The church as a polis shapes virtue through allegiance to the king
The apostle Paul talks citizenship when he is talking kingdom or talking church. Notice these words in Philippians:
Phil. 1:25 Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith,
Phil. 1:27 Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel,
Phil. 1:29 For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well—
The terms “faith” and "live your life” and “believing” and “suffering” are part of Paul’s vision of how to live in the church as a citizenship life. Faith and believing are about allegiance and not just the opening act of faith for the Christian. But “live your life” is a weak translation in the NRSV and the NIV’s is barely better: “conduct yourselves.” The Greek term is politeuomai and can be translated “live your public life” or “live your citizenship” in such and such a manner.
This but touches upon Julien Smith’s discussion in his new book Paul and the Good Life. Citizenship is about a moral community, and Robert Wuthnow’s wonderful book, The Left Behind: Decline and Rage in Small-Town America, illustrates in many ways the very thing Smith’s book is on about. The disintegration of rural moral communities informs us of what makes up for a good citizen because, as it is fades, the realities become even more clear.
Anyway, this is a post about Smith’s book. The proper term for life in a polis is pistis, but here shaped toward informed allegiance (not coerced, not blind). Here Smith is relying on Matt Bates’ stuff. Smith anchors his perceptions of the texts above in the Greco-Roman sense of city.
Is allegiance necessary? Yes. The issue is allegiance to what or to whom? (more below)
The argument so far can be summed up in the following points. The project of human flourishing in Mediterranean antiquity was a communal endeavor, involving membership in the polis. The function of the polis was to make virtuous people, a process that entailed habituation, imitation, and the collaboration of virtuous friends. Fully flourishing people in turn contributed to the flourishing of the polis. The leadership of the polis was entrusted to those preeminent in virtue; initially in theory, and later in fact, this ideal person was conceived of as a king. As a benefactor, the good king inculcated divinely bestowed virtue upon his subjects, and in return his beneficiaries owed him pistis, or allegiance.
The king matters in an empire, and the church has its own king. The whole is reconfigured!
He gets to Jesus as the formative power in shaping virtue for the church citizen, and does so through this sense of his kingship, and I turn to Smith with some reformatting.
To help sum up, let us imagine how someone who actually lived in this world might have answered the following questions.
How would you describe the good life?
Living in a community of individuals who together seek the excellences of character - moral virtues - that contribute to individual and communal flourishing.
How should such a community be govemed?
Those preeminent in virtue ought to govern, thereby inculcating virtue within the citizenry.
How does such a leader inculcate virtue?
The gods bestow virtue upon the king, and as benefactor, the king bestows the benefit of virtue on the people.
How does one relate to the good king?
By giving to him ones embodied allegiance.
Where can such a king be found?
The true king, the vicegerent of the gods, the benefactor of humankind, the guarantor of victory, is of course none other than Rome’s glorious emperor.
The pursuit of the good life in Paul’s day thus entailed citizenship in the cosmopolis of Rome as well as allegiance to Rome's emperor.
Allegiance is a necessary condition for the shaping of a virtuous character. The concept of allegiance presupposes a relationship of some kind, either to an individual, a group of people, or an entity larger and more complex, yet still composed of people. One cannot meaningfully pledge allegiance to an inanimate object such as a car, or to an abstract concept such as freedom.
The key point here and not to be missed is that the king of the church, Jesus, is not like the Roman emperor. Worthy citizenship becomes with Jesus a downward mobility (Phil 2:6-11) and can lead to suffering.
What matters here is CHARACTER and that’s the subject of the next chp and the next post.
Allegiance to the crucified Lord is allegiance to a new virtue and the Servant, loving, tov king empowers the people to live that kind of Christoform life.
It’s a new citizenship because the king’s character is so different.