizing people with whom you disagree? Do you find yourself with a shrunken soul?
You are the light of the world.
Jesus gives a second metaphor to capture our political imaginations. He believes his disciples are history’s most luminous power. Christians are obvious, a city on a hill. In the ancient world, it was so dark at night that lights from a village could be seen from miles away. Note the energy source: “They may see your good deeds.” “Good” means beautiful – something that leaves you wanting more - like movie previews. The best scenes are placed in the preview to hook us: “This movie is going to be great!” Hear this. There is a Big Show coming to town. The Father is the Writer. The Spirit is the Director. And Jesus is the returning Hero in this worldwide production. In the meantime, Jesus shows previews of coming attractions – that’s us! We display the beauty of Christ through our good deeds so that people want to see the whole show.
We display Christ’s beauty in three ways. First, we make disciples. University of Virginia sociologist James Davidson Hunter in his book To Change the World says that when a society is healthy, many different spheres flourish: art, education, commerce, and religion. But when societies begin to fracture, everything begins to revolve around politics. People begin to think that the only way to produce change is to gain political power because the political sphere is the primary way to coercive power. You can pass laws and force people to follow the rules. The more fragmented a society is, the more people want political power to secure agendas.
To our great detriment, the American Church has bought into this political reality. The notion that a church is relevant only to the extent that it deals in human political power is profoundly misguided. That was precisely the temptation offered to Jesus when the devil took him to a high mountain, showed him the kingdoms of the world and said, “All this I will give you if you will bow down and worship me" (Matt. 4:8-9).
Jesus, who never stepped foot on the marbled halls in Rome, started a revolution that still is changing the world. But it is not rooted in coercive human power; it is rooted in sacrificial weakness that unleashed resurrection power. Behold this Man Jesus! In him, the long-awaited End of history has come upon us, broken into to our very midst! Thus, the Hope of the world is not dependent on any geographically bounded nation-state, not dependent on any prime minister or president or congress or Supreme Court. Do we actually believe that if the right president, senator, governor, county official, all the way up to the dogcatcher is elected to get every law passed that paradise comes and every heart is rearranged to be unspoiled? Jesus did not send out his disciples to start governments and pass legislation. They were sent to establish lodgments of his Person and message in the midst of a broken, unjust, greedy, selfish world. This is why, without apology, we as a church are not in the policy-making business; we are in the disciple-making business.
The second way to live as the light of the world is to pray. Walter Wink writes, “History belongs to the intercessors - those who believe and pray the future into being.”[ii] Even more, the apostle Paul reveals the real script behind all politics: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). This writing comes shortly before the end of Paul's life. He was mostly likely killed by the emperor Nero. Understand that Paul is commanding people to pray for the political leader who has already imprisoned him and is going to kill him. How are you going to stop a movement like that? So we pray for our leaders and this election.
The third way to live as the light of the world is to love one another in unity. I don't mean avoiding conflict or projecting superficial politeness. I mean working for courageous accord within the body of Christ. Whenever we are in political discussion, we remember Christians together, not apart, is what Francis Schaeffer called the final apologetic[iii]. We will have disagreement on the way forward in many political matters, yet these differences will not separate us because Jesus is our highest allegiance and final politic. The world will know that Jesus is the Son of God by how we love one another – even during political elections.
For sure, the easiest churches to pastor are those where everybody votes the same way, yet not even Jesus wanted that for his small group. He invited a tax collector who partnered with the Romans, and he invited a Zealot who hated the Romans. This was not a mistake. They found a unity that changed the world. It can happen. It can happen in me. It can happen in you. Let's ask God to do in us what we cannot do on our own - in our church, our country and our world. The apostle Paul describes it this way, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:3-5).
You are the Salt of the earth. You are the Light of the world.
Image: Polling Station by Elliott Stallion via unsplash.com