Advent: the quiet arrival of the Kingdom into the republic

Nov 28, 2017 by

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

Christ is the King, as many of us remembered and celebrated this past Sunday. To quote the wonderful Psalm 2, God has installed his Son as sovereign in Zion; the nations are his inheritance, the ends of the earth his possession. That is the reality, and the powers on the earth are warned that the best way to abundant life is to “celebrate his rule” and “take refuge in Him”.

But of course they don’t: the first part of the Psalm gives a vivid picture of how arrogant human authorities “rise up… against the Lord and against his anointed”, wanting what they think is freedom from God’s “chains” and “shackles”. Christ is the King, but they – we – want independence: we want a republic.

The question asked at the beginning of the Psalm: why do human beings do this? Is not answered here, but the rest of the Bible explains. Original sin is described by Paul in Romans 1:25 as our innate tendency to exchange the truth, the reality of a universe under God’s gracious rule, for the lie of our own autonomy. We justify this either by atheism (pretending that God doesn’t exist), or psychologically re-making him in our own image, creating new gods to justify and validate our rebellion.

This Sunday we begin to celebrate God’s response to the declaring of independence, new republics in human hearts, communities and nations. As in Barcelona earlier this year, the people of the earth have voted to throw off the shackles of the Kingdom and declare a republic. The legitimate central government responds by restoring order under its rightful authority. But while we give thanks for (so far) peaceful resolution in Spain, spiritually and globally the rebellion is deeper and much more serious. The republic has set itself up over centuries, its structures and values entrenched over generations. As time passes, the authority of the true King and his Kingdom is a distant memory.

Has God given up on us and retreated to heaven? Or perhaps he has made peace with the new republic, made compromises, focused on things in common – perhaps God has even blessed the authorities of the earth and the spiritual powers behind them, as reserves his judgement for the conservatives still clinging to the outdated idea of a kingdom? Psalm 2 is clear that this is not the case, and explains what will happen in the end, as does Jesus in many of his parables. The owner of the vineyard, the master of the house, the King will return with wrath and power, to destroy evil, punish rebels, and fully re-establish his perfect rule.

That is the final, visible Advent. But before that there are others, often small, often unseen, unspectacular, even secret, seen only with the eyes of faith. Supremely, Christ is born as a baby, weak, vulnerable, as C.S.Lewis said, into “enemy-occupied territory”, like a capsule arriving from outer space and landing on the rebel-held planet. But there is also the advent of the Spirit in the life of believers, creating the Church. And the advent of the Gospel and the Church into every community around the world, as the nations become the inheritance of Christ, not by violence, but by infiltration into the republic by the secret agents of the Kingdom.

Often in human history this results in hearts renouncing allegiance to the republic and turning back to the Kingdom. This is conversion, as we receive a full pardon for our rebellion through the self-sacrificial ministry of the King himself. The results are seen not just in growing churches, but communities and even nations transformed, embracing the values of God’s rule which are reflected in laws and customs, even if not every individual acknowledges the King.


But sadly, it sometimes works the other way. As the Bible shows in excoriating detail with the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, human systems of government and religion set up to reflect and promote the rule of God can become corrupt, maintaining the form and language of the Kingdom but transferring spiritual allegiance to the republic. The surrounding culture just seems too powerful, its promises too alluring, its apparent prosperity too tempting, the consequences of non-compliance too uncomfortable. The result is that the leaders and the people pray with their lips “thy Kingdom come” but believe in their hearts and preach the worldviews and ideologies of those who do not acknowledge the true God and his rightful authority.

It’s difficult enough to live in a ‘republic’ society while being inwardly loyal to the Kingdom. When leaders of what is supposed to be the Kingdom community gradually shift their allegiance to the republic, what are the options for the faithful other than intercession to the King himself? Writing letters to rebel Bishops, penning carefully argued books – even blogs! – will not work as a way of persuading them to come back under the authority to which they originally pledged themselves, because they have decided to “throw off the chains”, and that the new republic is their kingdom. When the human structures of the church go the way of the world, embracing the ideology of rebellion and republic, God acts in the way he always has, the Advent way: the quiet and small-scale establishment of a new Kingdom bridgehead.

This is why the story of Christ Church, Harris is so significant. A tiny congregation is prepared to say to a Bishop: “the Scottish Episcopal Church has made itself its own republic…it is now therefore outside the Kingdom”. The Harris congregation remains Anglican, but are now under the oversight of Bishop Andy Lines, ACNA and Gafcon rather than SEC. Those loyal to the King cannot compromise, perhaps negotiating, finding ways of ensuring minimal discomfort and retention of assets, keeping a seat at the table. This congregation has rather opted for “full Kingdom”, rather than something that exists by permission of a church which no longer considers allegiance to the King and his word as of first importance. They have fully differentiated, separated, even to the point of giving up their building.

This small group of people taking action on a remote island may not seem like much, but it bears powerful witness to spiritual realities. It’s an example of faith and courage which will reverberate out of all proportion to its apparent insignificance in terms of numbers and location. We could see it as part of a new quiet advent of Kingdom Anglicanism in the British Isles.


Acknowledgement: The idea of an apostate church becoming a republic, or part of the republic, is not the author’s but comes entirely from the Reverend Daniel Davies, priest-in-charge of Christ Church, Harris, and his statement to the Bishop of Argyll and the Isles.

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