In this world there exists two cities, the city of God and the city of Man. As I’ve said elsewhere, the citizenship to each belong to the heart. In the former, one is born from On High, with a heart for love of God and neighbor as oneself. In the latter, one is still dust born, with a heart for love of self and advancement.
This is a simple paradigm employed by Augustine, and it’s not supposed to be flat or two-dimensional in its application. The one who is a citizen of Christ’s Kingdom is not so unwoven from his habits in the City of Man. We are all born under the curse of Adam, and afflicted with the sins of his dominion. We are wretched creatures, disintegrating and disordered, who are tortured from inside and out. We are doomed to die, we are under the throttle of spiritual darkness, and are corrupted in our hearts.
It is from this that we are imprinted with the Law of God, on hearts now made of flesh. The waters of baptism, the washings of regeneration, are where the Spirit meets us and reforges us, born again as new citizens. The battle, the struggle, is the growth into this new identity. And yet we have hope, for those who belong to the Elect (namely Christ, the true Israel), we are predestined to become His Image. Our hearts will be made to look like Jesus, full of true burning love.
As a side-note, this is one reason I have become a strong predestinarian. I don’t believe that God is a puppet-master, far from it. To say such would be making the Lord into something, creaturely though supreme. God can turn the heart, and yet we are making decisions, plotting choices. There is no interference. But I believe that it is His hand that opened my eyes, unblocked my ears, gave taste to my tongue, and delivered me a heart that yearned for His presence.
It was not my choice, nor merely wallowing in contrition that earned me a place at His table. He ignited my hunger so that I might seek the Bread of Life. This is the only way I can act and live day to day. Without such confidence, I would be terrified of the shadows, my own feeble abilities.
Anyway, if we are freed to live, with refreshing hearts, renewing minds, and respiriting bodies, then what do we make of the Exile that we currently endure?
Allow me to qualify a few things.
The Church is the People of God, one that has visible and invisible qualities. I say visible in the sense that it has structures and order. When we see a congregation, when we see two or three meeting in the name of Jesus, when we see the bread lifted up and partaken of, we are seeing the structures of the Church. But there are invisible qualities. I’m talking the intentions of the heart. A congregation may meet in the name of Christ, but have abandoned Him. Jesus warns of false teachers, and Revelation depicts many kinds of false churches. We will not see the full order until the Day of Judgment.
The visible qualities of the Church are structures of Pilgrimage. We are a Kingdom whose King, while ascended, has not returned to consummate His Reign. We have His Spirit, who builds and grows us, who keeps us while the times continue. We have His Spiritual Presence, but await His Physical Presence (as Paul says, we wait to see Him face-to-face). Thus, our structures are reflective of living in a Creation that has not been liberated.
This is why I talk about the typology of Israel living in Babylon. God had not abandoned His People, but it was not time to return. We await the Anointed Conqueror (which the Persian Cyrus is called ‘christ'(!)) to overthrow the evils of Babylon. God is with us, but we do not have the Temple with us. God is with us, but we still await a return to the Land. God is with us, but we await the Son of David to lead us directly.
The Church is Political. But I mean this in the literal sense: we have business about the ‘city’. We belong to Christ first and foremost as our King, Caesar is a mere pawn, a rabid beast, that God maintains. The Lord’s ordinance do not validate or approve the Cities of Man. God allows disobedient and wicked evils to exist, which we are to resist in obedience to Christ. It’s certainly a strange providence.
This is where the question of exile appears: how do we live? As I said above, gatherings, leadership, sacraments etc. all represent visible structures of the Kingdom of God as Pilgrimage. Thus, all the order, leadership, gathering, and, yes, sacraments elsewhere represent the Cities of Men. These include from America to ISIS, from Holland to Mexican Cartels, from Tibet to Russia. All are attempts to create a ‘polis’, literally a ‘city’. All are visions of a political order.
It is my contention that if the Blood of Christ forges a new family, a new Body, then while we may belong to many Nations (with our own peculiar customs and languages), we have no need for building a new political order. If we were all Christians, the visible Pilgrim structures of Church would be all the government we need.
But that is a hypothesis never realized. We live in a creation afflicted with the world, the flesh, and the devil. The New Testament never promises us (except when Christ returns) an end to the ordained cities of men. These structures (orders, sacraments, gatherings) will continue to exist for their season of time. So how can we live?
Well, let’s consider the Jews in Babylon. They remained in the ‘city’ and did not leave to build a psuedo-Jerusalem for the mean-time. They maintained their distinct identity in a vast Empire. In fact, Babylon had tolerance for many gods and diverse cultures, as long as the Emperor, and the gods of Babylon, retained primacy. The Jews suffered for their insistence that they did not bow to any other god or king, yet they were instructed to not overthrown Babylon. The Jews never tried to conquer Babylon for Yah. That was not their task (though it was coming). Their task was to promote justice and learn to live.
Let it be said, before I continue, that this is not mere instruction, but typology. Of course, it’s not exactly the same. The Mission of God has expanded to include all people in the People of God. Preaching the Good News and expanding the size of the Kingdom of God is at work in a different way. We are not confused about who will rule us, He already rules. There are differences in the reality from the shadow (type).
In our own times, we can see parallels to the potential errors and begin to think out possibilities in how we, as reborn, might relate and live in the world.
The Amish, and other quietistic or separatist groups, have abandoned Babylon completely. They’ve misunderstood the concept of antithesis. In an attempt to remain pure, they’ve set up their own purity. This is the error of the Essenes, which when compared to the Greco culture around them, they don’t seem so bad. But it rejects God’s Sovereign reign and insists upon a false dualism.
Yet Constantinianism represents the twin error. This is trying to conquer, synthesize, or assume Babylon as a throne to be “won” for the Lord. Daniel is usually pointed to as a representative that God’s people may serve in the court of an evil king. But Daniel actually proves the Pilgrim life, not otherwise.
Here is where the Church is called to shaky grounds. In strange times and circumstances, kingdoms of Men may call upon the Body of Christ to render aid. I think of Leo the Great (bishop of Rome) rebuilding the city, and negotiation with Atilla the Hun. I think of Augustine both organizing Hippo’s defense against the Vandals, and acting as a mediator so that the city won’t be destroyed. The examples are rare, and these are more ambiguous then I make them out to be.
Erastus, a Christian believed to be a public works official, represents the possibility that a Christian may still work in the structure of the City of Man without belonging to it. We render aid and promote justice, without any attempt to usurp or own.
Sadly, this logic can flow another way, which is where Erastus’ poor name has become a philosophy of ecclesial captivity to the World. Many time the Church has ceased to be an outpost of the Kingdom of God, and become a social service to the Kingdom of Men. This is like Daniel’s three friends never being thrown into the fire, they had no problem bowing before the idols of the King. This is the Church of England through most of its history. As Jacques Ellul put it, the Erastian church has been monarchic during monarchy, republican during republics, socialist during socialism. The list could go on.
Yet we are not to abandon our voice in the public domain. We don’t need to be pushy or lust for a seat at the table. But it doesn’t mean we need to hide the public implications of what we believe. Paul was more than happy to preach the Gospel and get arrested. He was more than content to let Festus burn as he complained that the Apostle was “turning the world upside down”. Paul was more than content to let officials in the City of Men see their religion and magic, as in Crete, be shown to be worthless. Paul was more than joyous to see the people of Ephesus reject their old ways and burn their scrolls. Yea, he even created economic disaster among the idol-smiths.
The Gospel has meaning for political arrangements and economics, but sadly Christians have failed to discern this role. Instead, many a church has become apart of the Great Whore who lays in the Emperor’s bed, inviting all kings to enter her. She is drunk on the blood of the saints and the oppressed.
Hopefully this littany of examples and errors can keep a strange balance. Can we trust in the Spirit of God to maintain us as we move through these structures of the City of Man? Can we know that the demons are powerful evils awaiting their destruction, and yet powerless before the Finger of God? Can we be content with our station amidst idolatrous institutions, and sing hymns to a different Prince?
May our Politics be a Politics of Pilgrimage, eyes set towards the Revelation of our King and City. Amen.