What on earth are we to do?

The photo is of a piece of art in Palma de Mallorca. A replica of the original created by Dennis Oppenheim, and called the ‘Device to Root Out Evil’. The original was objected to due to its choice of a church being turned upside down, but what better image to use? I certainly do not consider it to be sacrilegious but highly appropriate.

The sculptor chooses a very traditional shape for the building and with the spire driven into the ground it speaks volumes. The top becoming the bottom and the building not simply sitting on the land but into the land.

Paul might not have recognised the traditional shape but I think he might well have approved of the overall image. In Imperialism there is always a very clear ‘top’ or ‘centre’. From there all is shaped and controlled. Promises are made, with the clear framework that where there is compliance there will be reward, though the real beneficiaries are located at the centre. Other centres can develop, but they remain subservient to the main centre. Such centres only have carefully delegated monitored authority, certainly no authority is distributed. In the Imperial world of Rome there can be other ‘kings’ but Rome will remain the ‘city that rules over the kings of the earth’ and Caesar will continue unchallenged as ‘king of kings’.

The language of the NT Gospel is unmistakably political. Caesar is not only not acknowledged as ‘lord’ but Jesus is proclaimed as ‘Lord of lords and king of kings’. This is not because the Jesus message is a mirror of Rome’s, but rather Rome is being exposed as a pathetic parody of the real. The same words are used but the effecting of the reality is perverted by Rome with peace no longer coming through the life laid down, but through lives taken; the power overcomes, and if necessary through violence, rather than a submission to the violent powers. At the heart the contrast is of power enforced and of love extended.

The evil to be rooted out is indeed deep in the soil. It is an evil that enslaves one and all to a system, and the evil is so pervasive it is personified in Paul’s writings as ‘sin’ (singular) or in Revelation it manifests as a beast or beasts in union. An alternative structure, but one that is mirrored on the Babylonian top-down will not root out evil. Such a structure will eventually be used by evil as and when it proves helpful to do so, as it will not bring about a shift to the deep evil embedded in the soil. The church can never therefore be a comfortable bed-partner to the status quo, the subversive nature of it has to be present.

I propose then that Paul was crazy – truly crazy! He went to a place that already had an ekklesia, whose purpose was to serve the Imperial centre of Rome, and he went there with a conflicting message concerning the kingdom of God (basileia being the Greek word for kingdom, the same word equally used by Rome of her own ’empire’). On first hearing he must have sounded as a political insurrectionist whose time on earth was going to be limited. Yet there was some strange elements to the message. There was a ‘religious’ tone to it, and at the centre was a dead Jew whom Paul proclaimed was not simply ‘alive’ but risen from the dead.

His message was certainly political, but it could not be pressed into serving a particular wing (‘party’). What was clear was the message did not serve the status quo, for he was declaring that all hierarchies were not recognised ‘in Christ’. Not surprisingly the result was that ‘not many wise, not many noble’ were those who responded to the message! This irrelevant group should have been no threat to Rome’s order, and yet amazingly there were riots. Riots inspired by Jews were expected, for if Jesus was Lord he was not the one accursed of God but his name was now the only name through which salvation would come. (Acts 4:12 – ‘Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.’ The ‘we’ both linguistically and contextually are Jews. No other name – not even the name of Abraham!) Jews reacting could be predicted, but a riot inspired by silversmiths (Acts 19)? This shows the extent of the impact (and understanding of the implications) of his message.

To narrow the work of Paul down to one element, such as he is creating a political movement, would be to be in error, but to avoid the obvious implication of the central political sound would be (in my perspective) to shift where the core of his message was.

Complex, complex, complex! To simply take the teachings of Jesus, the understanding of Paul’s Gospel and to proclaim them as shaping a new politic would not do justice to his Gospel, but to ignore that would be criminal!

We probably cannot give a simple answer to what on earth was Paul doing, but we cannot ignore his context of a one world government complete with its 666 mark of the beast; nor can we diminish his passion for a whole inhabited world (oikomene) to have opportunity to hear the message of hope.

It is very difficult to add the word ‘para’ to what followers of Christ are involved in, if they are motivated by something of this political (small ‘p’) vision and purpose. It is also quite difficult to give the word ekklesia to any group of those who want to use the term ekklesia in a way that only legitimises themselves.

We live at the end of the Christendom era. The apostolic calling is very strong whenever there is a shift. Perhaps we are in what will be viewed as the biggest shift in the civilisation of humanity. We might never know what on earth Paul was doing, but we will certainly have to figure out between us all what on earth are we to do. If it does not carry a political element with a vision for a transformed society it will be very hard to show that our message is faithful to the one Paul received from heaven.

The apostolic of every generation or situation have to rework the application of the Gospel without ever changing the Gospel itself. If we want to be faithful we will have to renounce hierarchy, be personally upended and immersed in the soil. Could there be a people who are called to root out evil? Could that be possible? If not, could there be a crazy gang who rose up (and went down deep) who were committed to a seriously thought out attempt to do so?

11 thoughts on “What on earth are we to do?

  1. Perhaps in reference to your post a few days back as well as more recently. . . what should we be doing? Well, one thing would be to support the women who are emerging to challenge the order of things. I think of Greta Thunberg at the UN. I think of the judge who just yanked Boris Johnson’s chain. And while I am no fan of Ms Pelosi, she has now instituted formal impeachment proceedings against Trump. Seems women are at the forefront (not always for good I want to point out, we are human after all) of making change, making essential change.

    Greta Thunberg likes to tell leaders that change is coming whether they like it or not. I disagree with her. The change is already here. The context for everything we do has been changing relentlessly for years, at least 30 years. That’s long enough for there to be a shift politically. All that we see today, I believe, is a reaction to climate change. The political upheaval is the inept and often negative response of the human community to a forced change. Our job now is to encourage the best outcome possible, one in which the planet, all the species that are left, and the human community can prosper. Seems women are leading the way on that.

    1. Yes for sure there is and has to be a rise of the feminine. I have been working with the implications of Jesus dying as a male and as a Jew. Has serious implications and the foundation for Paul to say neither Jew nor Greek, male and female…

  2. This is really interesting though as you say very complex. Thank you for mentioning the term Ekklesia, as people do use it a lot these days and possibly out of context as I I always thought it was the true word for ‘church’ – obviously has very different connotations as a platform of politics in Greece!

    Interesting too what you say about going deeper down into the land as Christians too. When I was in Perranporth in Cornwall on holiday this year I read about St Piran and his story in more detail which is fascinating. He was one of the main Celtic saints who brought Christianity to Cornwall. His life was steeped in miracles and he landed on the beach in front of where we were staying so the story goes. Usually when I’m in Cornwall (around Perranporth) I feel quite a lot of oppression and heaviness although I love it anyway! There is quite a lot of witchcraft and occult practices going on in Cornwall generally. However this year I felt that underneath that is a deep soaking of the land in the blood of Jesus due to the establishment of Christianity by the early saints and also by the ministries of John and Charles Wesley in the 18th century. I was shown that the witchcraft practices are merely superficial in comparison with the strong underpinning of Christ in the actual land. I really felt his presence this year so feel things may be shifting as revelation comes and people are claiming back this inheritance in the area I think.

    1. Great comment and I love the deeper presence of God within the land that can be called on. A deep inheritance.

      Ekklesia of course does translate as church, but our problem (mine included) is we know what church is and assume Paul and others are busy planting what we know and for the purpose we have in mind. If we discovered what he was about maybe it would shift our emphasis, and in that context ekklesia as being related to the city / city state (polis in Greek, hence political) gives us a different angle on it.

  3. Re: ekklesia. I think there were 3 ekklesias which were known in Jesus’ day. The Jewish one was the group of city/town elders who sat in the gates – the ‘called out ones’. They set taxes etc etc and were the final arbiter for disputes hence the Matt 18 reference. The others were Greek and Roman, the latter were ‘called out’ to go into a newly conquered territory and make it look, smell, taste etc exactly like Rome. Interesting!

    Do you think that Jesus in Matthew 16 was saying, “I will build MY ekklesia”. Was it church he was going to build or His kingdom? I think ekkesia was translated as church in the Latin Vulgate by the Roman church, maybe to claim the Peter inheritance? Did Jesus really mean ‘church’?

    1. Whatever Jesus meant by “church” we can be fairly sure what his early followers understood him to mean and what they took to building.

      Acts 2:42 is “titled” the Fellowship of believers. “They devoted themselves to the Apostle’s teaching, the breaking of bread and prayer”

      They gathered
      They were believers

      Whatever Greta Thunberg is, she isn’t the church. Prophetic voice perhaps. But not the church.

      as always IMHO,

      Nigel

    2. Thanks Nigel. I might also add that no individual is the church /ekklesia. Individuals can be prophetic voices and as is easy to recognise not all prophetic voices necessarily acknowledge a personal commitment to the person (beyond the teachings) of Jesus.

      I think if what I am pushing (one side of a understanding) is valid the challenge to all groups of believers is that to take the name church is to be political, to be committed to the shift of society.

      I think also we have to consider what the Jewish believers understood as one level and how Paul understood it at another. I suspect Paul took it a step further, but then if course I would think that. The Jews saw themselves as a remnant within a chosen people, standing for that people; I think Paul’s vision was for the transformation of the one world government. IMO… Hope not arrogant opinion, and acknowledging I could be way off beam!

    3. hear hear.

      “the challenge to all groups of believers is that to take the name church is to be political, to be committed to the shift of society.”

      Is there any group of believers that you have met that would not agree with that?

      Now, they may have different specifics about the status quo they would want to see change of course but that’s another matter.

    4. A couple of further thoughts. I see the responsibility of the ekklesia is to clear the spiritual climate so that voices can be heard that are healthy, reflective of heaven’s perspective. This is church as royal priesthood. We are not primarily responsible to speak into society, but we ARE responsible that the voice of God is heard – whether through those who are self-consciously part of the ekklesia or do not even profess faith.

      And in response to your helpful question as to whether I have seen any groups not looking for a shift in society, your follow on is right on… what is meant by that. A ‘hands up and be born again’ and that is all that counts I find hard to see how they are really looking for society to change as it is a neo-Platonic world-view that seems to shape that. Equally, a ‘I have some good ideas that are based on the teaching of Jesus’ but no real personal relationship with Jesus through the cross message is helpful for society but long-term impact through spiritual change? Maybe not so much.

    5. Thanks Geoff… Seems ‘i will build my ekklesia’ has a background in qumran community where they were God’s ekklesia. So for Jesus to say my church is quite a claim, and I do think he is continuing to build his ekklesia across the globe. The shape(s) of it seem less important than its relationship to the head / one another and to the world.

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