American Polity Versus Christian Piety

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The Christian life may be summed up in one word: obedience. The spirit of obedience is much harder to pursue than the letter of obedience. Though it certainly must include this sort of honest citizenship, Mark 12:13-17 is about much more than filing honest tax returns.  After all, would they all have been really so “amazed” when Jesus told them to do something quite so obvious, even easy? Or is it more likely that the amazement stemmed from nary a word about rebelling against an authority who gave no second thought to his own deity and trampling the sovereignty of God’s own?

Mark 12 is about authority and submission. If we’re being honest, these are not themes Americans naturally abide. Our very existence is the result of rebellion. We are nurtured on the virtues of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, warnings to “not tread on me” and entreats to bestow liberty or (gulp) death. We have a polity that invites, encourages, even rewards, dissent. This is not to suggest our time and place is the realm of antichrist in a withdrawal-y, Anabaptistic-sort-of-way, or that America isn’t a great place to raise kids. Rather, it is to wonder, if the short hand for the Christian life is indeed obedience, just what sort of bearing our theological beliefs have on our ideological devotions, if any.

If the hearers of Jesus can gasp at his rendering instruction in light of obvious problems, is it really such a stretch to suggest that, despite popular sentiment to the contrary, American polity is more antithetical than encouraging to Christian piety? It could be that it isn’t quite as safe and happy to be an American Christian as sermons on Memorial Day and platitudes on July 4 might think. It might be that what we presume as a blessing is closer to what it means to struggle against the world, the flesh and the devil.

To this end, Andy Webb at Building Old School Churches has a nice post that seems to flesh this out a little more.

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13 Responses to American Polity Versus Christian Piety

  1. Chris Sherman says:

    Curious as to why you didn’t classify this in the two-kingdoms category as well?

  2. RubeRad says:

    We have a lot of categories, and our post-tagging is by no means consistent or possibly even useful!

  3. Chris Sherman says:

    Fair enough,

    I suppose it is customary to make hasty exits from outhouses without making sure there are provisions for the next visitor.

  4. Zrim says:

    Actually, Chris, I didn’t tag it as 2K out of wussy truce to fellow 2Kers who think asking certain questions like these throws suspicion on one’s 2K-i-osity.

    Kidding. It never occured to me. Are you looking for editorial work?

  5. Chris Sherman says:

    Editorial work? I’ll take any work I can get these days. Of course if I don’t make any money, then I don’t have to give any evil tax money to evil Caesar.

    But seriously, I am a bit perplexed by your statement, “The Christian life may be summed up in one word: obedience.” I lean more towards saying something along the lines of the Christian life being summed up in the word: “gratitude.” Gratitude, which ought lead to obedience, would include gratitude for authority in the civil realm as well.

    Am I missing your point?

  6. Chris Sherman says:

    as usual

  7. Zrim says:

    Chris,

    I don’t think you’re missing my point. You might be distinguishing things that don’t need it, though. The law is the structure of our sanctification, the Spirit its power; love and duty are not mutually exclusive, nor are gratitude and obedience. But it was just a way to introduce the point of the post. If the post had been about grace it would work to have summed it up by way of gratitude.

    The only thing Calvinism takes more seriously than sin is grace, but I often wonder how seriously American Calvinists take civil obedience, especially when civil DISobedience is a prized virtue. We seem as ready to tear down and undermine as the next pagan, then make up for it by “praying for our authorities.”

  8. sean says:

    As usual Zrim your view of civil obedience in light of Mark 12 makes our Kuyperian sermons seem almost treasonous. It’s a good thing you didn’t pursue the pastorate your no good at rallying the troops to “speak to the authorities that be” I probably couldn’t get a congressman’s email or number from you, so that I could apply the principles you extrapolated from the text.

  9. Zrim says:

    That, plus I take my edification and encouragement from that epistle of straw known as Ecclesiastes. What an under-realized, eschatelogical downer, man.

  10. Rick says:

    We seem as ready to tear down and undermine as the next pagan, then make up for it by “praying for our authorities.”

    So true. And how often don’t our prayers for them contain back-handed slaps at their policies.

  11. riorancho says:

    If there are two Scriptures I have heard die the death of a thousand qualifications in the Reformed community, it is this Mark passage and Rom 13:1

    Todd

  12. Zrim says:

    Todd,

    I’ll see those passages and raise Acts 5:29-30. Funny how verse 29 (We must obey God rather than men!) never gets read in light of verse 30 (The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead—whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree).

  13. Chris Sherman says:

    “If the hearers of Jesus can gasp at his rendering instruction in light of obvious problems, is it really such a stretch to suggest that, despite popular sentiment to the contrary, American polity is more antithetical than encouraging to Christian piety? It could be that it isn’t quite as safe and happy to be an American Christian as sermons on Memorial Day and platitudes on July 4 might think. It might be that what we presume as a blessing is closer to what it means to struggle against the world, the flesh and the devil.”

    I think this is most true when kingdoms are confused.

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