Today we explore the Ecclesia theme of 1 Peter, and do so as part of what Jesus envisioned in speaking about the Kingdom of God. What we are most interested in is how Peter saw the relationship of the Ecclesia (church) and the State with its powers.
Tomorrow I will look at Paul. And it will not surprise you if I say that I think Jesus’ Kingdom language and Paul’s Salvation language have been too often separated from one another, as if Jesus is for “society” and Paul for “individuals.”
1 Peter is (perhaps) the first sustained statement on how the emerging Christian movement of the 1st Century should relate to the State.
Here is the fundamental principle for Peter:
1Pet. 2:11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul. 12 Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.
First, the Christians are socially-oppressed. “The aliens and exiles” is seen my many (JH Elliott; I do so in my 1 Peter) to be the social status of the Christians rather than seeing them as “pilgrims on earth.”
Second, the Christians are exhorted to be holy. This is a theme in chp 1 and throughout the letter.
Third, they are to be good citizens. 1 Pt uses a term “to do good works” (2:15, 20; 3:6, 20) that is important here. Bruce Winter, in his book, Seek the Welfare of the City, demonstrates that Peter would have had in mind here doing benevolent actions for the good of the city: helping build buildings, monuments, etc..
Fourth, these principles are to work themselves out in every relationship: State, employment, wives, husbands, church (2:13–3:12).
Fifth, the “beachhead” for this work is the community of faith — a theme very important to 1 Peter.
We need to ask why Peter saw it this way? Did he want to be good to keep Rome off his back? Did he want to be good so he could have a chance to witness? Did he want to be good in order to impact society for the Kingdom? Yes for each question. But one thing is sure: he didn’t give up the idea that God’s Kingdom would fill the world.