The first century church did not act and think like moralists, rather they spoke as ambassadors of another kingdom. If they had merely been moralists, with Jesus Christ being their chosen path to morality, they would not have faced the wrath of Rome. The Jews found ways to live in Roman cities with their synagogues and morality without incurring the wrath of Rome the way the Christians did. Remember it was the Jews’ political rebellions and heart cry for political independence that brought the final crush of Rome in the first century, not their moral ideals. The first century Jews then clearly demonstrate, as we previously stated, that while morality is significant it is not the cornerstone to the expression of the Christian faith or necessarily to be the Christian distinctive in the culture.
If you consider the message, method, and actions of the first century church, it becomes clear that it was based on the concept of a kingdom. They preached another king that was not of this world. They were so convinced of His soon return and His eternal dominion that they threw caution, and their lives, to the wind and used words like “citizenship in heaven” to describe how they saw themselves. While contending for another kingdom, at the same time they were not political instigators like the Jews, because they knew that the kingdom came from above and not through human force.
They did not debate over Rome’s political rule, in fact Paul even exhorts the believers to pray for government as a God ordained entity, nor did they confront Rome primarily on the issue of morality. In fact, if you consider the Jerusalem Council where the issue of gentile believers was discussed you can see that a code of morality is hardly mentioned. However, while not being a political threat to Rome, they proved to be a much deeper threat because they questioned the entire foundation of the Roman society.
What these believers did then was openly preach that Rome, among other systems of this world, was fatally flawed and that a greater kingdom was coming that would overthrow it. This kingdom was being led by a king named Jesus who alone was fit to the task of setting up righteous government. The declared with authority that if anyone wanted to save themselves from the wrath to come, they must re-align their lives with Jesus and his priorities and receive a radical heart change. They proclaimed this to the moralist philosophers as well as the pagan reprobates.
What is also fascinating is that the early church initially followed the example of Jesus in preaching to the Jew first and then to the gentiles. We see Paul following this pattern in his early ministry where he would first go declare the gospel in the synagogue to the Jews of the area before he would declare the gospel to the gentiles. To the Jew first means that Paul went to the paragons of virtue and morality to declare a message that was so revolutionary that it provoked persecution of the most intense kind from people of the highest morality. This then should point us to the root of the battle the church is to be waging. We are to be advancing a battle that is not limited to morality but aims itself straight at the root of culture and cuts that root down even if it be the root of a moral people who take their morality from the Scriptures. Morality and “Christian heritage” are not the issue. Whether or not a life is rooted in an eternal kingdom that has yet to be fully manifest or not is the core issue. This kingdom is all-encompassing and allows no room for humanistic ideas no matter how religious or moral. This kingdom is the pure rule of the Son of God and His rule is offensive to Jew and gentile alike. The sinner and the religious man both can have equal opportunity for conflict with the Son of God.
In this we see that Jesus’ message is a radical, deep shift in a way of living. This is because it is designed to produce a people. These people must be an expression both of the man Jesus and of the kingdom that is coming. In order to bring this expression, people must see their entire lives as being built on a faulty foundation. This faulty foundation must then be renounced and Jesus’ rule over the entire man embraced. This rule is compared with that of a supreme ruler and the adherence is one of citizenship that must be supremely loyal.
The early church was so committed to this kingdom viewpoint that they would have considered any system of the world, no matter how moral, to be corrupt at its root because it was not the kingdom of Jesus that must come through His return and dominion over the earth. Here we learn one of the first important lessons for the discussion at hand. America’s founders consisted of men that were predominantly Christian, men heavily influenced by Christianity, and men that at least adhered to Christian morality. They took many of their values from the Scriptures. We should honor that and not allow that heritage to be destroyed.
At the same time have you ever noticed how much Greek and Roman imagery and architecture there is in America’s past? Have you noticed how many Greek and Roman ideas were taken and used in the formation of our method of government? The chief lesson here is that no matter how great America may ever be and how much Christian influence was there at the start, it is still a government of this age and because of that is necessarily flawed and not worthy of our ultimate allegiance. That does not mean that America cannot be an environment that allows the gospel to propagate or that God will not use America, but it does mean that we understand, at the end of the day, America is a government of this age and therefore ultimately rooted in the same corruption as any other institution of this age.