Church and Culture

I received today an “urgent” appeal to sign a petition demanding the US Senate filibuster an Obama nomination to the federal bench of a certain “anti-Jesus” judge. The judge opposes public prayer using Jesus name, is very much pro abortion and in general is a liberal twit. I will sign a petition opposed to the fellow for being very much pro abortion and in general a liberal twit – but not for being anti-Jesus! Evangelicals in a misguided attempt to be “salt and light” to a decadent culture have gone from preaching to meddling. The moralistic drones of today's Christian Right have proved the secularists correct. We have gone so far over the line in politicizing The Gospel, that charges that Christians wish to impose a theocracy in America have become more right than wrong.

I am grateful to Our Lord that we are not a Christian nation, nor Mohammedan, nor Jewish nor any other theistic political construct. Constantine the first “Christian Emperor” of Rome proclaimed Christianity the official religion of the empire in the 4th century. Once joined to earthly power The Church mutated over the next 1000 years becoming a venal, corrupt and voracious monster that punished unbelief and dissent with death and oppressed its own nearly as harshly. In Ireland state churches have fostered murder and mayhem for centuries.

The Puritans of New England sought to establish the “New Jerusalem”, a “holy city set on a hill.” The laws of New England based on the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy including idolatry and blasphemy were ecclesiastical in nature harsh in enforcement. Dissenters mostly Baptists, were persecuted and banished. In response to these abuses Roger Williams established Rhode Island, the first political entity in the new world to secure free expression of one’s faith. James Madison, a devout Presbyterian and arguably the most truly Christian of our founders was militantly opposed to any attempt to establish The Kingdom of God on the western shore of the Atlantic. We should be as well.

In the second chapter of Revelation Christ chastises the church at Ephesus for abandoning The Gospel in favor of good works. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.” He did not criticize the good works - only that they had eclipsed the purer and more important purposes of His Church.

Just what are the more important purposes of The Church and its people? Jesus answers this in numerous accounts but three seem to summarize them well. According to John’s gospel [21: 15-18], Jesus asked Peter three times “Do you love me”? Peter answered in the affirmative all three times. In reply, on each occasion Jesus said, “feed my sheep”. In what is known as the Great Commission, Christ calls his disciples to "Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation”[ Mark 15: 16] and teach them [those who believe] to “observe all that I have commanded of you” [Matthew 28: 20]. Where within these texts does one find instructions to either establish “Christian Nations” or compel unbelievers to observe what Christ commands? According to Jesus the pure work of the church is to evangelize and then educate and care for those who accept His offer of salvation. Nowhere does He compel atheists, agnostics or pagans to obey Christian precepts. Atheists don’t believe in God or His Son, why would they follow His rules or respect His axioms? To expect unbelievers to accept and obey Christian principles is as preposterous as expecting Christians to obey Buddha or The Koran! Trying to pressure goats to fly accomplishes nothing save making them angry, so too efforts to coerce heathens to follow a code meant for Jesus’ followers.

Jesus also made very clear statements about His Kingdom. Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world." [John 18: 36]. The biblical task of The Church is not ambiguous. Clearly we are to be about evangelizing, teaching, worshiping and ministering to each other. Clearly we are not to be about establishing His Kingdom on earth or creating and ruling Christian Nations. We are to Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. Civil government is Caesar’s by God’s ordinance.

Doesn’t Christ call us to be “salt and light”? Of course! "You are the salt of the earth . . . "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. [Matthew 5: 13-16]. We are always to model Our Lord and oppose sin both as individuals and corporately. The analogies found in these texts are of great import in this discussion. Salt is but one of many ingredients in a meal. Without salt the stew is not very tasty. However as we all know, too much salt ruins it. A light does not compel, it illumines. The light forces no one to take the right path it only makes it visible. Christians then are to season the world not embalm it, to show the way not coerce the unwilling to follow it.

For one who has been a staunch “culture warrior” the above realization has come painfully. “I have been wrong” does not form easily on my lips. To acknowledge that even a jot or tittle of truth is found in secularist indictments of The Church swallows hard. However I have been wrong in demanding that pagans abide by Christian mores and they have been right that Evangelicals attempt even unwittingly to establish a North American Christian theocracy. I repent.

Does this mean I no longer think I should take a position on public political and moral issues? Again, of course not. I am still to be a light amidst the darkness, revealing the truth. I am to meliorate the culture by proclaiming The Gospel and encouraging public policies that uphold the sanctity of life, respect our God given liberties and secure the future for our children. None of these are exclusively Christian yet all reflect His goodness. It is past time pietistic, Evangelicals repent, quit moralizing the culture and “do the works it did at first” It may be astonishing what a few decades of fervently trumpeting the grace of God in Christ His Son might effect on our perishing civilization.