Friday, April 21, 2006

On the Necessity of Christian Engagement

The Purpose of the Christian Life

Before getting too far ahead of ourselves, we should think about and define the purpose of the Christian life. The Westminster Catechism begins by saying that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. In other words, Christianity isn’t primarily about individual soul-saving, but glorifying the Creator of the cosmos.

Today, there is a tremendous need for Biblical evangelism that surpasses tract passing, personal testimony, and "Just As I Am." What is needed is a comprehensive program that brings the comprehensive message of salvation to every individual—and institution.

Evangelicals tend toward an extremely narrow view of God’s Kingdom and His purposes. What is the purpose of the Great Commission? Is it merely an edict to the Church to witness in a hopeless and dying world, snatching a few desperate souls from the fiery cauldron of the lake of fire? Or should Christ’s directive give us hope that the Holy Spirit will empower the Church to promote salvation against the world, the flesh, and the evil one?

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus asks His disciples the BIG question that we must all answer—"Who do you say I am?" Peter responds by saying, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." Next, Jesus tells Peter that upon his confession, "I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." The picture painted by our Lord is of a militant and empowered body of believers, taking the light of the Gospel message into the world and scattering the darkness. It is the forces of evil manning the barricades against the Church, not visa versa.

Though Satan is a mighty enemy, described as a roaring lion, Scripture gives us comfort that in light of Christ's victory at Golgotha; the strong man has been bound, and we are to plunder his house (Matt. 12:29) and occupy it until Jesus returns.

Thankfully, we have not been left powerless to fulfill our mission. We have the Word of God, which is sharper than a two-edged sword, and access to God through prayer. Most importantly, we have Jesus’ promise that He will be with us always in the person of the Holy Spirit, who was sent to be our counselor and minister.

Aside from the purpose of the Great Commission, Evangelicals also frequently misunderstand its nature as well. Is it merely individualistic, with the hope of saving individual lost sinners and training them in their private "walk with God" and public worship? Or is its goal to transform individuals with the expectation that they will make a difference in the world, creating a Christian culture?

Discussing the perversion of the “individualistic” Gospel, Dr. David Alan Black writes:

One of the perversions of the Gospel I think needs eliminating today is the emphasis upon personal evangelism to the detriment or exclusion of any social emphasis. I do not question the fact that salvation is personal and individual, but it is far more than that. However, for many evangelicals the emphasis on the personal and individual has increasingly made salvation individualistic. The whole of the Christian experience is thought to be one’s personal relationship to God – often to the exclusion of one’s relationship with others or to the culture in general.

Salvation is both personal and social. Since sin is personal, each individual is guilty of sin and must be forgiven for his sin, not someone else’s. However, salvation is also social. Jesus is Lord of all. Politics, education, economics, the arts – all these are included under His divine Lordship. Thus Christians must come to understand that although salvation is individual and personal, the kingdom of God is far broader than just our personal salvation experiences.

It is true, as Dr. Black says, that sin is personal, as are the consequences, and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit is the starting point for Christians. Those who are dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1) must be given a new heart and a new spirit. The Apostle Paul tells us "the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law" (Rom. 8:7).

Regeneration, however, is just the beginning. In Christ, we become a new creation and are prepared to accomplish the good works for which we were created (Eph. 2:10). We are dead to sin, and slaves to Christ. In the strength of the Holy Spirit, we also have the ability to obey the commands of the King, and we are obligated to do so out of love (John 14:15, I John 2:3-5). The theological term for this growth process is progressive sanctification. In effect, we become more Christ-like in our attitudes and actions. This process of progressive growth ought to be foundational to any Christian strategy of cultural and political activism. In other words, the transformation of individuals must precede the transformation of institutions and culture.

Discerning God’s Will

The "purpose driven life" is a life lived seeking conformity to the will of God. But what is God’s will for us? D. James Kennedy writes, "God's answer to the question of human purpose and meaning centers around two great mandates He has given us in His Word. A mandate, of course, is a directive or command that points us in a specific direction." Those two mandates are the Cultural Mandate, given at the creation of man, and the Great Commission, given with the creation of the new man.

The first of God's two mandates - the Cultural Mandate - is found in Genesis 1:26-28:

Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth."

Nancy Pearcey says that to "'be fruitful and multiply,' means to develop the social world: build families, churches, schools, cities, governments, laws. The second phrase, 'subdue the earth,' means to harness the natural world: plant crops, build bridges, design computers, compose music. This passage is sometimes called the Cultural Mandate because it tells us that our original purpose was to create cultures, build civilizations—nothing less."

Here we see the Trinity conferring upon man the role of vice-regent, ruling and reigning with God, bringing the world under His dominion. Man’s task in accordance with God’s command and our own nature, having been created in His image, is to exercise dominion and develop culture. As a "federal head," Adam did not merely act on his own behalf, but as a representative for all of mankind. The command to Adam, which is stated again in the Noahic Covenant (Genesis 9) is still in force today. To quote Kennedy again, "As the vice-regents of God, we are to bring His truth and His will to bear on every sphere of our world and our society. We are to exercise godly dominion and influence over our neighborhoods, our schools, our government, our literature and arts, our sports arenas, our entertainment media, our news media, our scientific endeavors - in short, over every aspect and intrusion of human society."

Adam’s fall into sin was imputed to all humanity and perverted the God-given desire to exercise authority in God’s name, and replaced it with a desire to become God ourselves. Consequently, Christ’s representative and vicarious death was necessary to restore and renew the image of God to allow redeemed men to bring the creation into submission to God. It is only in Christ, through the power of the Holy Sprit, that man can fulfill his original mandate. Thus, there is an intimate connection between the Great Commission and the Cultural Mandate, for without salvation, we can do nothing. Therefore, evangelism and discipleship takes precedence over other activities.

However, as Christians our duty is not simply to fill our churches and drag new converts into the baptistery. We are to make disciples for our Lord, and teach them to obey everything God has commanded.

True Christian discipleship recognizes that every sphere of life is under the authority of God, and Christ’s salvation and healing is not merely for individuals, but also for the creation that groans under the impact of sin (Rom. 8). As Gary North has written, "Nothing is to be excluded from Christ’s healing: not the family, not the State, not business, not education, and surely not the institutional church. Salvation is the salve that heals the wounds inflicted by sin: every type of wound from every type of sin."

Too many of my fundamentalist and evangelical friends (and I would claim to be both an evangelical and a fundamentalist) think that Christians must merely preach the Gospel, bring souls to Jesus, and everything else will simply fall into place. But this is a denial of a Christian worldview. Chuck Colson writes:

The only task of the church, many fundamentalists and evangelicals have believed, is to save as many lost souls as possible from a world literally going to hell. But this [is an] implicit denial of a Christian worldview. It is unbiblical and [it] is the reason we have lost so much of our influence in the world. Salvation does not consist simply of freedom from sin; salvation also means being restored to the task we were given in the beginning—the job of creating culture.

We must also recognize that God created the world and called it good. Thus, though contaminated by man’s sin, the created order is still good, and the redeemed in Christ are called by God to work toward restoring the world to a Godly order.

What Has This Got to do With Politics?

Thus far, I have attempted to demonstrate that the purpose of the Christian life is to pursue God’s glory in obediently seeking to fulfill the Great Commission and the Cultural Mandate. But what has any of this to do with politics?

The word politics comes from the Greek word "polis", meaning the state or community as a whole. Politics is the means of organizing a just, equitable, and peaceful society by providing mechanisms to resolve conflicts that arise between men, by means of discussion and rational compromise. Politics is not feasible without government and authority.

However, for Christians, Christ has been given all authority in heaven and on earth, and the government, all government, rests upon His shoulders. The Scripture is clear that Christ holds all things together and through Him, all things will be reconciled to the Father. "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross" (Col 1:15-20).

When Paul says "all things" does he really mean all things except politics, economics, literature, and culture? Similarly, when Paul says that we are to take every thought and make it captive to Christ (I Cor. 10:5), does that exclude politics? When he writes that we must do all things to the glory of God (I Cor. 10:31) does Paul really mean "all things other than politics?"

Also, Jesus says that His people are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, and the rule and reign of Christ is extended by His people. Christians perform a common grace function. Our presence serves as a preservative and a light scattering the darkness. Does God desire justice, equity and peace and is He the source of those blessings? If so, why would it make sense that His followers and disciples should flee the battlefield and leave society in the hands of humanists?

The Bible describes believers as exiles in the world (I Peter 1:17, I Peter). Typically, my brothers and sisters use that passage to defend obscuratinism and retreat from the culture. "We're just passin' through, 'cause our citizenship is in heaven," they say. At the same time, they recite the Lord’s Prayer and sing "This is our Father’s world" without any recognition of cognitive dissonance.

Christians are indeed exiles in this world, captives if you will (I Peter 1:17, I Peter 2:11, etc.). So how do we seek dominion at the same time that we are "exiles?" Dominion is achieved primarily by service. Jesus, King of Kings, came to be a servant, and as His disciples we are to be conformed to His image and follow His example. But it is through true servanthood that dominion is established. Writing to the Jews is captivity, Jeremiah explains what it means to be an exile:

4This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 "Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper. (Jer. 29:4-7)"

This sounds strikingly like the Cultural Mandate—have babies, build houses, till the soil and grow crops, seek prosperity and wealth. This is the heart of loving God with our whole being and loving our neighbors.

What is Government?

Modern man frequently makes the error of equating "government" with the State. The Cambridge Dictionary defines government as "the group of people who officially control a country." In fact, government belongs to God. He has established numerous "governments" with various prerogatives and powers to advance His holy purposes.

For example, God created the family as the primary source of earthly government. The family, has been given stewardship over children, authority over property and inheritance, and control over education. The family is also the institution preeminently responsible for social welfare. Paul says that the failure to care for our own marks us as "worse than an unbeliever" (I Tim. 5:8) and James says that "pure and undefiled religion…is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble" (James 1:27).

The early church did not depend on the Roman civil authorities to meet social needs. Likewise, we see Jesus on the cross with His dying words ensuring that His mother is taken care of by John (John 19:25-27). The modern State has encroached into all these areas that rightly fall under the purview of family government. Strong and stable families, jealously guarding their prerogatives, are the foundation of strong and stable communities, and only these mediating institutions can protect the naked individual from the maniacal, power-hungry State.

There are other "governments" as well, foremost among them, the school and the church. The point here is a simple one – God has established various institutions and given them responsibilities in their spheres of influence. More importantly, the jurisdiction of these institutions has been limited and circumscribed by the Scriptures.

Christians need to realize that the State is not sovereign. Only God is absolutely sovereign. All human agencies have limited degrees of authority. Scripture tells us that all power and authority reside in the resurrected and ascended Christ who is enthroned at the hand of God (Matt. 28:18) and that it is in Christ that all things are held together (Col. 1:17). The institutions created by Him are to serve as His ministers, working out His will.

The State’s power is also limited and circumscribed by the Word. According to the Bible, God established civil government for three primary reasons:

1. To protect human life that is made in the image of God: "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man" (Gen. 9:6);

2. To defend the law-abiding from lawbreakers: "For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer" (Rom. 13:3-4);

3. To provide for a peaceful, orderly society: "I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone-- for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness" (I Tim. 1:1-2).

Today, however, the State has usurped virtually all power to its bosom. Historically, the State has been an object of worship, God walking on earth, as Hegel says. Rushdoony has written that the state is intrinsically religious, "Every state or social order is a religious establishment. Every state is a law order, and every law order represents an enacted morality, with procedures for the enforcement of that morality. Every morality represents a form of theological order, i.e., is an aspect and expression of a religion."

Is there any doubt that a cosmopolitan, anti-Western, and vigorously anti-Christian elite has established control of virtually every viable institution, including the instruments of cultural dissemination and political control (i.e., the State)? Is there any question that said elite is an ally of humanism? Should such a state of affairs be endorsed or accepted by God’s people?

Many Christians point to Romans 13 as a proof text for inaction, or even retreat in political and cultural matters. However, I think these texts are frequently misunderstood in such a way as to leave the State free to rampage about in an unbiblical way. Paul says, "there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God" (Rom. 13:1). So even the State is established and ordained by God for the purpose of being God’s servant (deacon) "to do you good" (v. 4). In other words, the State is also under the authority of God, accountable to Him, and must rule in accordance with His divine rule as revealed in Scripture. The Church, therefore, must prophetically proclaim the Lordship of Christ in all spheres of life, and as a Christian who takes God’s Word seriously, I have an affirmative duty to speak and toil for the establishment of a social order that takes God’s law-word seriously.

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