The Kingdom of God is not merely to be proclaimed, it is to be lived. Our lives, our communities, our social interactions, our private household comings-and-goings – these are where we are called to do the politics of Jesus.
If the politics of Jesus (that is, the embodying of His upside-down, not-this-world Kingdom) is merely concerned with what we do not do, then, historically, only some people would have had the opportunity to live it out. In Ancient Judea and Galilee, Jesus’ disciples would never have faced the military draft or had the chance to gain political or military power in the Roman Empire. What was Jesus’ Kingdom to them, since they had no power from which to abstain? Indeed, refusing magisterial office, oaths and the sword were primarily actions of early Anabaptist men. Yet, women made up around 1/3 those who suffered and were tortured in the Martyr’s Mirror.
For people who are marginalized, as the popular slogan goes, “The personal is the political”. How we interact with the political structures and systems of the world and their value systems is personal, and yet it is very much political. It is an empowering rejection of the systems that beat us down by refusing to play their game, refusing to conform to their worldly and selfish values, and refusing both their goals and how they choose to go about achieving them. This is why every expression of Jesus’ Kingdom is very everyday, very interpersonal, very much about something simple like lending your cloak, carrying a Roman soldier’s pack a second mile, stopping to help a foreigner stranded and beaten up at the side of the road, and so forth. Even the apostles’ enjoinments to reject the vain adornment and luxurious excesses of worldly fashion in 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Peter 3 were, in fact, centered on Kingdom principles of unity in the church over social wealth-based hierarchies and discrimination (James 2) and command of Jesus to some individuals to “sell all you have and give to the poor” (Matthew 19:21).
In discussing “political theology” or the “Kingdom of God”, we tend to emphasize the less Scripturally-emphasized things that the early church and apostles did not do. These are very important. But we should focus on what they did do and why they did them.
The question we need to ask is, are we operating by the world’s definition of “politics” and Kingdomhood, or Jesus’s? What did He do that was political, that threatened Herod, Pilate and Caesar? Are we reacting in contrast to the world, or are we charting a straight path, following Jesus as the Second Adam of the glorious New Creation of which we are invited to be a part?
The Kingdom Outpost has been around for a year, and during this time (and actually beginning in March 2020), I conducted a literature review of Christian nonviolence and Christian anarcho-pacifist political theology. The interesting thing about studying writings, history and discourse upon a subject is discovering what has not yet been said, what has not yet been discovered. While we started this site to essentially share some of these timeless resources and teachings from tried-and-true sources, and to encourage the church to imitate Christ such as how Anna Jansz and Dirk Willems in the 1600s did, we are coming to discover more and more, as a team, that there are still parts of our world and our lives yet to be leavened by the Kingdom.
This fall, I hope to begin a research degree on the subject and continue to work with the rest of the Kingdom Outpost team in developing this platform. It is important to note, however, that the Kingdom is, as much as possible, not one voice but many. It is not you or I, but us – a discerning community, a global ecclesia. To this end, we hope to continue to bring to you resources, voices, interviews, and writings from committed Kingdom believers on the subject, soliciting feedback and critique and also holding discussions. Many of the publications here stem from intentional conversation groups with wise believers of all ages. And, if you haven’t followed us on social media (Instagram and Facebook), our administrator, Aaron, chooses podcasts and resources each Tuesday and Thursday for learning and encouragement.
Living More with Less
Doris Janzen Longacre wrote the “More With Less” cookbook and a sequel about everyday life, “Living More with Less”. As my friend noted, she values the theology of these books even more than the excellent recipes. The fundamental concept behind these books are not only simplicity, plainness, nonviolence and nonconformity, but the peace and justice of Christ’s Kingdom.
Today, it sometimes feels like we are surrounded by”more” rather than “less”, by abundance and plenty. In fact, many in the early church were in a similar position – side by side with the enslaved and destitute, many wealthy landowners, householders, businessmen, and businesswomen were counted among Jesus’s followers. This was a significant of the transformation of the Roman world – the church as a body, some with more privilege in society and some with less, coming together to manifest Christ.
In fact, the church did not force voluntary poverty upon all. Nor did they stop at saying, “we are one in Christ and our church does not discriminate based on wealth”, as James 2 emphasized. Rather, it was the calling of the church to go against the values of the Roman world and subvert them. They did not just abstain, they countered. They established an upside-down-order of the greatest serving the least. So too, are we called to, in our everyday lives, living “less” in the midst of “more”. In doing so, we discover that we can enjoy so much “more” with “less”, as Longacre (1981, p.12) describes – “living joyfully, richly, creatively…”
Since the story of Scripture began in a garden and ends at a table, and the sacraments where God comes to us are based on simple, everyday washing, eating, and drinking, it is appropriate that the politics of Jesus begins in the household. The household in the Greco-Roman world was the economia, that is, the world of everyday business and living, production and consumption. In contrast, Aristotle described the polis consisted of the public seats of authority and governance. The Christians were solely concerned with the economia, and rather than at the magnificent temples and shrines of Caesar’s showy imperial religion, they chose to worship where life and work and relationships were centered – in the home, at the table. This is why care of the household was so essential to responsible church leadership, and the lack of care was the same as denying the faith (1 Timothy 5:8).
We follow a Jesus who sent out missionaries with one pair of sandals and one cloak each, who left nothing but one outfit of value when He die. Though He could multiply endless loaves and fish, He made sure every leftover scrap was picked up and saved. In a world of tireless waste, consumption, and destruction, we are to be conformed to Him. The Kingdom means something very different from the Roman Empire and its “cultural hedonism” (Ruscillo. 2001). The decadent and wasteful lifestyle of empire and the violence of empire go hand in hand, while the simplicity and peacefulness of Christ’s Kingdom are inseparable.
The best known Roman author on cuisine is Apicius, who lived during the reign of Tiberius (A.D. 14-37). His recipes include dishes such as camel heels, flamingo tongues, and roasted ostrich. But the most famous Roman feast is the lavish banquet hosted by Trimalchio, an ex-slave accepted into high society because of his affluence and eccentricity, in Petronius’ novel Satyricon. The extravagant feast included such delicacies as dormice, sausages, peahen eggs, orioles, hares, capons, and fish.
Recent excavations of an Augustan era Roman villa at Epano Skala, on the Greek island of Lesbos, attest the wide variety of foods served at a Roman banquet, like that described by Petronius. Bones recovered from the villa include wild boar, suckling pig, sheep, lamb, goat, kid, deer, hare, pheasant, goose, capon, and game birds such as thrush, starling, and woodcock. Remains of lobster, crab, urchin, scallops, clams, mussels, sea snails, eel, red mullet, tuna, sea bream, sea bass, and scorpion fish were also found in the villa’s dump.(Ruscillo, 2001)
Better a joyful feast of bread and fish with the King of Kings, than an endless exotic buffet with the lords and ladies of high-society Rome. Notice that Jesus doesn’t call us away from banqueting or to choose scarcity over abundance. Jesus feasted! Like Martha, some of us may find a great deal and satisfaction, joy, and purpose in serving meals and then sending guests home with leftovers. One of my favourite Biblical pictures is that of Jesus welcoming weary and sleep-deprived disciples to the shore with “a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread” (John 21:9). When Peter’s belly was full, Jesus reminded him, in the same way, to feed His sheep.
But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:14)
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink” (Romans 12:20a)
Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 10:13)
Clifford Schrock, in an interview with Anabaptist Perspectives, describes the challenge of simplicity as a life of discipleship and yieldedness, a single-minded focus on Christ rather than a list of do’s and don’ts. Similarly, Longacre (1980) reminds us that simple living is not about rules and restrictions, or even about thriftiness, but loving others and seeking their good.
In what ways does Jesus encourage us today to love our neighbours? In what ways can we live “more with less?”. We’d love to hear more of your thoughts, theologies, and practical advice. Comment below or write to firstname.lastname@example.org!