Saturday, November 25, 2017

Centered on Jesus V: If Christ is King . . .

This Sunday is the Feast of Christ the King. Pope Pius XI instituted the feast in 1925 in response to the
rise of secularization, atheism, and communism. The Soviet Union had been founded recently in 1917. It
Window above the High Altar
of St. Paul Cathedral,
Fond du Lac, WI
is significant that 1925 was also the year that Benito Mussolini established a Fascist dictatorship in Italy. Both Communism and Fascism expected people to give their highest allegiance to their nation and its government. Pope Pius rightly recognized this as antithetical to Christianity. 
For Christians, citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). Jesus Christ is the only king or ruler to whom allegiance is owed. Anglicans and others adopted the feast as a regular reminder of that allegiance.

Jesus told Pilate that his kingdom "was not of this world" (John 18:36). By that he did not mean that his kingdom was simply 'otherworldly' having no earthly or political implications. He meant it was 'other than the way of this world' and its kingdoms and nations which rule through coercion and violence with the threat of pain and death. Otherwise, his followers would have fought to keep him from being handed over. But, Pilate recognized Jesus as a threat to the political system and had him executed as one claiming to be "King of the Jews" (Mark 15:26, Matthew 27:37, Luke 23:38, John 19:19).

The earliest Christian affirmation was, "Jesus is Lord" (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:3, Romans 10:9-13, Philippians 2:11). It was a politically charged assertion. Jesus was Lord/King. The Emperor, who also claimed that title, was not. Neither was Rome nor the idea of Rome. And neither was any other god or gods. Jesus alone was Lord/King. The refusal by early Christians to pledge allegiance to the Emperor got them into trouble.

Claiming that Jesus Christ is Lord or King remains a radical claim. And it continues to raise questions about where our true loyalties lie. While Communist and Fascist regimes overtly demanded that their citizens give their highest allegiance to the nation, all nations in the modern era (since about 1650) have more or less encouraged, cultivated, and trained their citizens to adopt such allegiance as primary. Other allegiances  like allegiance to Jesus Christ and the Church – have been minimized, side-lined, subjected, or co-opted. And many Christians have a difficult time distinguishing one allegiance from the other. This is true in the United States of America as much as anywhere else.

I once saw a woman wearing a disturbing t-shirt that illustrated the confusion many Christians seem to have concerning their loyalty and emotional attachment to their nation and their loyalty and emotional attachment to Jesus Christ. It was a white t-shirt that had JESUSAVES written across the front. I believe he does. But that was not the only message on the shirt. All the letters were blue except for those in the middle – USA – which were red. So, it looked like this: JESUSAVESIt was a telling icon of the confused syncretism of many Christians in America. Who saves? Jesus? The USA? Or, are the two so emotionally entwined in our imaginations that we can't tell the difference? It is an illustration of Stanley Hauerwas' assertion that for many Americans, the nation is their true church. For many Americans, America is the social body to which their ultimate allegiance is pledged regardless of what religious affiliation they formally claim (see The End of American Protestantism). This confusion of loyalties is not just an American thing. It is a danger in most, if not all, nations. Christians would do well to disentangle this confusion in their hearts and guard against it.

Patriotism is not necessarily idolatrous. A distinction must be made, however, between holding dear and celebrating the particular culture and history of a place/people on the one hand and the sort of nationalistic exceptionalism on the other hand. 'Christian nationalist' is an oxymoron. Christians should be wary of appeals to patriotism and suspicious of those who use its appeal to shepherd them in one direction or another that compromises their first loyalty to the way of Jesus. If Jesus Christ is the King, our citizenship and loyalty is elsewhere (Philippians 3:20). We are always and everywhere strangers and foreigners on the earth seeking a homeland, the City God has prepared for us (Hebrews 11:13-16). Though we live under the temporal authority of governments of earthy nations, our allegiance is to that City and the coming kingdom of God. We seek to not be conformed to this world (see Do Not Conform Any Longer to the Pattern of This World), but rather to live according the the shape of that kingdom. We live, now, in anticipation of God's will being done on earth as in heaven (Matthew 6:9-13). We get some indication of Jesus' kingdom priorities in in the Sermon on the Mount and in the Gospel Lesson appointed for the Feast of Christ the King (Matthew 25:31-46). 

Christians need to beware of the temptation to confuse loyalty to King Jesus with loyalty to other entities – including Uncle Sam – who would claim the kind of emotional attachment that belongs to Christ alone. Our allegiance is to Christ the King. We pledge allegiance to that king every time we recite the Nicene or Apostles' Creed. All other allegiances are secondary and should be held lightly. Jesus alone is our hope and security. 

The Feast of Christ the King is a helpful reminder to Christians that their allegiances lie not with any government, nation, party, ideology, leader, or flag. Rather, it lies with Jesus Christ and his Church. It also reminds us that no area of human life, private or political, lies outside the concerns of the King and the responsibility of his followers.

Here's a bit from Pope Pius XI:
If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all men, purchased by his precious blood, are by a new right subjected to his dominion; if this power embraces all men, it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire. He must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths and to the doctrines of Christ. He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God. He must reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desires and love God above all things, and cleave to him alone.
(Quas Primas, 33)

Collect for the Feast of Christ the King

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

See also:


  1. After Easter, Christ the King is my favorite Sunday, it's like a re-set button at the end of the church year and puts everything into perspective. Thank you for this blogpost about such a wonderful Sunday.