A Gentle Word to the Church on Politics

Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord. For the one seeks glory from men; but the greatest glory of the other is God, the witness of conscience. The one lifts up its head in its own glory; the other says to its God, “Thou art my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.” In the one, the princes and the nations it subdues are ruled by the love of ruling; in the other, the princes and the subjects serve one another in love, the latter obeying, while the former take thought for all. The one delights in its own strength, represented in the persons of its rulers; the other says to its God, “I will love Thee, O Lord, my strength.” And therefore the wise men of the one city, living according to man, have sought for profit to their own bodies or souls, or both, and those who have known God “glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened; professing themselves to be wise”— that is, glorying in their own wisdom, and being possessed by pride—“ they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.” For they were either leaders or followers of the people in adoring images, “and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever.”  But in the other city there is no human wisdom, but only godliness, which offers due worship to the true God, and looks for its reward in the society of the saints, of holy angels as well as holy men, “that God may be all in all.”

St. Augustine, The City of God

If you own a television or have access to the internet, you understand that the last year or so in politics has been brutal. Both sides of the ideological aisle have acted savagely to each other and themselves. It is very easy for us as Christians who live in the city of man to get caught up in the savageness of our day. We value self-expression at the expense of self-reflection. Don’t believe me go on Facebook for five seconds. My argument today is not in support of a cause, party or politician.

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Augustine writing his brilliant work city of God in the ruins of the mighty Roman Empire had the perfect political and eschatological perspective. Augustine was getting at some things that as followers of Christ we must not ignore. He was arguing against an over-identification with the temporal aspects of even the greatest city of man. The political problem in the church is not an Obama or Trump issue. It isn’t a red state blue state issue. The problem with the church and politics is those in the church are too quick to identify as Republican or Democrats. It was from the ruins of perhaps the greatest city ever that Augustine pleads with us to find our identity in the city of God rather than the city of man.

When as a Christian your primary identity is with the city of God it redefines your role in the city of man. You do not ignore your responsibility to that city, but you also don’t find your identity in it. What the church needs is a reminder before our country is reduced to ashes that our citizenship is in heaven.

I have had conversations with people who are in utter despair after the election and have talked with others who or overly elated by the result of the election. In Augustine’s famous speech at the end of his Magnus Opus, he is saying there is a humility and contentment that comes from our identification with the city of God. There is a self-forgetfulness that overshadows our self-congratulations when our guy wins or our self-defeat when our guy loses. When we realize that the goal of our lives and our citizenship in the city of man is that we live in such a way that our everything we do is worship to the one who ordains all things. That through our joys and pains through our victory and defeats Christ would be all in all. My gentle admonition to the evangelicals of America is to make sure that you find your citizenship primarily in the city of God even to the contempt of self.

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