The Revelation: As Political Witness, Part 1

lion-dove-lamb-yeshua

Gorman explains the ethical background that is likely behind much of the
Revelation–

As Christian individuals and communities in Asia Minor interacted with family members, friends, business associates, and public officials who did not share their conviction that “Jesus is Lord,” the basic early Christian confession (Rom 10:9), these believers were faced with hard questions and decisions.

Should they continue to participate in social activities that have a pagan (non-Jewish, non-Christian) religious character? This would include most activities: watching or participating in athletic and rhetorical contests; buying and eating meat in the precincts of pagan temples; and frequenting trade guilds, clubs, and events in private homes, each with their meetings, drinking parties, and banquets. They would even have wondered, “Should we or can we go to pagan temples to do our banking or purchase meat? Should we acknowledge the sovereignty of the emperor when asked to do so at a public event in the precincts of his temple, or at another of the many events in his honor?”

Some believers continued to participate in such activities, while others did not. It was the latter group that created serious social conflict. Their confession of Jesus’ lordship and their separation from normal Greco-Roman religious, social, and political activity was seen by pagan non-believers—that is, by most people in their cities—as unpatriotic and atheistic.

Some of them were harassed unofficially, but some were likely excluded from guilds and others investigated by government officials. At least one of them (John) was exiled as punishment for his behavior. He says that his experience was not isolated, but part of a larger event of testimony and persecution. At least one of the faithful was actually killed, either by mob or by official action: Antipas of Pergamum (2:13). There may have been others.

Gorman, Michael J. (2011-01-01). Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation. (Kindle Locations 904-916). Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Persecution always puts Christians to hard choices. Who’s really hurt if I burn a little incense to show my respect for the Caesar? Why not attend the banquets of the trade guilds, even though they are filled with drunkenness and prostitution? It’s where business is done — and Christians must support their families.

As Gorman reads the text, the challenge isn’t so much to stand up against overt persecution, but to live as Jesus against the temptations of everyday evils, injustices, and allegiances —

The target of Revelation’s prophetic critique is imperial idolatry (civil religion) and injustice (military, economic, political, and religious oppression), and specifically Rome’s imperial idolatry and injustice. But since Revelation is almost certainly not a response to a systematic, state-imposed persecution or widespread mistreatment of Christians by the masses, it is better read as a response to “ordinary empire,” to the everyday evils, injustices, and misguided allegiances that are daily with us. Revelation is a powerful wake-up call to those who have taken for granted beliefs, commitments, and practices that should be unthinkable. John did not write Revelation “to manufacture a crisis” for people complacent about empire, claim Howard-Brook and Gwyther. Rather, “complacency about Rome was the crisis.”

(Kindle Locations 933-940).

Ow.

 

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
This entry was posted in Revelation, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to The Revelation: As Political Witness, Part 1

  1. John says:

    Most early Restoration leaders were supporters of keeping free from empirical entanglements. But World War II practically put an end to pacifism in the Church of Christ, except for the One Cup churches (which surprises most mainstream members). And the radical sixties pushed most leaders and members further to the Right.

    As a result, we see the Church of Christ and other like-minded denominations looking to the empire for survival. A strange mixture of Bible and nationalism has been brewed together to create an elixir that, in the correct adult dose, is supposed to save the lives of church and country. We can see examples of this on social networks, such as Facebook, in which Jesus and guns are in the same picture.

    As conservative and patriotic as members were when I was a child, there still remained enough room for a person’s conscience to oppose capital punishment and to support the idea that Christians should seek non-combative rolls in the military. However, what we have today in many congregations are new members or attendees being subtly interrogated to make sure they are “truly lovers of God and country”.

  2. laymond says:

    John it is a strange situation, when self proclaimed Christians prefer war as a first choice over talking, negotiation . It seems to be a shock to their psyche when a president negotiates a deal to delay their own destruction. these self proclaimed patriots/Christians hold allegiance to country, then God. or maybe a football games comes first. that could be defined as lukewarm Christianity .

  3. John says:

    Amen, Laymond!

  4. laymond says:

    Jay has commented numerous times about why the CoC is dwindling, I haven’t mentioned it before but I can tell him why. The political party known as republicans are dwindling therefore the CoC is dwindling. I attended a Church here in town who’s membership was just over one hundred, and there were exactly three democrats in that number, my wife and I accounted for two of that number, and one of the elders finished it out. and they didn’t mind bringing politics to the podium.
    needless to say we don’t attend there now. the only way to be right was to believe as they did, and I don’t mean biblically right. People are getting tired of congregating in a right wing sect.

    Times they are a changing.

  5. John says:

    I agree, Laymond. Even many who claim to be moderates actually keep the right wing “kissin’ cousin” close.

  6. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Bradley Wright’s book Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites…and Other Lies You’ve Been Told: A Sociologist Shatters Myths From the Secular and Christian Media is a fun read (for the mathematically inclined) and demonstrates that in the 1980s, the age of the Moral Majority, when Falwell pushed evangelicals to get involved in national politics, the evangelical churches lost substantial numbers — being Democrats and others who did not support the overt association of the church with the Republican Party. In many respects, the evangelical churches became a special interest group within the Republican camp — while many black churches were special interest groups within the Democratic Party — dividing Christ’s body over secular political issues.

    Fortunately, the churches are beginning to see the error in this, but the harm has been done. But if you watch, for example, the national Southern Baptist Convention, you see a new generation of leaders stepping up and refusing to tie their churches to American political parties.

    In the Churches of Christ, we aren’t quite so overt in our politics, and our lectureships are largely blessedly free of political associations. But at the local level, we still see efforts made to tie congregations to secular politics. Fortunately, the trend is in the other direction — the best I can tell — but we’re still have a poorly understood theology of church and state. We just haven’t sorted out the key principles, leaving many church leaders struggling with how to cope with a constant flood of mixed religious/political issues, such as gay marriage, transsexual rights, etc., etc. The issues arise from the courts and legislatures, and we struggle to redefine these in biblical terms.

    It’s tough. The Revelation is an important piece of the puzzle, but hardly the entirety of what the Bible says. But I think a study of the Apocalypse has to help because the early church had many of the same struggles.

  7. Dwight says:

    Laymond you said, “John it is a strange situation, when self proclaimed Christians prefer war as a first choice over talking, negotiation . It seems to be a shock to their psyche when a president negotiates a deal to delay their own destruction. these self proclaimed…”
    I don’t think anybody prefers war to negotiation, but negotiation requires giving in on both sides or at least coming to an agreement. Those in the middle east, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia all agree that Israel should be wiped off of the map and that America or any other nation that is filled with Christians is a close second. They have time and again and still maintain this in their rhetoric. It is thus impossible to negotiate with someone who has declared war on you.
    When you go back and look at the previous WW’s we tried to stay out of the war in Europe/Asia, but when the war came to us, then it was a different matter. Well 911 was a good indicator of aggression and war and intent.
    I am a pacifist at heart, when it comes to religion, but I realize that government has a role in protecting the people from those who wish to destroy it. Jesus argued against rebellion against the government, but didn’t argue that one could work for the government as a tax collector or a soldier, as long as you didn’t steal or murder.

  8. laymond says:

    Dwight, I don’t recollect when Israel became majority Christian.

    Israel is also the only country in the world where a majority of citizens are Jewish. According to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, the population in 2011 was 75.4% Jewish, 20.6% Arab, and 4.1% minority groups.[2] The religious affiliation of the Israeli population[vague] as of 2011 was 75.4% Jewish, 16.9% Muslim, 2.1% Christian, and 1.7% Druze, with the remaining 4.0% not classified by religion, and a small Baha’i community.

  9. Dwight says:

    Um, never said it was. Go back and read what I wrote. The majority Muslim entities wish to wipe Israel off the map and that America or any nation filled with Christians is a close second. They wish to erase the Jews/Israel, which is in “their land” and also Christianity. I never said Israel was Christian.

  10. laymond says:

    another misconstrued statement , sorry.

Leave a Reply