The Political Idolatry of Christians and How to Cure It

by | May 2, 2023

Politics is all around us; we can not escape it. We can not avoid being involved in it; even the very attempt to be non-political ends up being political when we recognise that ‘politics’ is a specific way of relating to people; one in which, power, influence, and authority are conspicuously at play. Christians are political. Even the Amish and the Brudahof are political despite trying their best not to be. Therefore, since we are going to be political we need to ask ourselves, “What, if anything, is guiding our political decision-making? Christians do tend to be active citizens in a society (when we are not being persecuted) and this flows from the narrative in our faith about the Kingdom of GOD! However, I want to propose to you that when we are being political as Christians we often do so in an idolatrous fashion. I want to make my case that, as Christians, we need to rediscover a political narrative to guide our interactions when we possess power, influence, and authority, or are up against those that do.

I want to start off by making an accusation in the hope of awakening my brethren as to the issue that, in the absence of a Christian political narrative, Christians have and do give their energies to other ideologies and causes apart from the Kingdom of GOD. I want to give some examples: Christian Ukrainians and Russians (both Orthodox in name) are fighting and killing one another because, in both perception and reality, they each see one another as something else over and above being Orthodox Christians. Each of them is serving the cause of their nation-state in a tragic death struggle, which is bleeding both countries (and therefore both of its churches) of their future. When the dust settles and this war ends, as surely it must, the divisions between these Christians will be rooted in their ‘national’ identities. In other words, national identity trumps Christian identity. It’s not just in Russia and Ukraine where we see this god of the nation-state causing Christians to betray Christians. It actually has a long and bloody history. We could also point to the Crimean War of 1853-1856 where, ostensibly, Christian countries like France and the United Kingdom fought alongside Ottoman Muslims against another Christian country, Russia, to prevent it from taking land from an empire which persecuted Christians in this war. I could list for you countless wars from the 1700s where European Christians fought one another for the nation. The idolatry of it all was exposed by the fact that Christmas truces were observed showing they never should have fought one another in the first place. Consider the following:

  • 1718: During the Great Northern War, a truce was observed between Swedish and Russian troops on Christmas Day during which soldiers from both sides exchanged gifts and played games together.
  • 1777: During the American Revolutionary War, British and American troops observed a brief truce on Christmas Day during which soldiers on both sides exchanged greetings, shared food and drink, and played games together.
  • 1914: During World War I, soldiers on both sides of the Western Front observed unofficial truces on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The truces were initiated by soldiers in the trenches who began singing Christmas carols and lighting candles. Soldiers from opposing sides emerged from their trenches and met in no man’s land, exchanging gifts, sharing food and drink, and playing football together.
  • 1939: During World War II, a brief truce was observed between German and British troops on Christmas Day which lasted for a few hours during which soldiers from both sides emerged from their trenches and exchanged greetings and gifts.

The peace of Christmas is a sign to Christians that what we have in common because of our faith is of far greater importance than anything we could be fighting about. Consider how the world would look today if, instead of fighting one another during the 1700s, the European powers had rather put their joint hand to the plough in a crusade to free the Christians of the Islamic world from oppression and occupation. Albeit done at times, to varying degrees of clarity and urgency, it was always secondary to the cause of the nation. One may think of Russia and the Austro-Hungarian empires, and later, the United Kingdom and France, where Christianity was the subscript to the superior story of nationalism.

What was the root of this idolatry; this failing of Christian brother to brother? It was simply the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church and Reformation and the subsequent wars that emerged from it. Christians were pitted to kill Christians because all men had been sent mad with zeal for truth and had forgotten that an essential part of Christian truth is the unity of the Church, the love of one another as Christians in the image of GOD, and the call to live a life built of truth and virtue! The subsequent bloody wars led to an eventual peace; the peace of Westphalia. This ended the dream of a united Christendom! The peace recognised the sovereignty of the nation-state (or the kingdoms as they then were), thus no more attempting to influence one another on the basis of religion. Each ruler was a little god in his own territory; powers now passed onto the parliaments. This led to the centralisation of power which set in motion the ‘secularisation of society;’ the bane in the heart of many Christians today. The peace enforced what should have always been the norm; the tolerance of other Christians. Now this was done, not from any Christian principle but rather from the pragmatic necessity of the new state. Thus, it became a characterisation of the new secular state to be tolerant which is the root of our current melancholy in a relativistic religious diversity. This substantially weakened the place of the papacy in the politics of Europe which had, for better or worse, been a player in the Christian political thinking of European leaders.

Fast forward three hundred years, is the Church any better off in the absence of a Christian political narrative? Clearly, the catholic vision of Christendom died, because it led to scandalising corruption which needed reform and challenge which was too easily resisted by Papal authority. The energy of the Reformation erupting out of the Church, rather than being absorbed by the Church of the time to positive effect; released a plague of problems on the Christian world due to the imbalances of its own theological construction. Christians have, for three hundred years, laid down their lives in service at the wrong altar to the god of ‘country.’ When this god became scandalised due to the two world wars, society looked for other paradigmatic models upon which to build its politics. Christians; without any other kind of political guidance went with society.

Thus, from 1945 society increasingly tried to organise itself on the god of the ‘self’ and the ‘liberation of the self’ from social norms and constraints. Too many Christians and Christian organisations simply went with the flow because they clearly had no filter. The idea of thinking as a Christian – for a Christian society – is scandalous, even amongst Christians! Thus, we have seen the liberalisation of many (not all) Christian Churches to embrace such things as gay marriage, trans-ideology, abortion, divorce, and so on. The reason why this is happening is, in part, the result of a demographic collapse of Christians (we’ve lost the art of creating families) and also because the absence of a political narrative, means when we think politically; we simply adopt and (perhaps modify) someone else political thought; and invariably; that means just going along with the crowd; as the majority of Christians did with the Nazis in Germany, Fascists in Italy, the apartheid in South Africa and America, and gay marriage, and trans ideology today. These ‘culture Christians’ whether they are kissing the boot of Black Lives Matter Marxists, inviting a trans person to do drag in Church; or screeching sieg hiel to Adolf Hitler; are all the same – worshippers of a false political god; because they have never thought how to worship the GOD of Israel in their politics.

So how do we fix the problem; well we have to free ourselves from the thinking of the last 350 years! Now there is no turning the clock back; not in one generation (unless you commit yourself to a violent overthrow) which I am not advocating. I am saying that Christians need to allow themselves to imagine again; what a Christian civilisation actually looks like. What would it mean for democratic governments to be actually Christian and work together, on Christian principles (not liberal principles), for the Kingdom of GOD.

The first step of recovering this Christian political worldview, has to be, regaining our sense of identity, as the people of GOD. We must lay aside the denominational matrix through which we have come to understand our commitment to the Lord Jesus, and simply build our identity in every way; culturally, socially, politically, economically, and spiritually on the fact we are Christians. Period! Yes, that means accepting true diversity amongst ourselves as a people; without abandoning our commitment to truth; but adjusting how we approach error in other Christians; one that sits within a broader spectrum of unity.

I want also to propose we go back to one of the key architects of Christendom; and learn from him; as our society in many ways looks like his, but in reverse order. He was in the middle of a paradigm shift, in which Christianity was replacing the old pagan Rome; but success was not certain; divisions in the Church, the old Pagan elites, the contending successful Arian heresy; a world of religious plurality; but Christianity was gaining ground. Today, our world is in the midst of a paradigm shift, Islam is the religion on the up (through birth rate and immigration) religious diversity; an old pagan elite (the Liberals take on this role; as their religion is the epicurean religion of humanity). His name is St Ambrose of Milan; and whilst I will leave you to research about his life; I want to focus on his political narrative as best as it can be distilled.

Ambrose believed quite firmly, that his role as a Church leader was to fight for the triumph of the church over all her enemies; and to defend the Church against all her opposition. He fought against division; when he argued against the puritan Catholics of his day, the Donatists, scandalised by the lapse of the Church; who abandoned Christ in the face of Roman persecution. He argued, for their re-assimilation into the Church of those who had lapsed; and thus he argued for a catholic faith; open to even the spiritually weak. He believed that the authority of GOD was higher than that of the state; Theodoret of Cyrrhus, a 5th-century historian; records that; after the massacre of Thessaloniki which resulted in the death of a number of Roman officials (on account of a popular charioteer); Theodosius I ordered a massacre, resulting in the deaths of 7000 people. Ambrose is reported to have:

“closed the doors of the basilica and said, ‘You may not enter until you have repented.’ The emperor was astonished and said, ‘Do you not know that I am the emperor?’ To which Ambrose replied, ‘Yes, I know; but you are a man and God’s law is above the law of the emperor.'”

Ambrose, like the Apostles before the Sanhedrin, asserted it was better to ‘Obey GOD rather than man.’ Indeed, he understood, as Christ had implied, that since ‘the earth is the Lords; and everything upon it,’ then Caesar himself belonged to GOD. No doubt, the fact that Theodosius was a faithful son of the Church, just as the Apostle Paul had aspired that king Agrippa should be ‘apart from these chains,’ emboldened Ambrose, who pressed Theodosius to oppose the accursed Arian heresy to which he had a complicated relationship, in that he opposed it whilst allowing Arian bishops into seats of influence and authority. Ambrose appealed to the Emperor to be of firmer resolve in opposition to the heresy. In this, Ambrose displayed an unwavering commitment to the Christian truth! The emperor backed down and repented of the massacre, taking a tougher line against the heretics. Ambrose, much like the Patriarchs of Macedonia in recent years, mobilised the people of Milan to oppose an imperial edict of the Emperor of Valentinian to seize church property; a scene echoed in the holy confessors of Chine to defend the displaying of the cross. Thus, he asserted, and this is key to his political outlook, the rights of the Church to be independent of the state; the threat of a Christian riot forced the state to back down. He called upon and expected Christian leaders to use their state positions to help defend the Church. This can be summarised as the ‘two swords theory’ in which the state and the Church had distinct synchronistic roles. The Church guides the souls of men, the state protects the church and so orders society unencumbered even by the state itself. Ambrose was a keen rhetorician and used his power of speech to enter into the cultural and political debate, unafraid of polemic or apologetic, he defended the Christian faith against all rivals. Amongst his chief converts from these efforts was none other than the foundation stone of Latin thinking, St Augustine. He keenly developed a robust spirituality of asceticism that developed a strong Christian identity in strong contradistinction to the licentiousness of pagan Rome.

Christ lives in His Church. The logic is simple; if we want a politics that serves Christ, we need the kind that emboldens, encourages, and supports Christians in the practice of their faith. As Christians are free to do so fully, they can then expand the heavenly kingdom on Earth!

In conclusion, Christians, we live in an epoch-changing moment and the soft underbelly of our faith has been exposed for the last three hundred years; a lack of political priorities that serve our own community. Therefore I urge you all; whether great or small, strong or weak, rich or poor, whether, we are the ones wielding power, influence and authority; or responding to others who are doing the same; to let this narrative influence you. Always defend the identity of Christians, and build on it, in distinction to non-Christian opponents, always advance and defend the rights of Christians to practice their faith fully; even if they are a different kind of Christian to you; always stand with the confessors of the faith in their suffering; always uphold the martyrs as an example. Call those who are Christians in power to do the same as those things listed above; stand on the truth even in opposition to the state; and do not be afraid to galvanise and work as a group in opposition to those who oppose the Church. That the Church (that is the Christian community) is triumphant over all her enemies!