Jesus is not a Republican or a Democrat. He is probably a monarchist. — Dr. John Mark Reynolds
When the National Socialist Party of Germany came to power in 1933 under Adolf Hitler, it moved quickly to consolidate its tenuous hold on power. Hitler’s lieutenants were remarkably effective, in part because they were able to co-opt the German Christian Church and remake it into a docile lapdog and propaganda machine for the Nazi party.
Early in Hitler’s reign, the German Christian Church likely had the moral strength and authority to push back against Nazism. But Hitler quickly installed his own people at the head of the church, then had them jettison those doctrines and beliefs that he found objectionable.
The Church soon found itself caught up in the patriotic fervor of Hitler’s pro-German political machine and began cooperating with the state. Instead of opposing National Socialism, it contorted and twisted itself like a pretzel so as to conform to and support the political objectives of the Nazi state. The German Christian Church became an important ally of the German state, and because of its deep connections into grassroots German society, it is right to say that the German Christian Church was one of Hitler’s most effective instruments for transforming ordinary Germans into rabid supporters of Nazism.
The compromises made by the German Christian Church in service of this illicit affair with evil are rather stunning in retrospect. It rewrote the Gospel as a message of Aryan power and eliminated any aspect of orthodox Christianity that hinted at weakness. It repudiated both the Old Testament and the Apostle Paul as being too Jewish.
Jesus himself was recast as an Aryan superman a la Nietzsche, with his innate Jewishness carefully swept under a rug. The doctrine of repentance and forgiveness through the work of Christ on the cross was thought to encourage softness. Christ was remolded as a victorious warrior who would lead Germany back to greatness.
Hitler and his apparatchiks were pagans and atheists, but they wisely recognized the power of religion in the birthplace of Martin Luther and had no compunctions against manipulating Christianity to serve their purposes. In doing so, they gutted the German Christian Church of everything that was genuinely Christian, so much so that some pastors and theologians, including Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Karl Barth, concluded that the German Christian Church had made itself apostate from the true church of Jesus Christ. These few, brave souls moved to create what they called the Confessing Church, an underground movement of Christians fiercely loyal to orthodoxy and unswervingly opposed to Nazism.
The lesson is that authentic Christianity risks its very soul when it becomes too closely allied with any political power or philosophy. As the philosopher Dr. John Mark Reynolds is fond of saying, “Jesus is not a Republican or a Democrat. He is probably a monarchist.” Or, to paraphrase Tolkien, the King of kings does not share power.
Christians are a people with dual citizenship. We must be fully engaged citizens of our earthly countries because, frankly, they desperately need their sometimes dark activities illuminated by the light of the Gospel of Truth.
And yet, fully engaged, fully involved as we must be in the political and cultural systems that make society work, we can never lose sight of the fact that we have been adopted into the Kingdom of Heaven. Our ultimate allegiance cannot be to an earthly ruler or political party, but to Jesus Christ.
Pure conservatives are most passionate about economic liberty (free markets), unrestricted autonomy over private property (read: wealth creation), and social order.
(Social conservatives are less passionate about economic liberty and property rights than they are about the rights of the unborn. They are a thorn in the side of many traditional conservatives, who tend more toward libertarianism and, ironically, share liberals’ discomfort with government edicts about morality.)
Pure liberals are most passionate about economic fairness (regulated markets), unrestricted personal autonomy (read: sexual freedom), and social justice.
What was Jesus most passionate about?
He seems not to have been particularly concerned with commerce, profits, wealth creation or economic fairness. However, Jesus was passionate about the ethics behind capitalism, such as with honest dealing and price gouging. He was also passionate about the social and moral responsibilities of wealth: e.g., generosity towards the poor, generosity towards God, and the moral hazard to one’s soul created by the accumulation of material goods.
He seems not to have been much of a fan of moral libertinism. Rather, he was passionate about personal holiness, right living, fidelity to and unity with God, and the mandate to build an earthly community founded on justice, compassion, goodness, and love for our neighbors.
It is around these last things that conservatives and liberals are most likely to find some common ground, and it is likely in these areas where Christians can have the most political influence. A just and good society is necessarily a society where economic opportunity thrives. A compassionate and neighborly society is a place where peace and calm prevail.
The Church of Jesus Christ, by which I mean the fellowship of all believers, must not allow itself to be co-opted by any political movement. It needs to be cautious about being used, but not so cautious as to adopt a hands-off attitude towards politics.
The historical church is a cultural organism. The Kingdom of God that Jesus spoke so often of is both a future thing and a here-and-now thing. This kingdom of believers has been transplanted into and lives within culture. It must therefore find its proper role within our political systems, because it is primarily through politics that society lives, breathes and acts.
(I say primarily, because the church itself can and should act in society as an autonomous organ of social good, serving as a corrective to political neglect and/or political corruption.)
But the Church of Jesus Christ must always bear in mind that its first loyalty is to God. Politics is always about the art of compromise, about pragmatism over principle. Much good can be achieved when good men and good women serve society with justice, compassion, goodness, and love. But let’s not kid ourselves. This side of Heaven, justice, compassion, goodness and love will always be the exception, not the rule.
The German Christian Church exchanged its moral authority for power and an empty promise of peace. It was muzzled and neutered by the Nazis, who were then free to carry out their horrors without interference from Christian moralists.
The American Christian church must enter into political alliances with its eyes wide open to the risks as well as the opportunities. We must get our hands dirty in the work of politics, while remaining perfectly clear about the difference between a political platform and a doctrinal creed.
[The Kingdom of God] is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough. — Luke 13: 20-21, NLT (Jesus speaking)
The Church of Jesus Christ must be that yeast.