In the meantime, I thought I’d continue my review of Paul As Missionary (Bloomsbury, 2011). Daniel Hays’ essay “Paul and the Multi-Ethnic First-Century World: Ethnicity and Christian Identity” (pp. 76-87) may be the most important essay in the book. He argues that the early church developed in a multicultural setting. The world of the first century was comprised of a multitude of ethnic groups (ethne). So Paul is not just breaking down barriers between “Jews” and “Gentiles.”
He is declaring that the followers of Christ are a new and different ethnicity and their primary identity and group association must change from their old self-identity to this new one (p. 84).
As Christians, therefore, we have a brand new ethnic identity. Both Jews and Gentiles are members of the kingdom of God, with Abraham as their common ancestor. Hence “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20) is a highly political statement. Paul lived in a very ethnically diverse world. So do we. People tend to identify themselves ethnically — i.e., in terms of social, cultural, religious, territorial, and linguistic features. All of these elements, taken together, define one’s self-identity. When Paul calls for unity he does so along these very lines of ethnic markers.
Paul tells the new believers that their primary identity, i.e., their major group association (their ethnos), is no longer one of the many ethne they used to belong to (Phrygia, Galatia, Roman, Greek, Judean/Jew, Lycaonian, Cappadocian, etc.), but rather is to be found in their incorporation into Christ and his Church (p. 87).
This now defines who they are, which family they are in and who their kin are, where their citizenship and loyalty lies, how they are to carry out religious practices, how they are to live and speak, who their true ancestors are, and where their future hope lies (p. 87).
This sense of heavenly citizenship ” … is a radical restructuring of their primary identity” (p. 87). Hays is adamant: If Christians continue to see themselves first and foremost as Americans or Chinese or Korean or Hispanic or African-American, they will end up “… relegating their identity in Christ to a secondary and subservient identity,” and “there will be disunity and ethnic division in the Church” (p. 87).
Let’s let that sink in. These reflections take us a long ways in understanding the distinctive emphasis of the New Testament. If the social ethics of the kingdom of God seem to be dramatically different from those of the world and the nation-state, it’s because they’re supposed to! Hays expresses a growing conviction I’ve had for several years now, namely that our only duty and allegiance as Christians is to God and His kingdom. It is out of our duty to God that we obey the civil laws and pay our taxes and pray for those in authority over us in the political realm. At the same time, it is also out of our duty to God that we inveigh against any practice or social norm that is inconsistent with His rule. This means that there never has been nor ever be will a distinctly “Christian” position on politics. Good evangelical Christians voted for Trump. Good evangelical Christians voted for Clinton. Good evangelical Christians voted third party. And good evangelical Christians didn’t vote at all. Pastor friend, if you’re going to wave pompoms for Trump, please remember that there are probably people in your congregation who didn’t vote for him. Good and decent people disagree about politics! If we focus our time and energy on politics, we will never experience a unified church. Instead, our focus and energy must be expended on replicating the self-sacrificing love of Jesus to all people. The church, as Hays argues (and as the apostle Paul argued), is a new ethnos — a new nation whose only loyalty is to God, who sovereignly uses our Calvary-acts of love to transform the world into a domain in which He and He alone rules. Confessing “Jesus as Lord” automatically rules out an allegiance to any other person or thing!
To sum up:
- People with the same faith commitments and values can and often do have fundamental differences about politics.
- Everyone should vote his or her faith and conscience.
- The fundamental job of followers of Jesus is to manifest the rule of God by imitating Jesus’ radical lifestyle.
- There is only one “Christian nation,” and it is the blood-bought people of God.
- Our fundamental loyalty has to be to King Jesus. A husband who is 50 percent faithful to his wife is no true husband at all.
- We will no longer emphasize our political, national, or ethnic differences. There is more to unite us than to divide us in the universal body of Christ.
- Beware of any deals with the devil to get the kingdoms of the world by short-cuts.
God’s people need to be what they are — ambassadors pleading with men and women to be reconciled to God. Blessed are those saints who can see beyond their political, national, and ethnic differences. We followers of Jesus will always be a minority in a pagan world. We do not have to bow to political compromise to win the world. The only way to usher in the kingdom is by the cross.
(From Dave Black Online. [Nov. 21, 2016: 7:40 pm.] Used by permission.)