Do Christian have any business thinking about building “Christian nations”? In a previous post, I distanced myself from this idea – it would seem in any form. However, I do not think the question is dismissed so easily.
To be sure, Vatican City notwithstanding, it will not be until the new heavens and earth that church and state will finally be one in the way God desires. Then, it would seem that not only Jesus’ 12 disciples, but an additional 12 elders as well, will rule with the Lamb from their thrones.
Until that time however, the Kingdom of God is “not of this world”. Christians – the church – live in a peculiar kind of tension of being in, but not of, this world. They are “strangers and pilgrims in this world” who seek not the earthly Jerusalem, but the Heavenly one – the “city whose designer and builder is God”. Hence, Augustine is eventually led to speak of the city of God as distinct for the city of man and Luther further develops this in his idea of the two kingdoms – the kingdom of the left and the kingdom of the right (see here for more specifics on these ideas)
All that said, until the time of the new heavens and the new earth, what might it mean for a state to rule in relative harmony with the church, where the state upholds the church and respects the authority of its Scriptures? And what role should the church play in this?
Now, it may seem strange for Christians to ask a question like this. After all, in the last days does Jesus not warn us that there not be all kinds of persecution brought against His people? Why then, should we expect that states should do such things – even if, as the Christian theologian N.T. Wright is ever reminding people, Jesus is the King? The answer here is that we have been in the last days since Christ’s ascension into heaven, and this does not mean that we should not try, by the grace of God, to make these last days as harmonious as we can. The church prays “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” and invites the state, insofar as possible, to say “Amen”.
Luther talked about how God governed the fallen world through three estates: the family, the church and the state. As regards the question posed in this post’s title, what might it mean for us to take Luther’s categories seriously here? After all, according to Luther the family is the fundamental unit of the world – he basically sees the father and mother as acting king and queen of a micro-kingdom with all other earthly authorities deriving from these.
This is where Indian Christian Vishal Mangalwadi’s recent book comes in: The Book that made your world: how the Bible created the soul of Western civilization. Mangalwadi’s book is similar to books like Alvin Schmidt’s How Christianity changed the world or Dinesh D’Souza’s book What is so Great About Christianity? in that it talks about how Christianity is responsible for many of the blessings that we see in the Western world. What makes it different is that Mangalwadi is clearly an activist – a social reformer of sorts – who puts the focus on the social transformation Christianity brings and talks about how it can happen again. Optimistically, he thinks the sun need not set on the West.
I think it would be easy for some Christians – particularly Lutherans – to dismiss Mangalwadi’s approach, which, I must admit, seems to me like making the Gospel a “means to an end” – that is, building great nations. When we preach Christ, should we not focus strictly on how Christ delivers us from sin, death and the devil? Did not Christ warn us of those who used Him for earthly comforts – desiring the bread He gave, but not the Bread from heaven? (see John 6). I think this concern is definitely valid, but I invite you to read on and reflect more with me here.
Mangalwadi, with his family, spent a key period of his life with the poor of his country in rural India. In some
ways, he seems like a Protestant Mother Theresa of sorts, except he seems to have a very informed and well-thought-out view about how Christianity makes all the difference and we best be conscious of it. While he preaches the Gospel, it seems to me that he did not work so much as a missionary who sought to start churches (though I think this happened) but rather as a deliberate nation builder – a nation builder who thought big, but started acting locally, specifically at the levels of the individual family. Mangalwadi specifically says that he believes that the root of the social transformation he speaks of starts with the biblical idea of the family (p. 273).
This is why, for all what some might call his “Methodism” I can’t help but seeing connections with Luther and his view of the three estates. Mangalwadi himself focuses much on Luther’s writings about the family.
More on this tomorrow.
Vatican cit pic from Wikipedia. Martin Luther pic from https://iamachild.wordpress.com/tag/martin-luther/