how does God’s kingdom relate to ruling powers?

How should Christians relate to ruling powers?

Depending on your interpretation of different sections of the Bible you might say the different authors push for:

  • Submission (the conclusion many people come to when reading Romans 13, for example, or perhaps Ezra-Nehemiah)
  • Prophetic critique and nonviolent resistance (as found in much of the prophetic literature or Revelation)
  • A middle option
  • A blend

But what are we meant to do in our contemporary world as Christians? Should we simply do what we understand early Christians to have done in relation to ruling powers?

That is to say, how do we anticipate God’s transformative kingdom on earth, now, in the midst of a world of ruling powers that very often act contrary to God’s purposes?

Walter Pilgrim offers three responses that can guide interaction between those faithful to God’s kingdom with ruling powers in our world:*

  1. A critical-constructive stance: appropriate when the ruling powers are attempting to achieve justice. This sees a partnership between ruling powers and communities of faith for the common good or the just treatment of all.
  2. A critical-transformative stance: appropriate when authority errs, but can be realistically moved to salutary change. Faith communities claim allegiance to their own prophetic traditions and distinctive perspectives and commitments to be a watch dog. Particular issues become points at which the power’s actions and policies (or lack thereof) are opposed and an alternative advocated through peaceful yet firm means.
  3. A critical-resistive stance: appropriate when the powers are responsible for (demonic) injustice or idolatry and refuse to be responsible to change. This stance is more conflictive, recognising a fundamental difference in commitments. It is not persuaded the state is committed to a just society. Being an alternative community is crucial to this strategy.

To decide what stance to take one must discern the commitment of a ruling power to a just society. Christians of course cannot simply take on a resistive stance because powers enact actions and policies that inconvenience them, since this is not part of the criteria. Our stance must be determined by the presence (or lack thereof) of God’s justice in society.

Moreover Christians cannot take a transformative or resistive stance if they are not willing to incorporate theological engagement (reflection on what God’s justice looks like positively) and social embodiment (living out a commitment to God’s justice in integrity) in their response.

What are your thoughts? Are these responses fair?

Moreover, what are the ruling powers in Australia? How should we engage them? Where might these different responses be appropriate in our current global setting?

Are there alternate responses to those listed?


* Walter E. Pilgrim, Uneasy Neighbours: Church and State in the New Testament, (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1999), 202-210. This summary is adapted from Warren Carter, Matthew and Empire, (Harrisburg: Trinity Press, 2001), 174-175.

Posted on October 27, 2011, in Advocacy, Conflict and Nonviolence, Politics and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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