In recent days, I have seen a number of social media memes declaring that Christ is King. It is true enough, but unfortunately, we only seem to hear it when political oppression seems to weigh heaviest on the hearts and minds of believers. Our tendency is to shrug off, in a sense, the authority of our political leaders and claim Christ's sovereignty as direct. If Christ's sovereignty is direct, we no longer have need for the state, right? Wrong. Christ's sovereignty, though direct, is not as simple as that.
There is quite the complexity when discussing the Christ, His Church, and the political order. So, I want to lay out some principles with regard to Christ's kingship, His kingdom, and His reign, and I would like to do so while addressing three fallacies about the relation of Christ to the political order.
Christ has no relation to the political order
Christ the KingLet me set the stage: Over three years a man from Nazareth has been traveling around with great numbers flocking to him wherever he goes. He is a teacher, a prophet, a healer. No one is quite sure whence his power comes, but he speaks with an unsettling authority. The things he says and does are fascinating, awe-inspiring, but terrifying.
This man could be God's anointed one come to Jerusalem to set Israel free from the rule of the foreign Roman Empire. And now, here this same man is sitting before the highest Roman authority in the vicinity. The Roman prefect has the chance to question him. He, Pontius Pilate, has already had to suppress chaotic uprisings and is under pressure to maintain the political order. Civil peace is his highest priority. Jesus' kingship is on trial.
Jesus confesses, "my kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is my kingship is not from the world."
Pilate asks him outright, "So are you a king?"
"You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice" (cf. Jn 18:36-37).
This would put Pilate at ease. Jesus has made clear that his kingdom is otherworldly. Furthermore, there is no fight. Christ has no army. In a world that equates military strength with power, he is powerless.
King of Kings
Christ's kingdom is not limited by geographical boundaries or national borders. Christ's kingdom is centered, as he says on truth and He is the Truth. (cf. Jn 14:6). This relation of truth to Truth and truth-hearer to Truth, breaks the artificial limits set by nations. Each person is capable of orienting himself toward the Truth, and in doing so, each individual is capable of subjecting himself to the Truth as to a King.
To allow Truth to reign in your heart and mind is to allow Christ to be your King. This kingship far exceeds the kingship of any worldly leader. Christ's reign is universal. I mean, Christ's reign is not just everywhere, it is cosmically universal; even the stars obey His command. All created things that we know of, with the exception of those of us with free will, obey His command and therefore reflect to us His truth.
Therefore, even non-Christian kings and rulers, who do not recognize Christ as King, if they subject themselves to truth as found in the Laws of Nature, are capable of ordering themselves toward the Truth, who Christians understand to be Christ Himself. We see this imaged in the story of the magi. All kings and rulers fall under the reign of Christ the King, the King of Truth.
The Kingdom as already present, but not yet fulfilled
In as much as Christ's kingdom, the same kingdom He preached in Galilee and all the way to His crucifixion, is a kingdom of truth that we allow to reign in our hearts, it is already present in us who listen to the truth. His kingship is a direct and real reign now and at all times. Christ has brought us a participation in His kingdom, but it is not a kingdom fully present.
We participate in Christ's kingdom by allowing Christ to reign in us. We allow Christ to reign in us by the presence of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is effected by the Sacrament of Baptism. This same Sacrament bonds each and every Christian to the Universal Church as a visible sign of the presence of Christ's kingdom here on earth.
Just as Christ in speaking with Pilate made clear, His kingdom is not of this world. His kingdom is otherworldly. His kingship is not derived from worldly legions. Christ's kingship is synonymous with His self-identification with the Truth, the same truth that orders the universe. Christ's reign is a heavenly reign. His kingdom is a heavenly kingdom. His heavenly kingdom, however, is truly present now, but not perfectly in those who do his will. His kingdom is already present even if it is not yet fulfilled.
Christ's relation to the political order, then, is identical with the political order's relation to truth. Any political order that ensures the Natural Rights of its citizens ensures the same Rights God grants to all mankind. Christ is King of kings even if that kingship is not perfected and the visible sign of that kingdom is the Catholic Church.
Christ's kingdom has no relation to the political order
Kinds of political orderChrist's kingdom as stated above, is not restricted by any artificial boundaries. His kingdom is not restricted to political boundaries. Furthermore, His kingdom is not restricted by types of governments.
In general, there are three types of government structures: 1) the nation is rule by one leader, 2) the nation is ruled by a small number of people, and 3) the nation is ruled by many. Each of these three can be subdivided.
The first can be ruled by a virtuous leader or a vicious leader, and therefore is either called a (a) monarchy or a (b) tyranny. The second likewise, is either called an (c) aristocracy or (d) oligarchy. The third likewise, is either called (e) polity or (f) democracy. The three virtuous forms of government (a, c, and e) are concerned with the common good where as the vicious are concerned with their own personal wealth and comfort.
So, no matter what the structure of rule, what matters is the order of those who rule to the common good.
Individuals and the state
What is important then is the relation of each individual to the state. For, when each individual is properly concerned with the truth, he is also necessarily concerned with the common good. According to this logic, faithful Catholics make the best citizens.
A Christian who is properly ordered, which requires frequent prayer and reception of the sacraments, understands in his heart his own obligation to his brothers and sisters in need. Impelled and urged on by the love of Christ, he seeks out the good of others over and above his own good.
In as much as Christ's kingdom is truly present in the Christian, the kingdom has a real relation to the political order. It is a relation of charity, prudence, and justice. Therefore, any form of government (1, 2, or 3) can be informed by the kingdom of God. A tyrant who allows Christ into his heart, receives baptism, and relies on the other sacraments, can be moved by the love of Christ to genuine concern for the common good. The selfsame tyrant if he allows the efficacy of grace to reign in his heart can become a just and good monarch.
Groups and the state
Within the civil order, there are groups of individuals bound together by a shared purpose. These groups look out for the individuals that comprise them, but they also provide a service to the common welfare of the entire civil order. For example, the Catholic Church exists for the sake of it members who are bound together as both a religious body (sharing a common prayer) and a political body (sharing a common rule of law). The Church provides many services among which are the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Educating its members to care for others and ensuring that their work is informed by divine charity, the Church's faithful members make the best citizens.
Christ's Church has no relation to the political order
The Universal Church, as we stated earlier, is the visible sign of the kingdom on earth. That is not to say that it is not the kingdom of God. It is. It is not, however, the entirety of the kingdom, much of which is made up of the saints triumphant (those in heaven) and the saints suffering (those in purgatory). Nevertheless, the Catholic Church is the visible part of the kingdom and reflects the entirety of the kingdom as an image of the kingdom.
As such, Church has a definite relation to the political order both as a collective and as individuals. Furthermore, in as much as the Church is the kingdom of God on earth, the kingdom itself has a relation to the political order. The political order in as much as it can strive for truth and justice is itself mutually ordered toward the kingdom.
The Gospel tells us that Christ will come in glory, and when he does, we will be judged by our actions (cf. Mt 25:31-ff). Christ's kingship is not without its implications, and the implications are huge. If we treat them as anything other than huge, we are bound to fail.
We are obligated to care for each other. For, when we do not, we fail to live in truth and we de facto reject the reign of God. By rejecting Christ's reign, we resign ourselves to self-rule. Since Christ is king of the entire created world, we cast ourselves into darkness. If our desire for heaven is nothing more than a passing velleity and never manifests itself in action, then we reject the eternal life that is offered to us.
Christ's kingdom requires charity, prudence, and justice. It requires action. It impels us to loving deeds done without seeking remuneration. It seeks the good of the other as other.