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What is Politeia?

Bruce W. Winter discussed the greek word “Politeia” in his book, “Seek the Welfare of the City”.  It’s where we get the English word “Politics”, but in Greco-Roman times, it meant something very different.

It did not mean “when public government officials argue over who gets what”.

Politeia had a rich meaning which was closer to “public living” and included all realms of life.  Everything you did in public or related to the public was considered your lifestyle.  A person’s politeia determined their status in society.  A positive politeia included things like good occupations, everyday good works, participating in relief and development, and being a benefactor to the needy.

Today, when we bring Politeia into the discussion, we have to consider our effects as Christians in the world.  In Acts 2:46-47, we see that the church in Jerusalem “gained favor with the people”.  They lived life with the people.  They were thankful to God, and were generous with others.  This is obviously the goal when it comes to Christians and Politeia:  to gain favor with the people through our good works and vocal thankfulness to God so they would believe in Him and glorify Him.

keystone-colorworks-seth-nenstiel-9383BILD International produced a course named after Winter’s book (see above), called “Seek the Welfare of the City”.  In it, Jeff Reed proposed that contemporary evangelicals tend to fall to one of two extremes in Politeia.  In both cases, we Christians will isolate the very people we are trying to reach:

First Extreme:  Political Quietism

These are the Christians who have withdrawn from public life.  Not just in politics, though that is included.  But also in daily living.

Some obvious historical examples would be monks or the Amish.  They certainly do a lot of very good and their devotion to God is admirable, but they do not live among the people.  Despite a positive attempt at humility and frugality, the people who need Christ from them viewed them as superior people.  If their lifestyle is unreachable, so seems the gospel.

But we also see this in mainstream Christianity.  There are those who go to work, go to Church on Sunday, and then do nothing else with the people.  The extent of their good works is their personal relationship with Christ (which is a good in itself, but it does nothing on its own to reach the lost).

Is this you?

Second Extreme:  Political Activism

These are the loud-mouths on TV who bash the idiots who don’t agree with them.  It is disruptive, and again, only isolates those who don’t know Christ yet.

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Photo credit: NYyankees51 / Foter / CC BY-SA

People in our nation are disillusioned by “The Christian Right”.  They’re regarded as obnoxious and out-of-touch with society today.

It’s not necessarily that the policies that are bad.  It’s the way everything is presented.

Yes, to an extent, the gospel is disruptive and people will hate us simply because we align ourselves with Jesus.  There’s nothing we can do about that.

But it doesn’t mean that we have to go looking for trouble.

Does your disrespect for people of different political or religious background drive them away from the truth of Christ?

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Healthy Politeia

Brothers and sisters, we must avoid the two extremes and strive for a public life that honors God.  It is not our absence from society or our activism signs that win people to Christ.

For most people (and for me, in fact), it is people who love Jesus and walk with him in private and in public that make the gospel understandable.  It is those who serve others on a daily basis at work with a perseverance in mercy.  It is those who give sacrificially of their time, money, and talents so that others may benefit.

It is those who are good friends.

Based on how the people viewed them, it’s not an accident that in the church in Jerusalem “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:46-47).

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