I’ve been urged to fish or cut bait. Well, actually the slogan was the equivalent one associated with an outhouse. So, leaving that to your imagination, in reality I’ve been told to publish or perish.
In the context of an article I read recently which contained in so many words an admonition to make your life count for the Lord’s kingdom I want to bring out some clarifications in that regard.
If asked the question “do you want your life to count for the Lord’s kingdom” what would you say? I say I’ll get around to it as soon as I quit beating my wife. How can I say I don’t want my life to count? But conversely how can I say I do – there seemingly being not much going on in these parts, in that regard?
So I appeal to the lawyerly instinct to parse, dice, recast and in all other ways reformulate the phrase so as to arrive at the following acquittal of my slackerly ways and hopefully end up smelling like a rose.
To wit: What is meant by the “Lord’s kingdom”? I wanted to take a timeout and re-read Ridderbos’ The Coming of the Kingdom but my publisher has deadlines so I had to skip that. The short answer is that whenever you see the phrase Kingdom of God you’ve got to find out whether you’re dealing with a W2K view or an E1K view.
In my defense, and to the surprise of no one who has been briefed on the basics of W2K, I offer:
Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may live properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.
(NOTE: I am using culture to designate everything and anything outside the visible church). These two passages are remarkable for two things. First, imperatives to preach the gospel in the secular – cultural – realm are absent. Let’s set that aside for another discussion at another time. But secondly, imperatives to impact the culture in any kind of way (other than praying for the DOW industrials) are absent. How could these pre-eminent ambassadors, these authorized mouth-pieces of God, have skipped such a clear opportunity to remind the church of the cultural mandate? Is this an argument from silence? Hah! It seems more like an argument to remain silent.
And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb. Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels. But the LORD afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. So Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go.” And Pharaoh gave men orders concerning him, and they sent him away with his wife and all that he had.
This exhibit C is really where the W2K view begins to come into its own. Whereas the first two exhibits point out the absence of a cultural mandate (Genesis 1:26ff notwithstanding) this exhibit is a demonstration of natural law. General revelation reveals two basic things. First, God’s glory. Second, his holiness. How so? The first is obvious. “The heavens declare etc.” The second is that God reveals his law to every person without exception. See Romans 1:18ff. (Which, by the way is why the 10 commandments don’t need to be placed in any courthouse in the land). Why is this pertinent to the discussion? Color me ignorant of what so-called Christian cultural transformation really is but it seems to me that what’s going on in that agenda is an attempt to inculcate law abiding by those that can’t do it upon those that already have the law but who also can’t do it.
I can’t buy into the notion that he will return to a kingdom (not just a church who keeps the law but to a secular unbelieving culture that also measures up) that by dint of great effort will eventually be somehow worthy of his return. The return of Christ to a church without spot wrinkle or blemish can only refer to that imputed righteousness which is the believer’s by faith alone.
Furthermore, the secular realm is a suitable candidate for the task of, to use one popular example, bringing about “justice” in society. As mentioned, the secular realm is equipped with the law no less than the church. Second, God by means of his common grace has instituted the state (secular culture in its most developed expression) with the mandate to execute justice – due process. It therefore seems not a little condescending for the church (or individual Christians, sinners all, if you prefer) to presume to lend a hand, help out a little, across the border.
It is not the job of the church, qua church, nor of Christians as Christians with some Christian mandate to function in the kingdom of this world in any capacity with the goal in view of preparing it for Christ’s return.
I close with Exhibit D: “My kingdom is not of this world“. And I provide a snippet of Ridderbos’ commentary The Gospel of John p. 595:
“However much worldly government might want to serve justice, peace and liberation, it cannot remove the sin of the world because it has no power over the hearts of human beings. Accordingly, the place and the calling of the Christian community in the world are determined by its differences. As citizens not only of this world but also of Jesus’ kingdom, Christians are concerned with the struggle for justice and righteousness, even in the political and social senses of those words, and that not only for the benefit of the church but also for the well being of the world. But the meaning of their existence as the church in the world does not lie there. The primary focus of their attention and message is otherwise. It is not found in what unites it with the world but in what distinguishes it from the world.”
Here I conclude with this: what unites the church with the world is law. What distinguishes it from the world is gospel. W2K tracks with these two.