Posted by: rogermitchell | July 4, 2011

God’s governance and Israel (i)

As I have already acknowledged, this post may make some waves. But because I believe that a serious misunderstanding of the nature and role of the nation state of Israel miss-positions so many well-meaning people and is a major obstacle to the work of the kingdom of God at this time, it is important to shine some light on the issue.

Simply put the problem is threefold. It relates to the nature of God, the nature of Israel and the nature of the nation state.

(i) Arguing from Jesus to God in the way familiar to those used to the theology being developed through this blog (as with the exegesis of Luke 22: 24-29 in the previous post), the very heart of the nature of God is revealed to be life-laying-down kenotic loving, or what I call kenarchy. This regards the world as made by love and for love and views ultimate power as the choice to love ones enemies as well as ones friends at whatever cost. The resurrection is its final confirmation (see the various earlier posts on the subject).

(ii) Viewed like this, God’s call on Abraham and his descendants was for them to experience and embrace his nature and demonstrate it progressively among the other nations of the earth. When they embraced the demonic characteristics of empire instead, God did not reject them, but used their sin to demonstrate his own loving nature by journeying with them through the consequences of their misguided choices of the structures of empire, particularly law, monarchy and temple (see the previous posts on katargēsis). He then fulfilled their original calling to be a blessing to all the nations (ethnae) of the earth in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

(iii) The ongoing calling for the Jewish people from this perspective is to recover and manifest God’s life-laying down kenotic loving and in so doing point the way for a kenarchic politics of peace on behalf of all nations. However, it is crucial to distinguish the word nation (ethnos) which identifies a people group, tribe or extended network of families, from the modern construct of the nation state.  As my research indicates this latter means of governance has issued inexorably from the partnership of church and empire from Constantine onwards and is part of the world system that Jesus came to confront and ultimately break to pieces (Dan 2:44).

In the past I have readily repented for the displacement and violent persecution of the Jews as a people group that was exemplified by the way in which Constantine enshrined and articulated anti-Semitism at the Council of Nicaea. As Sue and I wrote in our book Target Europe, (Sovereign World, 2001), that rejection of Jewish cultural differences of dress, calendar and custom by the church set a demonic precedent which paved the way for the sectarianism of Western Christianity. But it is crucial to understand that it is just as out of order, and equally requiring repentance, to replace the loving kingdom of God with the nation state of Israel as it is to replace Israel with the church.

Whatever we may think about the return of Jews to the land, we cannot ignore the fact that Jesus came to break down the domination system of Rome and that in the end the church did the opposite. From the fourth century onwards it built a shared system of church and empire justified through law, maintained by war and sustained by money. This became European Christendom and culminated in the nation states that make up today’s Western world. While it may be possible to argue that Britain, the USA and Western nations generally were like an Old Testament Cyrus in relation to the Jews in securing the possibility of a return to the land in 1948, what cannot be concluded is that their system of governance is somehow sanctified as the instrument of God’s governance to set up Israel as a twenty-first century nation state.

So to conclude, the idea that it is the task of the ecclesia to preference the state of Israel in the contemporary politics of the Middle East, or to defend or support the ongoing structure of the nation state generally, runs directly counter to the work of the kingdom of God. Rather, it is the task of the people of God to lovingly undo the underlying imperial structure of the nation state and  replace it with God’s governance. Consequently it is our privilege to love the Jews, the Palestinians and all the other families of the earth and subvert them all to the kenarchic love-politics of God which Jesus manifested so gloriously.

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Responses

  1. Bang on Roger. . . and a bit of sanity in what is all too often a very insane argument and state of being in the Middle East. c.

  2. This is such a majorly important paradigm shift for the body of Christ to make. “But it is crucial to understand that it is just as out of order, and equally requiring repentance, to replace the loving kingdom of God with the nation state of Israel as it is to replace Israel with the church.” – a really vital truth for all those who pray into this stuff. Martin Scott was also blogging today on the further need for repentance where church and empire has gotten mixed up. A sad misunderstanding of the purpose and call of Jerusalem is behind much of this, and if we are to fully embrace what it means to be the ekklesia to the whole of creation in this century, then we need to renew our minds in this area and repent of any wrong alliances we have made to things that we thought represented the kingdom of God, but are infact antichrist in their very nature.

  3. Rog – I am sure this will make waves, but this critique is so vital. What a calling still remains… how it was exemplified to Israel by Jesus. But to imagine that the calling is for a nation state that is justified at every point runs so counter to Scripture.

    The Middle East is so vital. Israel / Palestine so important. It stands calling for a reconciliation that will delight heaven, and restore the desert places.

    I not only applaud you for grasping this nettle, but for the clarity of what you have written.

  4. Hear, hear, Roger!

    Questions: Could governments ever be an instrument of God’s governance without nullifying the Kingdom of God altogether? Certainly law is an expedient against evil or….would you say it is complicit? I am stuck here with what to do with the law that governments use to keep civil order AND what it is we want from governments/nations? Seems like we know what they are not to be. Are we to see governments as a separate estate, an ungodly device, our adversary… or illegitimate altogether? If they are, then are they so because of the men and women who run them or are they so because of the structures themselves? What does a post-structural government look like? So many questions – feel free to pick one.

    • Great questions! Hopefully later posts will grapple with them more. Some earlier ones have begun to. For now I’ll make two general comments.
      (i) I believe that the gospels show the politics of Jesus to work in all political contexts because, as Paul put it, “all authority is from God.” So behaving and teaching like Jesus challenges all governments to operate in the Spirit of Jesus who fills up, consummates, abolishes all law with love. This was what I was getting at in the first of the earlier posts on katargesis. Love is the end, the ultimate purpose of the law. Governments tend to make the law an end in itself, and this is destructive. Paul again, “the letter kills.”
      (ii) So the kenarchic politics of Jesus constantly challenges government only to use its authority for loving ends. I think structures can assist this, but the humans that work in them need to constantly examine, challenge and correct them in the direction of love. So the people of God are called to challenge them continually to do that. As you rightly see many expressions of governance resist and threaten such challenges. I see this as both a problem with the people involved and the structures themselves. My research indicates that the long term partnership of church and empire has enshrined the lust for sovereignty and autonomy at the heart of Western life. Given that this is the opposite of the gospel but rather the embodiment of sin it is hardly surprising that we struggle with it!

  5. Thank you Roger – just what I hoped. What is heard here in America does not sound like love and Christians are railing against government and using language like “taking back” and “fighting back” but as an overreaction to injustice. Most of time it seems to me that without being able to understand how to tap into the power of the kenarchy you speak about, because of underdeveloped relationship with God and/or misplaced identity (in my opinion), this type of reaction leads to even more injustice. At the very least it leads to the facing off of issues in a duel for the upper hand – fighting under the same rules and in the same realm as the world.

    You are mentoring us as we begin to think through how to realize this unrestricted justice demonstrated in the Holy Experiment and see that “seed” of the Holy Spirit revisited in both our nations.

  6. I know this blog started with Israel but of course the issues are bigger. So I was walking home from my 3 km trek to secure food and I saw a man with a dog. The man was trying to turn the corner and head down a side street. The dog was resisting with all his might. Why? No idea. The man, of course, was speaking sharply and hauling away on the leash. I felt bad for the dog.

    So that reminded me of many of the new approaches to animal training. Seems we are finally figuring out that animals spend much of their lives terrified are our seemingly (to them at least) irrational anger and rage. Like any dependent they have to figure us out, keep alert to our moods, and try to act accordingly to insure their continued security, safety and well-being.

    That put me in mind of a dog-training technique that was all the rage several years ago (the 90’s maybe). It was all about how the owner/trainer needed to be the ‘alpha’ dog in the pack and to subdue and demand submission from his/her pet. It was a technique developed and marketed by a group of monks from northern New York state. Yes, it was a ‘christian’ approach.

    So that put me in mind (I know I do weird leaps) of Rick Perry, the governor of Texas. Rick Perry claims to be a Christian. In fact, in August, he has called for and will be hosting a national prayer and fasting rally to call America back to God in repentance. But he reminds me of people who, while calling themselves Christians, actually practice an OT life, or at least attempt to impose such on others and claim it to be righteous. In this case I am thinking of executions. Texas does lots of them. Lots and lots of them. Recently Governor Perry (who may run for President in 2012) ordered the execution of a man almost everyone deemed innocent. He also rigged a commission that was investigating the issue by removing people he felt would decide in favour of this man’s innocence and to put in his own people who would not. He then ignored letters of appeal from experts who re-investigated the evidence on their own time. He did everything he could to negate and ignore all appeals to mercy and some would say true justice. And he had the man executed. In the name of Christian righteousness.

    This week Texas executed another man. This man was understood as guilty but he was a Mexican national and had been denied contact with his government as is stipulated under international law. A law that the United States is party to. Concerned that such an action, execution without adherance to international treaty, would endanger US citizens abroad in similar circumstances the Obama admin sought to at least have a stay until Congress could pass an appropriate law about the matter. Perry, as a Christian, out of concern for the well-being of others, would have none of it. He had the man executed.

    So I’m left with this. I think empire is about the law and Christians (or so-called Christians) who are wedded to empire in their beliefs, tend to seek out and live under or at least impose the law on others. The law, without love or mercy, becomes the paramount example of their faith. Without knowing or acknowledging it they are closer in belief to Hassidic Jews than to Jesus. But because the churches that supports them (and oh there are so many examples of this kind of behaviour available to us) affirm this behaviour they understand it as ‘Christian’.

    My hope is, that with the new trend in animal training that emphasizes reward always, that we are becoming tired of all this law (and the lawlessness it actually engenders as Rick Perry demonstrated that he was not under the law of an international treaty). I hope we are weary of hierarchy, rules, regulations etc. That should not lead us necessarily towards straight libertarianism (as that has its own great contradictions) but as you suggest – towards love. I don’t know how we will get there, either on the issue of Israel or in how to train dogs. But I continue to hope.
    c.

  7. Hi Roger,

    Enjoying the challenge of your ideas and the response by your friends. I have similar questions to Lorrie lke “What does a post-structural government look like?” I am hoping you will give us some tangible examples of how you see this working itself out in love. It seems to me that we have to grapple with the reality of geography. We all have to live some where. And right now I don’t know of a non nation-state where I could take up residence. Or what it would look like if I could move there. I am assuming that we have never had in human history a type of governance that was not prone to evil and domination and corruption. Long before the emergence of the modern nation-state. Is there a time and place that you feel the human race got it fairly right?
    In other words is there anything we can look back to, or are we only trying to imagine a kenarchy at this point. As you know I am a practical kind of guy. I want to know what we are building and where we start. Soon.
    blessings, Richard

    • Hi Richard,
      It’s great to have your contribution to these discussions! I certainly don’t think that there has been a geographical location of uncorrupt governance since the garden of Eden, and I guess it would be fair to say even that was immature and provisional, and the choice to ratify it was the occasion of the initial fall and the entry point for sin, individual and corporate. My understanding of Israel is that it was only ever a place of God’s loving compromise with human sin and frailty, while he walked with us through less than Godly and frequently imperial structures on the way to the full manifestation of his intent in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
      So for me the incarnation is the point of manifestation, and then, as now, the kingdom was operating in the fallen world. My understanding of kenarchy is a kingdom way of life through which we serve the political expressions of geographically and temporally located people groups from the inside. But such is the love-power of the kingdom of God it can overcome sin and injustice and bring an increasing manifestation of the kingdom until the day when the fulness really will come.

  8. Hi Roger, It’s been a long time ! Greetings from Septimania (Languedoc) I kind of stumbled on to a link to your site here through a post on Mike Richardsons Facebook page and so I thought I’d check out what you are up to and into these days .. then I latched on to this article which is of particular interest to me especially this bit .. ‘God’s call on Abraham and his descendants was for them to experience and embrace his nature and demonstrate it progressively among the other nations of the earth. When they embraced the demonic characteristics of empire instead, God did not reject them, but used their sin to demonstrate his own loving nature by journeying with them through the consequences of their misguided choices of the structures of empire, particularly law, monarchy and temple’ … Over the last 2/3 years I have been retracing my Jewish roots (This may come as a surprise to you ..as it did to me) my family have kept this secret since the second world war ..for good reasons) My grandmother and mother were Jewish and so I, being an only child and a son, am the last in the line)
    I have a friend who was converted from Christianity to Judaism and who is an ardent Zionist (a interesting story for another time) and I have spent a lot of time discussing with him the whole concept of Isreal as a nation. I think that many Jews have an almost inbuilt wanderlust (wandering jews) my friend says that is because they are not living in Isreal. I think there is more to it that that it could be that God wanted them to always live ‘in tents’ and to wander through the nations for some reason. It’s true that they have often been used and abused throughout thier european wanderings throughout history but some places actually welcomed them. The Languedoc where I have now lived for 24 years used to be called Septimania then Occitania and was home to the Albigensians whom the Catholics called Cathars (but who were not for the mostpart dualists but more akin to modern day protestants) they welcomed Jews into thier society and this part of Europe became a haven for wandering Jews during the middle ages. There was a mutual respect between Jews and Albigensians.
    What I struggle with is this, Christianity came out of Judaism, it was to be, like Christ himself a fulfilment of the law and the prophets, the ushering in of the Kingdom of God on earth and not something ‘completely different’ from Judaism… as if God had abandoned his first plan and was trying plan plan B.
    There are so many good things in Judaism that have been lost as Christianity and Judaism have moved away from each other that I believe need to be found again. Supporting Isreal in it’s drive to be come a ‘nation’ would be to again encourage them to build empire, monachy and temple instead of them finding thier place in the Kingdom of God worldwide.
    In the same way Christianity or rather churches can be deflected from being a part of Gods flowing, borderless kingdom when they desire above all things to have strong leadership structures and spend more money on bricks and mortar etc than they do on relieving the misery of the poor, the fatherless and the widows etc: We christians could learn a lot more from the mistakes of the Jews who often seemed to miss the plot.

    Blessings !
    Tony Clay

  9. Hi Tony,
    How good to hear from you after so long! I like what you are saying here, and recognise the deep roots of the Jewish heritage and the ecclesia’s indebtedness to it. We would do well to emulate the faith and lifestyle of Abraham exactly as the writer to the Hebrews says: “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise.” (Heb11:8-9) As I see it neither the promise nor the inheritance was the land of Israel. It’s clear that the land stood for God’s heart of blessing for the whole earth, and that none of us who claim to follow him, particular the ecclesia and the Jews, can settle down as long as any other peoples are without justice and provision, among our own people or anywhere else in the world.

    I have no problem with bringing anything through from Israel’s history into the present day so long as it genuinely can be consummated through Jesus. The trouble with so many Christians is that while they accuse others of replacing Israel with the church, they can’t see that the real problem is replacing the kingdom of God with either Israel or the church or both. The people of God in all their forms exist in Jesus for the blessing of the multitude of the whole earth, and all God’s purposes consummate in and through him.


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