Politics has become a dirty word for good reason. The corruption of governments and individuals in the world of politics, causes many of us to throw up our hands in despair and claim that the church should have nothing to do with politics. On the other hand there are those who grapple with the horrors and injustices of our world and believe that Christians should be more political.
In both cases, the presumption is that it is possible not to be political. It is possible to withdraw from the world in such a way that we make no political claims, statements nor demands. But in both cases, what we mean by ‘political’ is rather narrow. The philosopher Aristotle said that human beings are political animals. In this wider sense, politics is simply a way of describing how groups of people organise their lives. In this sense, we are all political.
The question then, is not whether we should be more or less political. We are already deeply political. Every credit card transaction, every journey we make, every conversation we have is deeply political. And since all human beings are political, every church is deeply political.
Much of the language of the New Testament is deeply political language: the Kingdom of God, the Gospel, the Christ, the body of Christ … the list could go on. Every word would have been heard as deeply political. It is not possible to be Christian and to be silent politically. The churches of Nazi Germany for instance, whether by their bold action or their refusal to confront injustice, were all deeply political. When the climate is one of political injustice, the church’s response will actively confront or passively endorse that injustice. There is no ‘apolitical’ upper room for those who worship the Word made flesh.
The roots of the English word for worship, describe the way that we attach ‘worth’ to the world around us. Worship is concerned with how we express our devotion to that which we value most dearly. Politics is how we organise our living together as a result. The two are deeply intertwined. Worship is always political, and politics always arises from worship.
In this light,‘liturgy’ is the transition from worship to politics, from the things that we value to the way we organise ourselves as a result. This is why in Church life, the language of aims and objectives is liturgical, as are our mission statements, our mottos, even our coffee rotas. Most of the written liturgy Baptists tend to use, comes from worship songs – which speak of who we are. A brief reading of new worship songs submitted for publication reveals that the vast majority are not about God, but about how God makes me feel. Who then, might we perceive as the object of our worship, and what sort of political life are we likely to pursue?
If the object of our worship is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, then our liturgy will move us to a political engagement with the world he so loved. We can’t help being political. The important questions are rather what God thinks of our politics, and what our political commitments say about God. Our practical liturgies already reveal the answers, to the world if not to us, for better or worse.
Published in BT, 2008