Biblical bases for citizenship

Why is citizenship so important to the body of Christ? This article explores how civil life is a powerful way for us to be distinguished as God's chosen people.

Citizenship is a word which impresses upon individuals the responsibility to live up to standards set by a particular tribe, nation, or people group.

The dictionary defines the term citizen as:

  1. a native or naturalised member of a state or nation who owes allegiance to its government and is entitled to its protection (distinguished from alien)
  2. an inhabitant of a city or town, esp. one entitled to its privileges or franchises.
  3. a civilian, as distinguished from a soldier, police officer, etc.

Ref Scriptures: ,1 Peter 2:9, Colossians 1:13, Genesis 1:12, Genesis 18:18, Exodus 6:2-7, Exodus 19:6, Romans 9:3-4, Jeremiah 31:34, Matthew 3:1, Matthew 4: 17, Ephesians 2:12, Isaiah 9:7, Acts 15, Acts 28:31

The dictionary defines the term citizenship as:

  1. the state of being vested with the rights, privileges, and duties of a citizen.
  2. the character of an individual viewed as a member of society; behaviour in terms of the duties, obligations, and functions of a citizen: an award for good citizenship.

Citizenship is the state of being a citizen of a particular social, political, or national community.

Wikipedia defines citizenship as: Citizenship status that carries with it both rights and responsibilities. 'Active citizenship' is the philosophy that citizens should work towards the betterment of their community through economic participation, public service, volunteer work and other such efforts to improve life for all citizens. In this vein, schools in some countries provide citizenship education.

What does the Bible say about citizenship?

The Old Testament clearly sets forth God's intentions to create a nation for himself who would stand unique amongst the tribes and the nations of the earth as his people. Through the rudiments of God's promise to Abraham, his intentions were made clear. Read Genesis 1:12, Genesis 18:18

To Moses, God makes very clear his intentions to establish Abraham's people as a nation under his government. Read Exodus 6:2-7, Exodus 19:6

Through the Old Testament history, we have the rich wealth of wisdom in which God delivers and calls out a people for himself. He provides them with the laws that as a nation they would govern with, and installs a priesthood to mediate the Mosaic covenant so that they might walk in the full inheritance of God's promises.

The apostle Paul summarises it like this:

Romans 9:3-4 'For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen (fellow citizens) according to the flesh (natural descendants of Abraham),who are Israelites (subject to the Mosaic covenant), to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises'

Although they were a prefigure of greater things to come, the old covenants carried a glory; a manifestation of a superior culture that God was seeking to reveal to the kingdoms of the world. God sought to foreshadow what citizenship in his realm would truly be like for those under his governance.

The golden age of the OT (Old testament) covenants culminated in the reign of Solomon, prefiguring what the superiority of kingdom citizenship would be like. The entire nation of Israel was founded upon the Mosaic covenant. In breaking this covenant, Israel found themselves under the curses of the covenant and the once superior civil life deteriorated, leaving Israel enslaved to their enemies.

It was under the cycles of apostasy and enslavement that God sought to prophesy the beginning of a new covenant. Read Jeremiah 31:34.

This new covenant promised citizenship at the highest level by identifying the following:

  1. A new way of covenantal mediation not written on stone.
  2. A redemption that would hold new definition to the people as belonging to God.
  3. A heightened awareness of the presence of God, through whom they will find their citizenship perfected.

Whilst the prophets prophesied of the new covenant in relationship to God's kingdom - the kingdom of heaven, the nation persisted in seeking a deliverer similar to the judges of old to remove the yoke of their enemies and return them to the glory days of the kingdom of Israel under Solomon.

'In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Matthew 3:1-2

Therefore, the prophecy connected with the new covenant was not identified with a new kingdom, but with a restoration of the earthly kingdom of Israel. Through the prophetic message of John the Baptist, a new message appeared that did not demand repentance in accordance with the old covenants. Instead, as the greatest of the OT prophets, he demanded repentance in keeping with the ushering in of a new kingdom - the Kingdom of Heaven. Read Matthew 3:1-2

It is within this context a new kingdom is introduced with the promise of a brand new covenant. Jesus after being baptized begins to preach throughout Israel the same message. Read Matthew 4: 17.

Jesus also talked about the Kingdom of Heaven but in the context of parables only decoded upon the revelation of his birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension. These parables provide us with an understanding of God's intentions regarding delivering man into his domain, securing man's citizenship and ushering in the end of the age and Christ’s millennial reign.

A specific example can be drawn from the revelation given to Peter. Read Matthew 16: 13

Through the revelation we may be able to understand the following:

  1. The Father reveals to those he has chosen the foundation stone (Christ) on whom rests the future of man as it relates to his redemptive place as a citizen within God's kingdom.
  2. The Anglo-Saxon word 'church', as it is most commonly used and understood, does not express the full and rich meaning of Christ's statement and as such has veiled revelations connected with the kingdom. The original word used is  'ekklesia'.

Ekklesia is a Greek word which occurs over one hundred times in the New Testament. It is usually translated ‘church’ or ‘churches’. The word comes from two words: ek (‘out of’) and kale¯o (‘called’).

The two words occur separately in the following quotation:

“Out of Egypt have I called My son” (Mt. 2:15).

The ecclesia is a group of people who have been ‘called out’. Usually the word is used of the believers in Christ who have been called out from the world to be a people for their God, but it is also used of Israel in the wilderness (Acts 7:38) and of the “assembly” of Diana worshippers in Ephesus who gathered at the theatre (19:32,39,41).

Ecclesia can refer to groups of citizens in specific locations:

“the ecclesia which was at Jerusalem” (Acts 8:1);

“the ecclesia that is in their house” (Rom. 16:5);

“the ecclesia of the Laodiceans” (Col. 4:16);

“the ecclesia of the Thessalonians” (1 Thess. 1:1).

Ecclesia can also refer to the citizens of God's kingdom as a whole:

“upon this rock I will build my ecclesia” (Mt. 16:18);

“I persecuted the ecclesia of God” (1 Cor. 15:9);

“concerning Christ and the ecclesia” (Eph. 5:32).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecclesia_(ancient_Athens) The ecclesia or ekklesia (Greek: ????????) was the principal assembly of the democracy of ancient Athens during its Golden Age (480–404 BCE). It was the popular assembly, opened to all male citizens over the age of 30 by Solon in 594 BC meaning that all classes of citizens in Athens were able to participate, even the thetes. The ecclesia opened the doors for all citizens, regardless of class, to nominate and vote for magistrates - indirectly voting for the Areopagus - have the final decision on legislation, war and peace, and have the right to call magistrates to account after their year of office.

The ekklesia was a people called out to take responsibility for ensuring  the culture and civil life of the people were maintained by perpetuating its philosophy throughout all areas of life.

Citizens of an ekklesia were personally responsible to understand the laws through which they were to govern themselves, their families and the community.

The assembly was responsible for declaring war, military strategy, and electing strategoi and other officials. It originally met once every month, but later it met three or four times per month. With this understanding, Christ's words are unveiled and his intentions become very clear.

'and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

In stark contrast to the greek ekklesia built on a democracy, Christ's intentions are to build his ekklesia on the grounds of a theocracy.

Christ's words express the intent that, based upon his redemptive work, a new legacy of man, born again and cultured, consistent with the kingdom of heaven, would prevail in the superiority of citizenship over and above the conditions of Hades.

The ekklesia that Christ is building is intended to establish and expand the kingdom's governance.

Isaiah 9:7 reveals Christ's purpose - 'Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this'

Read Acts 15 Citizenship was so important to the early ekklesia that the first major debate centred on the Gentiles portion as citizens in the kingdom of heaven and whether their citizenship necessitated a circumcision in the flesh that was formerly linked within an Israelites birthright and place in Israel's commonwealth.

Paul perpetuated citizenship through his own letters to the believers in Ephesus reminding them of God's work of engrafting them into his redemptive plan. Read Ephesians 2:12

Peter the Apostle perpetuated citizenship through his own letters, reminding the newly formed commonwealth under the New Covenant of their responsibilities. Read 1 Peter 2:9

Consequently, for every citizen in Christ there must be the purposeful pursuit to co- labour in the following: 

  1. Understand Christ's (throne) governance.
  2. Ensure the accomplishment of what has been ordered.
  3. Ensure judicial matters are obediently followed.

If we were to assess today's church without the proper understanding we would generally make a false assessment based upon the size of the community, the value of its tithes or offerings, its social activities or the charismatic preaching - this would be fundamentally flawed. Successful kingdom advance is based upon the expansion of citizenship in keeping with the Lord's governance.

However, our assessment of a community would be different if we considered the following:

  1. Does it successfully deliver an understanding of theocratic governance at personal and corporate levels?
  2. Is citizenship being expressed and how proactive is the adult community in the developing laws and statutes for sustaining Kingdom culture?
  3. Does the community respond to the prophetic strategies and implement solutions to expand culture within its territory?

In the same vein, we find in chapters two and three of Revelation that Christ's remarks to the ekklesia are profound. His judgements address the culture of the people and how they are co-labouring to establish the culture of kingdom life in his territories.

It is commonly understood by believers that most people who accept Christ are saved and as a result must devote themselves to Christ and the church.

For many believers the expression of their devotion is through the main community congregating on a regular basis.

Their life looks like this:

1. Believer 

2. (saved into the) Church 

3. (with an abstract understanding of) Kingdom.

The new testament covenant does not look like this and nor is it structured in the same way. Because the fundamentals of the faith are not taught in the context of citizenship, believers end up being saved into and devoted first to the church. The expression of salvation through their lives is connected to the central place of worship, religious duties, the location and the community’s activities within that allotted space and time.

This leads to the believers’ struggle with representing their faith amongst other communities both religious and secular. The New Testament covenant does not look like this and nor is it structured in the same way.

The Kingdom Citizen takes this route:

1. Born Again >> 

2. (into the) Kingdom >> 

3. Ekklesia (Discipled into maturity with full understanding of citizenship)

 'The ekklesia is the fullest manifestation of citizenship; not in a specific time, ceremony or building, but rather as a culture demonstrated in daily life'

Frederick Tobun

As a result, the ekklesia preaching the gospel provides the way into the kingdom, teaching the gospel of the kingdom provides the culture and life of the kingdom. Read Acts 28:31.

Within the ekklesia preaching and teaching are not the same and are administered to specific people under specific administrative conditions with different outcomes.

An ekklesia in the fullest sense places the responsibility of citizenship squarely on the shoulders of the individual, administering this responsibility through apostolic governance. 

Final thought.

Many churches today are beginning to wake up to the idea of kingdom and citizenship. These terms are being used more and more within mainstream advertising to present the idea of progress and success.

Unfortunately, rather than allowing these understandings to change the church’s thinking and provide the courage to restructure the church into a living, breathing ekklesia, many are simply adding the understanding to what they are familiar with without changing.

As a citizen of God's kingdom you have the right to ask questions consistent with how kingdom communities should be governed. The following questions would be useful to propose to churches, pastors and elders professing the kingdom and citizenship:

  1. What is the church's understanding of kingdom citizenship?
  2. What plans do you have in place to establish citizenship in your community?
  3. How does the church's educational system reflect apostolic teaching on citizenship?
  4. What does your local community do most often when it meets?
  5. What key indicators does the church use to identify whether it has successfully imparted the qualities of citizenship to its congregation?
  6. What do the senior elders of the community envision for the territory in which the community resides?

 

For King and for country...

 

 

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