In the period before Christ, the nation of Israel was unique. Of all the nations of the world, it was handpicked by God, established by His providence rather than the will of the local political rulers, and governed by a set of laws of divine origin. Even though Israel failed to follow those laws, that, at least, was the intention.
The coming of Christ did not change Israel's uniqueness, with one exception. Israel's borders were to be enlarged. She was now to encompass the whole world. She would no longer be called Israel, but the church. And it is the church, as heir to God's promises to Abraham, whose task it is to work until all Christ's enemies have become His footstool.
The Nation Without Borders
In this sense, the church is a nation without borders. Yet in all respects it is a nation that can be defined. The church is clearly established by God, not man. Its laws are (or at least should be) of divine origin. And because of this, it stands head-to-head in competition with every other nation on planet earth.
The early Christians understood this, as did the political rulers of the day. The Christian church, said the Roman rulers, could exist under its power umbrella. "No thanks," said the Christians. "To the contrary, it is Caesar who rules by the grace of God, and for the church to recognize its existence as an act of Roman grace would be to deny the faith." As a result, Christians were tortured and killed as political criminals because they would not recognize the ultimate authority of the Roman state.
The Church's Status as a Nation
Over the centuries the church carved out a unique position for herself. She refused to be taxed, and today many of our western churches are fighting to stave off the taxing power of the nations. The tax-exempt status of the church is no different than the tax-exempt status of foreign embassies in a host country. The local authorities do not tax them, for to pay a tax would acknowledge that they are under the jurisdiction of the taxing power.
Historically, the church has understood the issue and established her independence from local national authorities, a legacy she may soon lose. The church, the unique nation founded by God, has her own taxing laws. She has her own "Constitution" that sets out the delegated powers and authorities of all mankind, including political leaders. And this makes her offensive to those of every nation whose belief system lies elsewhere.
Christianity Will Fail Until…
If Christianity is to have an impact in the new millennium, it must challenge the reigning beliefs of the nations of the world that there is no law other than what they decree, and that all must bend the knee to their own gods.
Our problem is that, at the moment, Christianity cannot challenge this idolatry because it is a set of beliefs, a way of life. And beliefs, at the end of the day, need to be manifested in the world through action. But many Christians at the moment are not willing to put into practice these beliefs. Change will only occur when Christians practice the belief system of Christianity. One Christian acting in isolation will not make an impact until others join him.
What Christians Need
For Christians to act with coordinated effort will require not just good ideas, but excellent leadership. Leaders must harness the combined power of individual Christians and coordinate efforts to bring Christian ideals to the fore. Historically, this leadership has come from the institutional church, for it was the church and its leadership that stood against the powers of kings and earthly authorities and said to them, "Thus far and no further." People could take refuge from the national authorities, not only mentally with the ideas of Christianity, but physically behind the closed doors of the local church.
If the church is to have an impact in the new millennium, she must first of all regain her status as God's unique earthly kingdom, the new Israel. Those who join this "nation" must realize that they have become treasonous to the spirit of the nation in which they live, because they no longer recognize the supreme authority of the political order. That position belongs to God alone.
But the real challenge is to those who become leaders in God's new kingdom, for it is their task not only to lead His people and to build them up in the faith, but also to protect and care for them.
Our bishops, elders, and deacons do not have a good track record at keeping at bay the wolves of the political order and its desire to rule everything in the place of God. A legacy of the Reformation has been the increase in power and authority of the nation-state. But today, Christians concentrate their efforts on personal salvation, designed to make people feel good about themselves rather than bring them into a kingdom at war with the kings of this earth.
The old battle hymns of the church proclaimed well the need for active spiritual warfare. But Onward, Christian Soldiers! has given way to Oh, How I love Jesus. The church, largely feminized by the lack of men in attendance and its sentimental belief systems, needs to recapture a masculine theology that will re-establish a dominion-seeking Christianity. When the soldiers of the cross again stand up under competent and effective leadership we might see the church gaining instead of losing.
And we have several centuries of losses to overcome. These losses have devastated the church and her influence. And it will take a very great miracle to bring about these changes. Christianity, however, is the religion of true miracles, and there are signs of a new stirring within Christian churches.
It will take a new style of leadership to battle against all powers and principalities that set themselves up against King Jesus and His legitimate rule of the nations. That new leadership must show individual members how to live faithfully, must protect their flocks, and must protect the God-given right of the church. This is how the West was won in the past. And the West has been lost to the extent that the church has failed to maintain her opposition to all forms of idolatry and false religion. To regain the West it will be necessary to re-establish the church. This should be our goal in the new millennium, and we must pray that God will give us success in our endeavours for Him.
- Ian Hodge
Ian Hodge, Ph.D. (1947–2016) was a long-term supporter of Chalcedon and an occasional contributor to Faith for All of Life. He was also a business consultant in Australia, USA, Canada, and New Zealand, and a prominent piano teacher in Australia.