When the Roman Emperor Constantine decided to legalise Christianity in 313, he began a process which resulted in the adoption of one form of Christianity as the State religion of the Empire in 380. At the time, this was a political decision, and out of it grew what is most commonly known as Christendom: the mixing of Christianity, or a version thereof, with politics. Christendom has been the cause of numerous wars, persecutions, crusades and other evils ever since, as political power was invoked in the name of God to justify political actions. These actions were often, if not mainly, in direct opposition to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Over and over again, throughout the New Testament, it is stated by Jesus, and the writers of the letters and gospels, that there are two separate kingdoms involved with each other, but they are not the same. When he was being questioned after his arrest, Jesus made an important statement: “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” [John 18.36]
This point is repeated throughout the gospels and letters: that there is a “world”, a political system, that is at odds with Jesus and Christianity. It was this system that opposed Jesus, executed him, and persecuted his followers. It is a “kingdom” that has a very different set of standards and priorities to those of Jesus. John, for example, makes this very clear. In his Gospel, he quotes Jesus: “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you”. [John 15.19]
In his first letter, John says: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them”. [1 John 2.15] It is important to see how the word “world” is used here. It does not mean the created universe, the natural world, but the political and economic system, no matter of the left or right, that rejects Jesus. Christians are to love and protect the natural world, and everyone in it, but not to confuse the two kingdoms. Paul, for example, was not only proud of his ethnicity, he was also quite happy to use his Roman citizenship when necessary.
Christians are citizens of two very different entities, not in conflict, except when the demands of the one impinge on the requirements of the other. As Jesus said: “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” [Mark 12.17] But what is vital to understand in all of this, is that these two kingdoms are never completely in sympathy. In the past, Christians have tried to create a Godly Kingdom on earth: a Christian country, ruled by God’s laws. In no single case has this been successful, and in many, if not most, instances, it has been disastrous.
Demanding that people without the Spirit of God live up to standards and regulations that Christians believe are unattainable without grace, has led to one faction oppressing another, even to the point of killing in God’s name. The “Kingdom of God” has been used as a rationale for crusades, not just against Islam, but against Christians in Europe. In the words of Professor John Lennox, when people kill in the name of Jesus, they are not following him, they are disobeying him. Similarly, when those who claim to be Christians use violence and the rule of law to force others to agree with them, they are directly opposing and disobeying Jesus, no matter what they think.
This is not just a matter of history: it is happening today, particularly in North America, where Christianity is being used as a political weapon, where self-proclaimed Christians are invoking war and intolerance in the name of Jesus. What does it say when clergy on both sides of a war stand and call God’s blessing down on soldiers about to go out and kill each other? Is God supposed to choose sides? Does he approve of either side using Him to justify a political and military activity? Before Constantine’s Edict, Christians would not even join an army, believing that violence of any kind was opposed to the teaching and commands of Jesus. It was not practical, it often led to their own death as a result. It was not real politik, not the world’s way, but there is a citizenship that supercedes what the world considers realistic, practical or desirable. “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”