I am going to start off with a fascinating quote from Pope Benedict’s book on Jesus:
But let us return to the third temptation. Its true content becomes apparent when we realize that throughout history it is constantly taking new forms. The Christian empire attempted at an early stage to use the faith in order to cement political unity. The Kingdom of Christ was now expected to take the form of a political kingdom and its splendor. The powerlessness of faith, the earthly powerlessness of Jesus Christ, was to be given the helping hand of political and military might. This temptation to use power to secure the faith has arisen again and again in varied forms throughout the centuries, and again and again the faith has risked being suffocated in the embrace of power. The struggle for the freedom of the Church, the struggle to avoid identifying Jesus’ kingdom with any political structure, is one that has to be fought century after century. For the fusion of faith and political power always comes at a price: faith becomes the servant of power and must bend to its criteria.
I never would have thought the Pope would write those words. It is a pretty strong critique on the history of the Catholic Church itself. It also underscores a value held by many in the world today – a separation of Church and state.
This is a particularly interesting topic to me since I overtly combine the two, at least in many eyes, by being a military chaplain. I serve the state but do so with a cross on my uniform. Is the faith being subverted to the ends of power? Many of my classmates in seminary thought so.
But we all are called to merge the two in some manner or form. We do so every time we pay our taxes. We do so every time we call the local fire department. We do so anytime we access public or commercial transportation to go on a mission trip. Christians cannot live apart from our nation (although some have tried). We are all citizens. We are all responsible. And every Christian is called to serve the Lord.
I don’t disagree with what the Pope wrote (the entire chapter is quite good but too long to critique in the blog). But what is vital is to know that in our minds there has to be a line that neither side (the church or the state) should pass over. Power has no room to critique the faith. What we believe, why we believe it, and what we are called to do is nothing that power can place a value judgment on (except from its own perspective of course). The validity and efficacy of the Christian faith (or any faith) cannot be measured by political, military, or economic power. At the same time, if Christians get too wrapped up in seeking political, military, or economic power and influence -we should not be surprised if faith seems fleeting. This is particularly true of my generation. I wonder how many Christians have left their church halls quiet in the past year to rally for Obama or against him at a “tea party.”
This is the most difficult of all the temptations we face and can be particularly daunting in times of stress and conflict. We want things simple. We want everything we value (church, nation, world, finances, home, etc.) to all run parallel. But they sometimes don’t and each of them loses its vibrancy if we try to pretend they all support the same goals in the end. But how we do what is right at church, in our nation, in our world, with our money, and at home is still our calling.
In admitting a problem the church has faced in the past, Benedict sheds light on a problem we have in the present as well.
All the best and until next time,