Polis is the Greek word for "city," thus the things of "politics" pertain to all that the city consists of. "Politics" therefore is not merely synonymous with "state" or "government." The state government is but one estate among others all of which are necessary for the complete community. The full-orbed understanding of politics recognizes all three realms, institutions, orders or estates: the state/government, the family, and the church. To assume that politics is simply another way -- for example -- of referring to the judicial, legislative, and executive branches of government in the United States, is to commit a serious reductionism for what comprises the healthy city, the place where people live for all their needs to be met.
And yet the narrow view has been embranced in popular parlance and conceptualization. It's all about "politics" in the sense of treating the government as that which most influences our lives and upon which our lives most depend. This is a lop-sided view and has forsaken the balance for living that God intends for humanity. God makes life complete for us through all three estates, not just one or two. All are crucial for realizing holistic health not just for individuals but for the community.
Furthermore, when an over-reliance upon government takes place, the state itself suffers immensely. The LORD intends that the other orders would positively influence and help government, just as government in theory should help and support the family and the church.
Now at this juncture I've already impinged upon the post-modern high standard of relativism which will inquire at this point: who says that such an arrangement is what comprises a "complete" or "healthy" society? The challange can and will be proffered, but all that this does is get us back to 1) the consideration of Scripture's authoritative status; and 2) the testimony of history. In addition, however, is a third point that challenges people moving away from Scripture: the deterioration of our current culture which has over-emphasized the government. That is, Scripture is forsaken to our determent.
In Faith That Sees Through the Culture, chapter 8 reminds us of the duality of kingdoms: the left kingdom of power as manifest in 1) the estate of government; and 2) the estate of family; and the right kingdom of grace known through the third estate; 3) the church. All of these are necessary for a complete life experience facilitating the reception of God's good gifts resulting in maximal peace among people, and especially for the experience of God's order that brings blessings to lives.
In America we want to limit the discussison to "church and state." The great problem here is that "church" is viewed as just another institution, but one in which religious expression should remain confined. And "state" -- on the other hand -- becomes engulfing and is over-emphasized to the point of the public square becoming disinterested in the values and morals (for example) of healthy families that frankly serve as the scafolding of our society. Furthermore, when those families are fortified by the church then that scafolding is sanctified; filled with faith, hope, and love, exactly what a deteriorating culture requires when hatred and division eat away at its fabric.
When people object to such good influence they seem to do so with the presumption of an extreme "separation" precipitated by Jefferson. In contemporary situations, it is assumed that "faith" should be kept in private homes, congregations, and synogogues. Such an idea is the height of naivete. Faith is inculcated into the DNA, minds, and souls of people. We carry it with us wherever we go and apply it to whatever we do. It is a foolish assumption that we conduct pure compartmentalizations between faith and "objectivity" in our daily lives. No one does this.
From page 162 of Faith That Sees Through the Culture:
"The great irony of those trying to limit the Christian voice in the public square is that they, too, have a religious worldview when 'religion' includes any position about God. When Christians debate atheists about these matters, it is not that one side is religious and the other is not. Rather, both parties hold theological viewpoints. One says that God exists, and the other says God does not exist. Both belief systems about God easily influence what follows in their respective ethics and morality. These, in turn, further impact the culture for all people."
On the next page, I assert: "On account of these things, the Christian should never step away from the public square. If they do, they permit others to set the cultural agenda for the place in which they live."
Because God has established all three estates, then all three are also holy even if immoral people are in positions of leadership and power. The Christian, however, knowing that the estates are from God discern who is really in control. Remember that "Christ" means King. Thus, even when Pilate was about to condemn the LORD, Jesus said unequivocally to the governor: "You would have no authority over Me at all unless it had been given you from above." (John 19:11) The King of Kings was higher than the governor (and higher than all other kings, emperors, parliments, and governments).
Let us be fortified with the knowledge that King Jesus still leads, and let us be the salt and light we have been called to be so that we preserve and defend all three estates in proper "politics": 1) the government; 2) the family; and 3) the Church. In my new book being released in early 2021 Faith That Engages the Culture, we delve more deeply into these things.
In Your Service and To Christ's Glory,
Rev. Alfonso Espinosa, Ph.D.