Today I read a scholar who says that the claim Jesus is Lord is imperialistic, reflecting the Roman imperial values of Caesar being Lord. He contended that this is a claim embedded in imperialism and royal imagery. I do agree that royal imagery helps us understand the claim, but I don’t see that as negative. “Jesus is Lord” is a central Christian claim alongside the resurrection (1 Cor 12:3), and Paul grounds it in the Shema, one God and one Lord (1 Cor 8:5-6). God is not our equal; Jesus treats us as his brothers and sisters (Mark 3:31-35), but he is also the firstborn among us (Rom 8:29; Col 1:18), the head of the church (Col 1:18, etc.)
As most readers know, I’m an egalitarian for the equality of all people made in God’s image. For my egalitarian approach to gender I have taken a lot of criticism. But there are two ways this does not translate to treating Jesus as our equal. First, I can believe that brothers and sisters are equal in Christ without asserting that individuals may never fill different roles; if my provost or dean is a woman, we are equal in Christ but she still has authority in a sphere where I work. But second, and more important, while Christians believe that Jesus is human, we also believe that he is more than human.
While claiming to be a Christian view, the view that makes Jesus merely a peer rather than our lord vacates the heart of our faith. And speaking of views being embedded in cultures, the radical egalitarianism that would make Jesus no longer lord is itself a reflection of a culture that recognizes no lords and is averse to authority structures in general.
Yet while most of us Christians recoil at someone explicitly taking individualism to such an extent that Jesus becomes a mere peer, how many Western Christians act this way in practice? How many treat Jesus as their equal, or even pray like God is their servant or their genie? A few hours after reading the above-mentioned scholar, I was praying. I found myself being inattentive; that happens even to people who, unlike me, aren’t ADHD. What concerned me more was my nonchalant attitude about it, as I found myself momentarily thinking, “God won’t mind, since he’s so forgiving.” God is forgiving, but I wouldn’t want to diss my Mom with a dismissive like that, even though she’s forgiving too. While we may recoil at what the scholar said, how many of us have imbibed something of the same attitude in our hearts?
Personally I’m glad that we don’t have absolute loyalties to rulers or unquestioned allegiance to Western states today. There are great advantages to this arrangement. But whatever analogies Western Christians can use for allegiances or loyalties, we need to remind ourselves: Jesus really is our Lord.