The unity and diversity of first-century Jesus followers shocked and intrigued the ancient world. How can modern-day Christians follow their lead?
- Why do you think it’s so easy to make character judgments based on how other people lean politically?
- Can you think of a time when you came to understand someone who is very different than you? What did it require of you?
- Should churches engage in political dialogues? Why or why not?
- What would our communities or world be like if we all decided to listen and learn from one another?
- What changes, if any, do you want to make to approach political conversations differently?
NOTE: The following content is a raw transcript and has not been edited for grammar, punctuation, or word usage.
Question, are you familiar with this, the fundamental attribution error? Anybody, just raise your hand. Anybody heard of the fundamental attribution error? Yes, virtually nobody. Good, I like to know things you don’t know, ’cause it makes me look smart. So anyway, the fundamental attribution error is actually a cognitive bias that we have all been sucked into, especially during a political season and it goes like this: This cognitive bias causes us to attribute people’s behavior to their character. The reason he acts that way is because that’s what he really is and that’s who he really is. The reason she behaves that way and the reason she believes that way is because that’s an indication of who she really is on the inside. But we don’t do that when it comes to our behavior. When it comes to us, we attribute our behavior to circumstances and environmental factors. Let me give you an illustration. So, he’s late, that guy, he’s late, that guy at work, he’s late. You know why he’s late? ‘Cause he’s lazy and he’s irresponsible and he’s just disorganized, that’s why he’s late.
And then you’re late, and you’ve never once looked in the mirror, “So, you know what the problem is? I’m lazy and I’m irresponsible and I’m just disorganized.” No, just the opposite for you. You’ve decided, “The reason I’m late is because I was helping my kids get ready for school. The reason I’m late, I was on the phone with a friend. I’m actually very organized and very responsible. In fact, I’m so organized and responsible, I’m late.” Right? This is how it works. The fundamental attribution bias happens when we assume that a person’s actions reflect what kind of person they really are, what kind of person she is, rather than social and environmental factors and we talked a lot about this last week. So when it comes to the political scene, this is what it sounds like, “The corrupt Democrats. They’re just corrupt. You know why they act that way? They’re corrupt. That’s their character. They’re all corrupt.”
“The heartless Republicans, you know why they vote that way? You know why they believe that way? Because I’ve met all of them. I’ve done research. I know every single Republican is heartless. They’re heartless.” “No, you’re corrupt. No, you’re heartless. No, you’re corrupt. No, you’re heartless.” No, you’ve all been sucked into this cognitive bias. Well, clearly, something’s wrong with these people, right? Something’s wrong deep on the inside, right? The Democrats are all socialists. I mean, we know they are. Well, then probably Republicans are all racists. They won’t admit it, right? You’re not gonna admit they’re racist, but we know they’re racist. We can see their hearts, every single one of them.
Now, I hate to burst your bubble and you’re gonna hate me for this, so hate me now, but then over lunch, kinda think about this. Mature, emotionally intelligent, curious, empathetic people, they don’t fall for that. But political rhetoric feeds this. And political rhetoric grabs us by the nose and leads us into saying all kinds of silly things and believing all kinds of silly things that just aren’t true. And you’re better than that, and I’m better than that, so let’s just not do that anymore. In fact, you can call people out when they start doing that. You can say, “You know, you’re suffering from a cognitive bias.”
They’ll just look at you like, “What?” Say, “Yeah, you’re just suffering from a cognitive bias. I’m emotionally intelligent and I’m empathetic and so I don’t suffer from that. I used to, but then I heard this fabulous sermon that helped me understand what was going on, right?” When we choose to carry someone’s burden, Galatians 6:2, we talked about this last week, right? When we choose and we have to choose to carry someone’s burden, do you know what we do? We listen, we learn and we lean in. When we choose to carry somebody’s burden, what divides us diminishes and what unites us surfaces. We fear less, we understand more, and what we’re gonna discover today is this is how the church began, and this is how the world changed.
And we’ve said throughout this series that the church should be the safest place in the world to talk about anything, and the church should certainly be the safest place to talk about politics. We rarely talk about politics. Some of you grew up in churches where you talked about politics all the time. But isn’t it true, if you grew up in a church that talked about politics all the time, you only talked about politics from one side of the argument, right? And so, churches get known for being super left or super right or more Republican or more Democrat, but in this season with what’s going on in our nation and with what’s going on on television, we’ve decided we’re gonna talk about politics. And we’ve said that the issue that Christians need to wrestle to the ground is not which party to be a part of, the issue that every single Jesus follower has to wrestle to the ground is this: Are we willing to put our faith filter ahead of our political filter?
And this is very difficult to do. It’s so difficult to do, that most of you think you’ve already done it. It’s so difficult to do, that most American Christians think they’ve already done it. But if you’re a Jesus follower, you have to put your faith filter ahead of your political filter, to be a Christ follower first and a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or Independent second. And what I hope to convince you of today, what I hope to convince you of today is this, that when we do, things change in culture and society. We do the world a huge disfavor when we wrap our political ideologies with the teaching of Jesus, and everybody tries to do this. So, if you don’t hear anything else I say, hear this. Jesus did not come to be a footnote to a political platform. He did not come to support an existing structure.
He came to replace everything that was in place. Jesus is the King who came to reverse the order of things. And when we edit, and when we parse, and when we filter Jesus to fit a party platform, we rob the world, not just our communities and our nation, we rob the world. Listen, we rob the world of the message that changed the world. We cannot be first and foremost party people. And I’m not talking about your freshman year in college, okay?
We must be kingdom people. We must be kingdom people who are willing to influence our parties. When forced to choose… Come on, let’s get real. When forced to choose between the lesser of two evils, you still have to call out the evil. When forced to choose between two imperfect candidates, two imperfect platforms and imperfect planks within the platform, we have to call out those imperfections. And not for our sake, and not even for a party’s sake, for the world’s sake. Now, is this a big deal? This is a really big deal. Early Christians lost their lives over this. And early Christians began to reshape the world because of this. They refused unconditional loyalty to the emperors, even the good ones. And in doing so, they moved the ethical and the moral needle for the empire. And do you know how they did it? They did it through culturally disruptive unity. In a world that honored and was organized around citizenship, and wealth and power, where people purchased their way up the ladder and purchased their way to social standing.
The Ekklesia of Jesus, the gathering of Jesus, the assembly, the congregation of Jesus, that would later be called the Church, it stood in direct opposition to all of that. It was disturbing, it was unsettling, it was actually dangerous to the empire. This is why the Empire decided to strike back, just kidding. [laughter] This is why the Empire decided to impose sanctions on Christians and force Christians to declare that Caesar was Lord. They realized that this was a threat to the empire and here’s why, and there’s no way to exaggerate this, and there’s no way to describe it adequately, and there’s no way to elicit in us the emotion that those first century and second century Christians felt. Classes of people, classes of people whose circles rarely overlapped, and only when it was unavoidable, came together voluntarily, came together voluntarily and regularly to worship the crucified God. And this was baffling. This was baffling to people of the empire. And why did people who never had anything to do with the structure, social structure were so stratified and so separated? And why did they overcome social norms and why did they overcome prejudices and why did they overcome their racism and why did they overcome their class separation and their class distinctives?
Why would they come together to worship the crucified God? Because the message of Jesus was so clear. I’ve come to establish a new kind of kingdom and everyone is invited to participate in it. The Apostle Paul writes these words we read right over ’em like, “Yeah well duh yeah.” but these were show-stoppers. This was like, “What?” There is neither Jew nor Gentile, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, no that’s not how it works. We got Yahweh yes we do, we got Yahweh how about you? [laughter] He’s our God. Wait, wait, wait, we’re sharing Yahweh? Wait, wait the Gent… Wait, we’re all worshipping the same God?
Paul said, “There’s a new king in town. There’s a new kingdom. And what has been a source of conflict and a source of tension, that’s all gone away. Because all have sinned and fallen short. And all find salvation the same way. And what used to divide you has the potential to unite you. There is no Jew, there is no Gentile.” Wow. This next one, again, we’re like, “Duh,” but I’m telling you, this was disruptive to the economy, it was disruptive to everything they knew, it was not self-evident, there is neither slave nor free in this brand new upside down kingdom. Wait, wait, wait, wait, you’re telling me that God views me with the same esteem and dignity that he views my master? Wait, wait, wait, you’re telling me that God sees my slaves the same way He sees me?
What kind of kingdom is that? So disruptive. Seeds of revolution had been sown with the words of Jesus and the Apostle Paul. Then it got worse, nor is there male or female. Now here’s something we can’t just even begin to get our minds around. Slavery in the ancient world wasn’t like, slavery when we think about slavery in the United States of America. Slavery in the United States of America was driven by racism, by color of skin. In the ancient world, hard for us to imagine, everybody was a potential slave to somebody. You miss your house payment, they come for your house and your daughter. You miss your horse payment, they come for your horse and your son.
Everybody, just about everybody is somebody’s potential slave. And in a culture where everybody just about is someone’s potential slave, the dignity of women drops off the table to a degree that we can’t even begin to imagine. And Paul comes along and says, “Let me just tell you something, in this new kingdom, with this new value system, with this new king, men and women have the same dignity, the same standing. Peter says this, he says. “Hey men, you need to be careful how you treat your wives.”
“They are joint heirs with you in the Kingdom, they are joint heirs with you, in terms of what’s to come, that you have the same master, that you are accountable to your Heavenly Father on how you treat your Heavenly Father’s daughter. She’s your wife, she is his daughter.” And suddenly the dignity of… This is why I say, and I know it sounds crazy ladies and women, please don’t be offended. I don’t know why every woman wouldn’t at least consider following Jesus if for no other reason, what he did for the status of women and the seeds that he sowed in terms of the status of women, it’s extraordinary, it is absolutely extraordinary. It’s common sense to us. It was not common sense in the first, second or third, or even the centuries that followed. And he says, “Yeah. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Wait, I’m one with women and women are one with slaves and slaves are one with masters? Yeah, it’s a new way of thinking. It’s a new world order. One is in no distinction, equal value, equal dignity. This was so disruptive, I’m telling you, if this caught on, if this caught on, the fabric of the empire would unravel. And it caught on and Jesus predicted it would.
Looking into the future, he makes this statement, it’s so powerful, it’s one of my favorite verses in the New Testament, and certainly one of my favorite things that Jesus said. He said, “The Law and the Prophets,” talking about the, what we would call the Old Testament, “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John the Baptist,” But after John the Baptist, a new King stepped onto planet Earth and everything began to change. Since John the Baptist, since that time, the good news of a brand new kingdom, the good news that the kingdom of God is being preached. And look at this, and everyone is forcing their way into it, everyone, and their eyes are being and opened they’re being, they’re beginning to recognize the world in a different way, they’re beginning to see themselves in a different way, they’re beginning to see other people in a different way. This isn’t a tweak. This is a wholesale change. This is a new paradigm. This is the upside down Kingdom of God, and Jesus has introduced it to the world and we have been invited to participate in it and more importantly, we are stewards of God’s kingdom in our communities, in our nation, and in our World.
This is why it would be so foolish, so foolish for any local church or any group of churches or the church in general, to ever be divided over political issues, or a political party because those parties will one day be over and Jesus will still be the king. So work with me, When the Apostle Paul dies and Peter dies, it’s like, “Oh no, the two, the two super heroes of the faith, these are the guys with the superpowers literally of the faith, they’re dead. So does that mean Rome won? Does that mean the temple won? No, Christianity just continued to spread like crazy. So 45 years after the Apostle Paul is executed in Nero’s Rome, Pliny the Younger, who was the Governor of an area, a region that was in our modern day Turkey, realizes that as a governor, it’s his responsibility to put down the growth of the church because the Emperor had sent out an edict that we have to stop the spread of Christianity because the Gods are angry.
It wasn’t too long after this that the edges of the Roman Empire began to fray and so the Romans were trying to figure out what’s wrong, what’s wrong? So the Gods are angry but what would make the gods angry, the gods aren’t being sacrificed to the way they used to be and who’s the culprit behind the Gods not being sacrificed to? It must be these Christians. So there’s an edict that goes out, that you’re to round up and arrest Christians, and you’re to force them to sacrifice to the emperor. They don’t have to quit believing one thing, but they’ve at least got to acknowledge that the emperor is Lord or the emperor is their ultimate, they have to swear their ultimate allegiance to the emperor. So Pliny the Younger decides, “Hey, you know, I gotta do what the Emperor says, But I’m not even sure why we’re doing this. I haven’t noticed a disturbance in our community because of these Christians. So he writes a letter to Emperor Trajan asking the question, “What should I do with these Christians once I round them up? But before he sent the letter he did a little investigating, because he decided he needed to educate himself on what made these Christians so dangerous and he incorporated his findings in this letter, and it actually survived antiquity. And here’s what Pliny the Younger discovered about the Christian community 45 years after the Apostle Paul was executed by Rome.
Here’s what he discovered, he includes this in the letter, here’s what I found out. The sum and substance of their fault, because clearly, they’re at fault or we wouldn’t be rounding them up or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day of the week before dawn. So I sent out my spies I actually arrested a few Christians, kinda beat them up a little bit, roughed them up a little bit to find out what’s going on. What do you believe? What are you up to? Why is this a threat to the empire? And one thing I discovered is, they meet together on a certain day of the week before dawn. Well, they would meet on Sunday to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus but Sunday is a workday, there’s no weekend it’s a workday, so they would meet before dawn, before work, to celebrate, and to worship together.
This is how committed they were. This is how moved and changed they were. And when they would get together early in the morning before dawn, we found out that they sing. Oh. [laughter] How’s the empire gonna survive people singing? This is such a threat. They sing a responsively a hymn, and they sing to Christ as if He’s some kind of God. Our people, 2000 years ago, the people that took this to the next generation after the apostle Paul and Peter, would gather and they would sing. And the reason they would sing is because most people couldn’t read, and not only could they not read, they had nothing to read. There’s no B-I-B-L-E. So they would sing a hymn. This was their way of worshiping Christ as if he was a God.
And here’s the other thing we found out in Emperor Trajan. And while they were together, they would bind themselves by oath. Ah, this is where it’s gonna get dangerous. They bind themselves by an oath. They take an oath, and I’m sure this oath has something to do with undermining the empire. This oath must have something to do with creating some kind of insurrection. I mean, maybe this is an oath that’s gonna create some slave revolt, we don’t know, but what is this dangerous oath that they take? Not to some crime, we were surprised to find out. No. What were they taking an oath for? Here’s what they vowed together to do instead, but not to commit fraud. They’re not gonna steal from people or charge people too much or treat people dishonestly when it comes to finances or trading. They promised each other they would not defraud people. And they promised they wouldn’t steal from anybody. And they promised out loud to each other that they wouldn’t commit adultery or falsify their trust, that is not follow through on a promise. This sounds dangerous. I mean, we can’t have people like this in our culture, in our towns, in our villages.
Now, let me tell you what’s amazing about this. Again, this is a duh! This is common sense, self-evident, right? In the pagan religions, there was no morality or ethics related to pagan worship. There was civil law to keep people in line. But when it came to the gods, the gods didn’t care how you treated other people. They just wanted their blood sacrifice. They just wanted their grain offerings. You’re just trying to bribe the gods. And suddenly here’s this cult, and they feel that somehow in their worship of their God, there is a moral component and an ethical component as if they feel accountable to God. They feel accountable to God for how they treat each other. And they feel accountable to God for how they treat people in the community.
Imagine. Imagine what would happen in our community? Imagine what would happen in our country if every week Christians gathered in circles and they made an oath to each other, “This week I will not defraud anyone financially. This week, I’m not gonna steal anything, any ideas or any credit. This week, I will be faithful once again to my wife or to my husband. This week, I’m not gonna let anybody down, I’m gonna follow through on what I promised.” Imagine such a world. Nor, this goes on. He says the other part of the oath was, “Nor to refuse to return a trust.” If somebody’s counting on me, they can count on me when called upon to do so. Pliny the Younger is like, “That’s it? That’s all you got?” “It’s all we could find out. We tortured a few Christians and sent some people in to be amongst them, and that’s all we got.” “So this is the group that’s angering the gods? This is the group that’s undermining the empire? This is the group we’re to round up and eliminate?” See, this made no sense. This was so counter-cultural in a culture that worships strength, in a culture that worshiped warfare, in a culture that worshiped conquest and victory.
The ruling class found this pathetic, pitiful. This is ridiculous. They’re worshipping a crucified Rabbi. What is with this? And from their perspective, the whole thing was just weird and appalling. But for many, many, people found the upside down Kingdom of Jesus appealing. Christians refused to abandon the sick because they no longer feared death. Christians no longer abandoned babies because everyone’s made in the image of God. And Christians no longer left children out to die that they didn’t think they could afford to raise, because they were made in the image of God as we talked about, then they would go out to the edge of the forest and the edge of villages where babies were often left, and they would bring these children in and raise them. Who are these people? They’re our people. Jordan Peterson sums it up perfectly. He says this, “Christianity achieved the well-nigh impossible. This is the part we cannot even begin to get our minds around. The Christian doctrine elevated the individual soul.”
This was unheard of, placing slave and master and commoner and nobleman alike on the same metaphysical footing, rendering them equal before God and the law. The implicit… So powerful. The implicit transcendent worth of each and every soul established itself against impossible odds. The kingdom of God as described by Jesus struck the ancients as appalling, eventually appealing and in time it became contagious And against all odds a Nazarene cult or as in the book of Acts they refer to it as a Nazarene sect, they’re following a dead Nazarene, a Nazarene sect who worship a Crucified Rabbi with no territory, no military, no authority, no political power, no political standing, whose message was built around these pathetic two ideas: Love your enemy and love each other, not only survived and thrived. It shaped Western civilization and we, every single Jesus follower here listening or watching is part of that movement. And we dare not, this is why we dare not be divided over party lines knowing that one day those parties will be over.
And if those who came before us who are so different from us, if those who came before us that lived in a world we can’t even begin to imagine, if somehow they were able to find common ground with each other at the foot of the cross, we have no excuse. Their culturally disruptive unity shocked the world and eventually their message would change the world. So come on, let’s do that, because come on, you know this, let’s just be super honest for a minute, we run the risk of being divided over some very important issues.
We run the risk of being divided over some very important issues that you are passionate about, passionate about. But let’s just, again, let’s be honest, it may be impossible for you, and I understand this and this is where I’ve gotten negative feedback for this whole series, I get this, it may be impossible for you to understand how a Jesus follower could possibly have a different view on a specific issue than you have, it just… You may never get there, I can’t imagine you call yourself a Christian and you’re still for this? You call yourself a Christian and you’re still against this? You call yourself a Christian and you can’t see that? You call yourself a Christian and you don’t understand that? You may never ever understand why other Christians don’t see political issues and social issues the way that you do.
You may never understand how they could be for what you’re against and against what you’re for. So when you go to vote, you need to vote your law of Christ-informed conscience, absolutely. When you go to vote, you don’t vote based on trying to make a bunch of people happy, you vote your conscience. But in the meantime, let’s do what the early church did, and let’s carry each other’s burdens, because when you help me carry my burden, you gain understanding about who I am, where I sit and consequently where I stand. And when you help me carry my burden, I get a better understanding of where you sit and consequently where you stand. And when we carry each other’s burdens, there’s something that happens that can’t happen any other way and we may never agree politically but we can love unconditionally, because we’ll gain a better understanding of each other.
And even if we never understand each other, and even if we never agree, if we carry one another’s burdens, do you know what we do? We do the most important thing, we fulfill the law of Christ. Let me say it a different way. You do not have to understand me or agree with me to love me. And I do not have to agree with you or even understand why you view things the way you do to love you. We can disagree politically, we can love unconditionally, while we pray and work for unity. So let’s do this. Let’s… Come on, this is a unique opportunity, it’s a unique opportunity for our communities and for our nation, let’s not miss the opportunity of a lifetime, the invitation to follow the king who turned everything upside down and reversed the order of things. So let’s listen. Let’s learn. Let’s love. And together we will make our towns better, we will make our community better, we can make the nation better, we can make the world better. And that’s not hyperbole, because once upon a time a handful of Jesus followers multiplied to the point to where the empire finally threw their hands up and embraced the crucified God. And if we get this right, perhaps we will leave our nation a little bit less divided, after all, one is the win.