[This is the first article in a series of two in which I explore the position of the Church in the world. In this first article I cover how the Church is called to be counter-cultural, revolutionary and subversive in its relationship with the world. In the second part I will make clear the Church’s responsibility to remain submissive to the governing authorities.]
God’s Kingdom, Not Man’s
The Church, and those who are members of the Church, live in the world. Whilst being present in the world, Jesus Christ is clear that His people are not of the world. This means that although the Church is found to be a part of the world around us it is not part of the same kingdom. The authorities and powers of this world are not the powers to which the Church appeals or is bound to.
Christians, and the Church of which they are members, have been transferred out of the kingdom of this world and into the Kingdom of God. If there be any contrariness or conflict between that which the world (and the rulers, authorities and powers of the world) insist upon and the laws of obedience to God, then it must be the Christian’s duty and the Church’s duty to be obedient to God, not man.
Jesus, though He is Lord and Saviour and is both the highest authority and the only way of salvation, has nevertheless allowed the forces of rebellion against God to prosper in this present world. Those who belong to the world do not know God nor His people. Yet whilst the world is under the sway of darkness, those called out of the world by Jesus are now children of Light, even though walking in this dark world.
The Counter-Cultural Church
The Church has always had a tension with the cultures in which it is found. The Jewish nation and the Roman Empire in which the early church existed tried to suppress and subvert the Christian world-view. Yet the Church, for its part, sought to live by standards which were alien to those authorities. The religions, customs and etiquette of the non-Christian cultures did and does impact upon the Church, yet equally the Church is a force and lifestyle that runs counter to the prevailing winds of fashion and culture.
The standards of behaviour demanded by cultural sensibilities, or the lack of morality by which they so often express themselves, are to be resisted by Christians and the Church as we seek to live according to God’s standards and not those of the world around us. These are so often in conflict, and for a peace-loving and peacemaking Church it can be a profound challenge to stand up to the debauch culture and determine to live in such a way that will mark us out as “misfits in the world”. The Bible calls Christians “strangers in the world” and expresses our position in this world as temporary residence, not a lasting citizenship.
The Subversive Church
The Church is profoundly subversive. The whole point of the Church’s existence in the world is to convert sinners into saints. Neil T Anderson, in his book “Victory over the Darkness”, said that the Church is “a military outpost under orders to storm the gates of hell. Every believer is on active duty, called to take part in fulfilling the Great Commission.” The role of the Church is not to placate and appease, but to actively seek to undermine the values, institutions and norms of a world fallen under the sway of evil.
An important point here is concerning the theology of Dominionism, which teaches that the Church should seek power and influence through laws and power structures. I do not believe that this “lording it” is what Jesus calls His Church to do. What I do believe is that the Church should use what we might term “soft power” in contrast to the “hard power” of theocratic authority. This soft power takes the form of example, persuasion and, above all, prayer.
The Revolutionary Church
The Christian Church has always been called to be revolutionary. It is not sufficient to accept the status quo and it is not sufficient to appeal to cultural, legal, or traditional norms as a defence for actions or inaction.
The Church is engaged in a deep and profound war against the forces of evil and corruption and should never engage in actions or inaction that compromises its basic calling as a Christian witness in the world and to the world. (Of course, as I will discuss in the second part of this series the Christian and the Church as a whole is called to obey the authorities, whether religious or secular – yet if there is a conflict or contrariness between what the authorities demand and the laws and principles of God then the Christian and the Church must choose obedience to God over and above any duty to the religious or secular authorities.)
The Church which was founded by Jesus Christ and built upon the rock of the testimony of Peter is expressly called to advance a kingdom that is contrary to the kingdoms of the world. It is, therefore, a revolutionary movement seeking to call people out of every nation and into God’s own holy nation. It is counter-cultural and subversive and seeks to revolutionise human interaction, values and principles.
The methods by which the Church does this are not the hard power of force and compulsion. No, the method of God’s Kingdom is love. Christ calls the Church to love as He loves – a self-sacrificial, God-centred, and other-focussed love. Sharing the Gospel is part of this, but there is also that aspect whereby Christians are called to make a positive impact upon the world. As the Church should not have worldly power, the way in which this revolution is carried out is by bearing witness, through words and actions, of the love of God.
The world may not understand that the Church and individual Christians have love as the primary purpose (and, to be fair, many Christians do not appear to demonstrate this particularly well), for the love of God is alien to those who do not know Him. But for the Christian such love should compel us to make a positive impact upon the world, not only through the sharing of the Gospel but also through social and political action with love and not power as the motive and aim.