Friday, August 12, 2016

How Did We Get Here? Authority That Bows

Authority That Bows                                                            8/14/16

Psalm 2, Philippians 2:5-11

We have been lifting up stories from Western Civilization where Biblical values were expressed.  Our themes have been mostly positive.  Oral History teaches us that humankind is made for more than survival.  Classical Greece models the pursuit of wisdom together.  Ancient Rome sought that which endures, and was in power when God announced the gospel through sending Jesus Christ into the world.  The Medieval world teaches us that we are created for community, and the Renaissance directs us to behold beauty.  Last week, the Reformation brought correction.  Today, we look at Authority that bows.

This week is a bit different, we will lift up a negative example to remind us of a biblical truth.  We travel to Europe during the 1500’s and 1600’s and see that an unexpected result of the Reformation (a religious reforming of the continent) is political reformation.  During this two hundred year era, the role and reach of government greatly expands, and becomes the model that exists in the world today.   Roger Osbourne, in his book Civilization, writes:

          Much of the “progress” that took place in the centuries after 1500 showed
          an increasing amount of control over towns, regions, churches, guilds and
          individual lives by an increasingly centralized state.  The medieval citizen
          owed allegiance to an array of institutions—feudal lord, village president,
          extended family, local bishop, pope, guild, town duke or prince—but the state
          did away with most of these, leaving only itself and the family as the
          legitimate institutions of the modern world”   (Osbourne, 255)

Now, let me be clear right from the start, this isn’t a lecture on politics, and certainly not any partisan view.   But we bring up this historical example of the role of government precisely because Christians affirm a place for government in this life and the next:  Jesus Christ is Lord of all, and will reign forever, and demands allegiance in every aspect of our life.  That is a government that is far reaching.  It is a government that takes over.  And yet, all of the clues of Scripture speak to how good and fantastic, and life giving and peace-filled and liberating this will be.  Deep down, our skepticism of government is rooted more in historical failure than future promise in Jesus Christ.

You see, the Bible has a lot to say about government:
*Joseph 2nd in command in Egypt
*The people of Israel to be governed by God and not Egypt
*Moses writing down law for the people
*The era of the judges (tribal leaders) in Israel
*The movement toward a king (against God’s wishes)
*The promise of a descendant of David to rule
*Good and bad kings and queens in Scripture
*The references to Roman leaders
*Paul’s claiming the privilege of being a Roman citizen
*The passage in Romans that calls us to obey leaders as God’s representatives
*Revelation’s vision of God on the throne

The 15, 16 and 17th century usher in what we call the Modern world, a break with and movement away from the Middle Ages.  For today’s purposes, here are some of the broader movements of how the role of government changed during these centuries:

1.     Government became system, rather than person based.
Previous human history mostly modeled that success or failures of place depended on the strength of the king, rather than a system of government where the leader represented the goals and values of the said government.   Pre-modern the ruler was greater than the system.  In the modern world, the ruler was subservient to the system.

2.     The seeds of government services were planted, and people start to see the role of government as more than simply protection.  The state slowly takes on more and more over time.

3.     Religion was used to meet systemic ends
From our vantage point, the story of America is an attempt to correct this, with Jefferson’s vision of a separation of church and state.

4.     the capital replaced the importance of the town
this leads to an era where towns struggle, after having thrived in the Medieval world.

5.     natural resources used for the goals of national government
resources previously benefitted the place where they were found, such as river towns having tolls that supported their economy.

6.     the state overtook the importance of other institutions
             as I mentioned in the Osbourne quote earlier

7.     war grew in popularity
            an attitude started to grow that peace would produce laziness.  From the perspectives of
            governments, it was thought that war justified the existence of government.

8.     the attempt to balance power led to territorial disputes
once the continent tired of war, nations then fought their long standing family feuds on foreign soils.  This allowed European boundaries to remain, while also expanding in power and position.

I bring up these broad historical trends because some of these continue to shape the role and reach of government today.  Our Scriptures help us navigate this type of world with two important thoughts.

From Psalm two:  every human government has a beginning and end because God has announced his plan for eternal government.

From Philippians:  The plan is for Jesus Christ to reign as Lord forever, and that our announcement of his reign calls us to live a life of humility and sacrifice.

Psalm 2
This song reminds us that any act of godlessness will ultimately face the truth.  This includes the nations and leaders of the world.  God has the power to raise up and tear down.  In real time, it might sometimes look like the kings are winning in the attempt to overthrow God, but this is only because we are bound by time.  The timeless one has a different reaction to foolish, futile attempts.

He laughs.  He scoffs.  He rebukes.  He terrifies.  And then he tells what is going to happen next.

“I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain”. 

In this announcement; the Son has the Lord’s blessing to rule over the nations, and these nations will be as an inheritance.

The book of Hebrews teaches us about God’s Word:
The word of God is alive and active. Shaper than any double-edged sword; it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  Nothing in creation is hidden from God’s sight.  Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account”  (4:12)

The kings of earth are to be wise.  They are on notice having been warned by the King of kings.  Fear for God, and God’s power and judgment should shape the policy making and goals of every administration.  When kings of earth do revere God, they will be blessed by their refuge in the Lord.  Ultimately, every leader with power is an authority that will bow before God.

Scripture commands believers to pray for our leaders.   Power can corrupt, and all attempts for power and influence should be placed at the feet of the All-powerful One.  Ultimately, the people are blessed when governments govern well.  This is what we should be praying about for our land, and the lands of this world.

Philippians 2
Every earthly kingdom is temporal.  This is true for San Marino, China or Japan, as well as three year old South Sudan.  Like people, nations are bound by time.  The land watches as people walk upon it.  North America was inhabited by Native Americans before European countries claimed land as colonies, before the United States was formed out of revolution.  At 240 years old, the country is relatively young compared to many throughout the world. 

Despite the old or young age of governments and the nations, all these too shall pass.  But the Lord remains.  Scripture points to a God who is interested in government.  Perhaps we have not considered that before.  But it is true.  God is interested in good government.  Because government at its best helps people.  And by announcing that Jesus Christ will rule as Lord throughout time, he displays his interest in good government.  The best one for the job will ultimately be given the job. 

Every knee shall bow, every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.  Heaven, earth, under the earth;  the whole lot.  This will bring glory to God.  God’s plan of exalting Jesus Christ to the highest place, giving him the name that is above every name will bring righteousness, goodness, holiness, correction, abundance, love, peace, joy, and blessing to the earth and its people.  This is why God has said that he will do what he will do.

500 years ago, change took place as to the role and reach of governments.  We could talk and learn about the specifics of what happened for the rest of our lives.  But we don’t have to because we generally have seen this come to be in our modern world today.  Government has reached into many realms beyond protection and security of borders.   Scripture suggests that the fear of the Lord by leaders causes a foundation for goodness and prosperity to be fostered. 

Yet their failings also teach us something.  Our hope is ultimately rooted only in Jesus Christ.  Yes, we should participate, challenge, respect, support, debate, question, vote, call or write decision makers, be on a local board.  These can all be good things.  Our faith can and should shape how we view the world.  And we should be ourselves when participating in governing roles.  But at the end of the day, our work for the eternal one should guide every word and deed.  On the final day, God will show his announcement to be true.  Jesus Christ will be exalted and we shall all bow and declare his honor.  What a wonderful thing that this announcement brings us hope, and not anxiety. 

Our hope should not cause us to be conceited, or to seek our own honor, or motivate us to have people bow before us, or sing our praises.  No, our job is to point people to God’s announcement.  We should be but humble servants of the message.  Our attitude should be like Jesus Christ:  he knew his future, yet he served, he gave his very life for others.  With hope in heart and announcement in our mouth, we should act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8).






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