“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” — Matthew 6:24
There are a few places along the course of the Amazon river where it flows parallel with another river. The “Meeting of the Waters” is probably the most famous example, where the Amazon is a cloudy, brown mess of a river and for almost six kilometers, it flows alongside a inky black river called the Negro. For six kilometers, these two do not mingle, but like all things, in the end, they are balanced out and form a single body of water, differences diluted out.
Since Constantin stopped the persecution of Christians and adopt it as the state religion, Christianity has been mingling with political systems and empires. For nearly 1700 years, the State and the Church have not been separate. The culture of Christianity has mingled into and been developed by all sorts of societies and their structures. Wars have been fought in the name of the Church and of Jesus, and people have been killed programmatically, to the Church’s great shame. These occasions demonstrate the unfortunate tendency for political agendas to abuse the Christian vocabulary and message to serve their own ends.
Does this call for a rejection of Constantin, for a return to a “pure” Christianity? Some would say, “Yes!” But I am not convinced. That in itself constitutes another kind of messianic hope, that when the churches have left the regions of the state and empire, there will be true peace and the presence of God will come again and enliven us. Well, it might sound great, but the Christian message of the Kingdom of God has also been used to dismantle the institution of slavery, provide for the poor and the needy, reform labour laws, and provide societal hospitality to the alien. In all these things, the work of the Kingdom of God has been in part scared and in part secular. It has operated on the state level, but it is not reducible to it either. It must reside in the tension.
This tension can sometimes rupture into civil unrest and even violence — with either the churches or the state being pushed aside, and neither is a desirable consequence. The tension implies eschatological questions, whether of millenarianism or apocalyptism. And this is where the meeting must take place. The kingdoms of this world can never fully be the Kingdom of God, nor can they ever fully evolve into the Kingdom of God, but Christians can make this world ready for the coming of God and the Kingdom of God, where God will renew all things. “Behold,” says Jesus the Christ in John’s Apocalypse, “I make all things new.” This should be the prayer of Christians in the world today, especially of those working in, with, and among the institutions of this world. It is a prayer that it is fatalistic nor is it futilistic about the workings of states, governments and institutions, but it knows that in the end the best practices will also be transformed by the coming of the Kingdom. So, we pray, even so come, Lord Jesus. Amen.