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Tyrants and Saints of Our Own Choosing

Stan Moody

In its pursuit of prosperity and success, American Christianity has thought little of the Kingdom

of God as a present, dynamic, victorious reality in the life of the believer. Either it has been

deflated as an ill-defined spiritual force within each of us, thereby failing the test of divine

objectivity, or as a future Utopian reward (Heaven) for faithful service. It is the in-between time

and presence that has eluded us. That has led to a primary focus on OPS – “Other People’s Sins”,

rather than on our own, as our own sins are past and covered. Convenient way to live!

“The Cost of Discipleship”:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a book that became very popular after his death – “The Cost of

Discipleship”, in which he coined the phrase “cheap grace” as applied to the white, suburban,

comfortable Church. No one can deny that the Lutheran Church in Germany, in its insistence on

subjection to the sovereign State (Rom 13:1), had misjudged Hitler. No one can deny that the

seeds of anti-Semitism in Hitler’s Germany were embedded beneath a veneer of love glued onto

the Confessing Church. Bonhoeffer, however, became complicit in the assassination attempt on

the life of Adolph Hitler, taking discipleship a giant step beyond the Lordship of Christ.

We can applaud Bonhoeffer’s writings and certain of his actions that appeal to our own sense of

urgency as living witnesses. We cannot, however, neglect the fact that he left behind a legacy of

radical theological ideas that have given rise to a lot of mischief, including the forward march of

white American Evangelicals today into political dominion. Bonhoeffer yielded to the temptation

to write a new chapter in Christian history and, in so doing, did great damage to the Church he

so dearly loved. His timing in other respects, however, was spot on. He led many into a new

understanding of human rights and the universality of the Kingdom of God.

Distinction of “Governing Authorities” as Evil or Good:

Jonathan Mayhew received his DD from Harvard in 1747 and pastored a church in Boston until

his death in 1766, ten years before the American Revolution. John Adams called him “the

morning guru of the Revolution”. He took a look at Romans 13 and decided that Paul did not

really mean that everyone must subject himself to all governing authorities, so he wrote a

sermon, “Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.” He gave license to subjectively marginalize

some leaders as “evil”, thereby not from God, while others as “good”, thereby of God.

Mayhew was in the tradition of the Pilgrims in America. Longing for a protestant theocracy, they

came to America to create Augustine’s “City on a Hill” – the Kingdom of God on earth. Thus,

Mayhew interprets Paul’s writings in a way that would reinforce the revolutionary spirit brewing

within the new country. Ironically, he was a fan of King George, whom he qualified as “good”.

We are here in this world today and must adapt in some measure to the culture in which we live.

Yet, we are Kingdom Kids and must make the counter-cultural life of Christ known, not by

resisting leaders not of our liking, but by living as citizens of a higher order – the Kingdom.

The church that holds to that principle is the very glue of grace that keeps the world from flying

apart and gives us some measure of peace on earth despite the lack thereof.

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