The biblical understanding of kingship as dominion, justice, and service leads us to ask an intensely practical question:
What are kings supposed to do?
And, more poignantly, what are we supposed to do as God’s “kingly” people?
Our chief task is to announce that Jesus is Lord. Again, for the Christians in the first century, this was a deeply seditious statement. In the Roman Empire, only Caesar was Lord. To say Jesus was Lord and not Caesar was an invitation to suffer Rome’s retributive justice. Any earthly government must fall beneath the lordship of Jesus. They oppose him with their brazenness and their pride.
In the New Testament, these “announcements” were carried out through the twin tasks of preaching and evangelism. The Greek word for preaching is kerygma, which refers to speech accompanied by action. You have to announce Christ as the source of life with your words and through your behaviors.
It is insufficient simply to talk about Jesus, but you must actually talk about him.
Likewise, it is insufficient to simply live a well-mannered, virtuous Christian life, but you must live a well-mannered, virtuous Christian life.
In our contemporary setting, people are very fond of quoting St. Francis of Assisi, who said, “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” Though we love the quote, we consistently misinterpret it. Because of our proclivity to avoid talking about Jesus, we pretend that St. Francis said, “Just be good. Don’t say anything … don’t be a religious weirdo.”
That’s a copout.
We have to say, out loud, in whatever way makes sense, Jesus is Lord and no one else. We have to speak it. Jesus’ first followers were crucified, not because they were virtuous, but because of their vocal, public insistence that Caesar was a fraud.
The Greek word for evangelism is euanggelion. It means good news, which was the ancient equivalent of “breaking news” or “today’s headlines.” The breaking news concerns Jesus’ promise of life and life more abundantly. The promise is not about going to heaven when you die. It’s about experiencing the life of heaven for all eternity, beginning right now.
Again, both preaching and evangelism require speaking out loud about Christ. Jesus is The Word, and we are people, commissioned by God, to speak words of promise, hope, and allegiance to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Secondly, kings steward creation. We are meant to conserve and conceive God’s creativity. We are tasked with optimizing the conditions of the world so God’s blessing can flow in unmitigated goodness. That means we have to celebrate good things, authenticating and validating them in concert with the spirit of God. It also means we have to oppose bad things.
Kings have a responsibility to remind people what’s right and what’s not. Paul, for example, challenged the Roman soldiers who unjustly arrested him in Acts 22, reminding them they were operating outside the boundaries of their own authority, since he was a Roman citizen himself and should not have been subject to their punitive actions.
There are times when we must stand up and say to those in power, “you cannot do that.” We must not sit idly by and allow the powerless to be marginalized or persecuted or commodified.
Third, kings bring people together. In monarchial terms, kings bring people together under the law, through the economy, within the bounds of their kingdom. In the church, we gather people together based on our love for and allegiance to Jesus Christ. We are “called out” by our love for him, reminiscent of the Greek word ecclesia.
When we gather together as the church, the old divisions of age, race, economic status, and political orientation are meant to recede deep into the background, so they accent our communities without ever dominating our communities. We’re not all called to be the same, but we are called to be together in love, putting aside our differences, out of deference to Jesus.
Being royal, in broad strokes, means cooperating with God in his mission to heal the world. The three main ways we do that are
to announce Jesus as Lord and as the source of life (kerygma),
to stand up for restorative justice and steward creation (Pax Christi),
and to seek others out and bring them together into the kingdom of God (ecclesia).
We follow Christ together and welcome others to do the same.
Dr. David McDonald is the teaching pastor at Westwinds Community Church in Jackson, MI. The church, widely considered among the most innovative in America, has been featured on CNN.com and in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and Time Magazine. David weaves deep theological truths with sharp social analysis and peculiar observations on pop culture. He lives in Jackson with his wife, Carmel, and their two kids. Follow him on twitter (@fossores) or online at fossores.com