This is Ascension Sunday, which means that we are going to be reminded of the absolute authority of the Lord Jesus Christ in every realm. Because we are currently in a political season, and we are in this season in a time that is politically swollen, we need to come to the Scriptures as the only foundation upon which we may build our political identities. This is the task, and it is harder than it looks.
“Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).
“If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
“Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets” (Matt. 7:12; cf. Matt. 22:40).
Summary of the Texts
Because of Christ’s great obedience, even to the point of death on a cross, God has highly exalted Him. He has a name above every name (Phil. 2:9). The point of having such an exalted name is that every knee should bow (in obedience), and this includes creatures in heaven, on earth, and under the earth (v. 10). It certainly does not exempt anyone. The universal confession follows—every tongue confesses that Jesus is Lord. Again, the lordship of Christ entails obedience. As a result of this, God the Father is glorified. We do not oppose love for Christ and obedience to Christ, as though piety and law were at odds. If we love Jesus, then we will do what He says (John 14:15). But it is not enough to affirm the need for this in the abstract. What does He say? In His Sermon on the Mount, He gives us His authoritative summary of the entire Old Testament. Do unto others (Matt. 7:12). In another place, He says that love for God and neighbor sum up the whole Old Testament as well (Matt. 22:40). If we look at this carefully, we see that the Golden Rule is another way of expressing the duties of love. Jesus said that He did not come to abolish the law and the prophets, but rather to fulfill them (Matt. 5:17). This is how.
Definitions: Conservative and Progressive
Remember that no virtue can be found in a transitive verb. Everything hinges on the direct object. Did you know that loving (agape loving) was a great sin (1 John 2:15)? Did you know that we are called to a life of hatred (Prov. 8:13)? Stop loving and start hating. That’s what the Bible says . . . Everything hinges on what you love and what you hate, and why. Right? The same thing is true of the verbs related to our common political terms conservative and progressive.
What are you conserving? Joseph Smith’s polygamist directives in the mountains of Utah? The old prerogatives of the Politburo? The work of the Holy Spirit in human culture over the last two thousand years? What? And what are you progressing toward? The Marxist vision of the final state? An Islamic vision of sharia law? Isaiah’s vision of the feast on the mountain (Is. 25:6)? What? You have to decide where you are going before exulting in the fact that you are making really good time.
Where We Are Right Now
This means that as Christians we should want to conserve those elements of our culture that are the goods of common grace, or which developed as a result of the progress of the gospel in the world. That is what we are conservative about. Knowing what these are requires the pursuit of wisdom, and all that entails. As Christians, we should want to progress toward the scriptural vision of the good life, every man under his own fig tree—not somebody else’s fig tree that you bought at auction because his property taxes were in arrears. We progress toward the time when human society is shaped by the fact that every knee is bent, and every tongue has confessed who Jesus actually is. What we conserve, and what we progress toward, are both defined, entirely and completely by the Bible.
But what would “they” call it? You are on national television, and are given a chance to spell out what you would keep and what you would work for. When you are done, what do they call you? How do they define you? An ultramontane fundamentalist theocratic conservative redneck tinfoil-hatter would be at the kind end of their descriptions. There is no way they would call you any kind of their kind of progressive. So how do we self- identify?
Cashing This Out
The apostle Paul calls us to not be babies in our understanding. He says we are to be like little children when it comes to malice, but that we should be mature and adult in our understanding of the world (1 Cor. 14:20). So then . . . we are not allowed to rubber stamp whatever political program appeals to us with the name of Jesus. We must do what we do politically in His name, and that which we do must be entirely in line with what He says.
But don’t be a child. Would you like to get free money from the government? Then why not vote for free money from the government for everybody else? The brief answer is that it isn’t free. Do unto others, but complete the sentence. If I would like to get free money, then I should support the giving of free money to others. But I emphatically would not want to get money that was stolen in order to give it to me. Why don’t I want that? Because I am a Christian. Therefore I may not support it in other cases. What many point to as an application of the Golden Rule in politics is actually the most egregious violation of it. We are disobeying Jesus in the name of Jesus.
Limited Government, Great Glory
In Scripture, there is an inverse relationship between the amount of coercion a government uses and the glory that government has.
“The God of Israel said, The Rock of Israel spake to me, he that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God. And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; As the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain” (2 Sam. 23:3-4).