w e e k l y (sort of) w o r d – 18.02.02
#8: EMBRACE! … our responsibility and role
Here follows a draft of the eighth chapter of part two of a book in progress, provisionally entitled “Brave New Europe?”.
The first part explains why Europe may be headed for a neo-pagan future as it jettisons its remaining “baggage” of Christendom.
The second suggests 10 imperatives for God’s people to recover faith, hope and vision for the Prodigal Continent.
The first was to: ASK! … what is God’s will for Europe?
The second: REJECT! … the enemy’s disinformation
The third: REMEMBER! … what God has done in the past
The fourth: ADMIT! … honestly the sins and mistakes of the Church
The fifth: FACE UP! …to the truth about the present.
The sixth: LOOK! … what God is up to.
The seventh: RECOVER! … the Gospel of the Kingdom.
The eighth imperative is:
EMBRACE! … our responsibility and role
President Putin’s representative in southern Russia recently wrote a letter to the churches in his area – Orthodox, Baptist and Pentecostal – asking what contribution the churches could make to the betterment of Russian society. One denomination responded with a candid admission that they had little to offer. They were not preparing people for this world – but for the next.
What answer would our church or denomination give to such a letter?
The last action of Jacques Delors before his term of office expired as president of the European Commission, in 1992, was to write to religious leaders across Europe pleading for them to help recover the soul of Europe – to help shape her future.
My guess is that he is still waiting for a response from the evangelical sector.
In my travels around Europe I have encountered a wide spectrum of views among evangelicals concerning our responsibility for the state of our society.
In England, John Stott and others have been declaring for years the transforming power of the gospel and that God’s purpose is for his people to be salt and light to the community making a difference.
On the other hand, theologians from southern Europe have told me point-blank that the gospel is not about transformation, but about salvation.
In eastern Europe, to talk about Christian politicians or Christian businessmen is often akin to talk about frozen steam. Politics and business are seen as worldly activities unfit for God’s people.
In the last chapter, we journeyed through Jesus’ life and ministry to trace his central message – the Kingdom. Let’s re-examine the task of God’s People in Europe today, in the light of this message.
In Exodus chapter 19, verse 6, Israel was called to be a “royal priesthood”. In the New Testament, Peter applies this same concept to the new People of God (1 Peter 2:5).
So what is a royal priesthood, or a kingdom of priests? Yes, part of the priestly role was to minister to God, and to intercede for the people. The other part was to bring God’s word and absolution to the people. God’s intention was to see his kingdom extended among the people, to see his will being done. His priests were his agents – kingdom agents, if you like.
James Bond, secret agent 007, was a kingdom agent on Her Majesty’s service. His mission was to act in the interest of the queen, to see her will being done. Being a royal priesthood involves being agents of God’s kingdom, acting in God’s interests to extend his rule, his kingdom, on planet earth.
Length, depth and breadth
When Jesus comissioned the disciples to spread the Gospel of the Kingdom, he suggested three dimensions in which this growth should happen.
Firstly, the geographical dimension: “Go into all the world.” That means literally that God wants to extend his rule into every geographical part of this planet. We are to plant kingdom communities literally everywhere. A pressing question for us should be: where are there few or no fellowships of believers in our city, country, continent and planet?
Secondly, there is the socio-ethnic dimension: “Disciple all peoples”. That means the good news of God’s rule needs to be transplanted into the cultures of all people groups everywhere. The Bible needs to be translated into all languages. Churches need to be formed everywhere in all manner of appropriate cultural expressions. The pertinent question is therefore: which people groups have not yet heard the good news of the Kingdom in a culturally appropriate way – in our city, country, continent and planet?
Thirdly, there is the life-sphere dimension: “Teach them to do everything I have commanded you to do.” In other words, “teach them to obey me in all things.” In Colossians 1:20, Paul reveals God’s purpose to be the reconciliation of all things under heaven and on earth under Christ’s headship. Every sphere of life is to be reclaimed for the Kingdom. No sphere under heaven and on earth is to be left outside the scope of the gospel.
No, the gospel is not just about personal salvation. Nor just about church activities. It has to do with the extension of God’s rule, his will being done in education, in government, in business, in the media, in the arts, in the entertainment world, in healthcare, in law… in every human activity!
As kingdom agents, we have been given a mission to extend God’s rule geographically, socio-ethnically and in every life-sphere.
We can call this the length, the breadth and the depth of the Great Commission.
In the later stages of World War Two, as the allied forces punched their way up through France and the Low Countries towards the heart of nazi-Germany, a second ‘army’ was being assembled in England. The soldiers of this army were not armed with guns and bullets; they had been hand-picked for their skills and experience in local government or social services. They were former police chiefs, mayors, hospital administrators and civil servants. As soon as towns and cities were liberated, units of this second ‘army’ were moved in to rebuild the shattered infrastructure of the local communities.
To plant the flag and claim the territory as the paratroopers stormed their way through the frontlines in their drive towards Berlin was one thing. To begin the process of ‘normalising’ society, and rebuilding the community according the values of democracy instead of totalitarianism, was another.
Both were vitally necessary at the end of World War Two.
To plant the flag and claim territory for the Kingdom through evangelism and church planting is one thing. To begin the process of rebuilding the community according to the values of the Kingdom is another.
Both are vitally necessary at the start of Millennium Three.
The word ‘vocation’ has come to mean a trade or a profession. It literally means ‘calling’. My Oxford dictionary describes the word as a feeling of being called by God to a certain career. God doesn’t just call people to be missionaries and pastors. He calls people into politics, into television work, into education, into business, into the arts, into medicine, into journalism, into making films, and so on, to be salt and light in all these spheres of life.
Jesus used these metaphors of salt and light when talking about Christian involvement in society. He used common everyday objects everyone understood. Yet somehow we still seem to miss the point.
Salt of course was used both for food flavouring and for preservation of meat. So when the food tastes saltless, whose fault is that? When the meat goes bad, whose fault it that?
When we enter a dark room, switch on the light and nothing happens, do we curse the room? Or do we realise something is wrong with the light?
So when we take stock of the situation in Europe today, who bears resp
onsibility? We have to ask o
urselves, what’s gone wrong with the salt? What has happened to the light?
When Jacques Delors or Putin’s representative ask for help from God’s kingdom agents, what should they expect?
Unfortunately, something happened over the past 150 years to sideline evangelical Christians as serious players on the field. A one-sided pietism divorced the spiritual from the worldly, and the sacred from the secular. This in turn only encouraged widespread secularisation, as a comparision of the following two definitions reveals:
Secularisation: that process by which society and culture has been freed from the decisive influence of religious ideas and institutions.
Pietism: that process by which society and culture has been freed from the decisive influence of religious ideas and institutions.
This turnabout from the strong commitment to social and political involvement of 18th century evangelicalism on both sides of the Atlantic, for example, has been called the Great Reversal.
Various reasons have been suggested for this reversal, including evangelical reactions to theological liberalism and the social gospel, disillusionment and pessimism following World War One and the Great Depression, a gloom-and-doom eschatology, and a growing middle class conservatism and resistance to change among believers.
Thankfully a reversal of this Reversal itself has been underway over the past decades – particularly in ‘off-shore Europe’ (Britain) – but its negative legacy still lives on among many continental Christians. The lack of a clear and strong evangelical voice in the European political arena is just one indication of this.
We need new resolve to embrace our responsibility and role for shaping Europe’s future. We need a fresh understanding of our role as kingdom agents.
Transformed by truth
One particularly moving scenario in J.R.R.Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings describes the transformation of Th√©oden, king of Rohan. The almost-messianic figure of Gandolf and his travelling companions arrive in the Golden Hall and are ushered into the presence of ‘a man so bent with age that he seemed almost a dwarf….’ At his feet ‘sat a wizened figure of a man, with a pale wise face and heavy-lidded eyes.’
So we are introduced to the king and his counsellor, Wormtongue, whom we soon learn is in league with the enemy and has successfully immobilised the king through whispered halftruths.
“I bid you come out before your doors and look abroad,” urges Gandalf of the king. “Too long have you sat in shadows and trusted to twisted tales and crooked promptings.”
Gandalf tells the king that age did not lie so heavily on his shoulders as some would have him think, and bids him cast aside the staff he was leaning on.
‘He drew himself up, slowly, as a man that is stiff from long bending over some dull toil. Now tall and straight he stood, and his eyes were blue as he looked into the opening sky…’
Two of the king’s men enter and stare in wonder at their lord, standing now proud and erect. Where was the old man whom they had left crouching in his chair or leaning on his stick?
As the king stretches forth his hand to grasp his long-disused sword, ‘it seemed to the watchers that firmness and strength returned to his thin arm. Suddenly he lifted the blade and swung it shimmering and whistling in the air. Then he gave a great cry.’
Thus the king summoned his army and went forth to do battle.
What is the state of the church in our nation? Still bent and crouching, listening to Wormtongue’s twisted tales? or beginning to stand, tall and straight, reaching out to grasp her long-disused weaponry?
Till next week (?),