Shaping Society in Christ
Christians want the best for our neighbors, cities, states, and countries. We seek the welfare of the city. We care for the least of these. We don’t settle for individualism but cultural transformation and the common good. Christianity has a natural bent, a commission you might say, to shape civilizations. As Matt Chandler recently said, we “want our society to look more and more Christian and less and less secular.” We believe that God’s ways are best for countries and cultures. This isn’t a religious right trope, it is a biblical norm that as we make disciples and participate in our areas of influence that we will not just be a faithful witness within society but a prophetic voice to call society towards kingdom ethics.
How might we go about this in our day of tribalism and partisanship? I think that Jesus shows three key ways that we might seek the best for society while remaining doctrinally faithful.
Hospitality - Jesus often ate and drank with people to the degree that he was called a glutton and drunkard. Hospitality was a key marker of how he engaged with societal reform. He intentionally dined with people who others would consider unworthy. We welcome our enemies to come and eat. We bring to the table those with whom we share deep differences. We don’t shy away from tough relationships and strong disagreements. We extend the hospitality of Christ. We model the initiative of Jesus in reaching out to those far from the kingdom to bring them near.
By setting the table in such a manner that those who are far from God can come near, we mimic the ethos and love of Jesus. We open our homes and our churches to those that society would consider deviant and far from God.
Hostility - Jesus was often hostile in his gospel preaching. He did not settle for mere nuance or winsomeness. He confronted the idols of people’s hearts publicly. He publicly confronted idolatry to money, sexual sin, religiosity, false teaching. Even in hospitality, he was hostile, encouraging people to feast on his body and blood, something that was obviously off-putting to the crowds.
If we are going to be faithful to Jesus not just with our doctrine but with our duty, we must embrace the hostility essential to faithful gospel preaching. It will divide. The mystery of the gospel is that in the same gospel some find life and others are sealed for judgment. The aroma of Christ brings the elect to life and reeks of death to others. Faithful gospel preaching must embrace the reality that it will make enemies. But the way we defeat our enemies is not through physical violence, it is through more gospel preaching; the gospel that makes the dead come alive. Without embracing the hostility of the gospel, we will find ourselves confused as to why people reject the good news of the kingdom. But by understanding that the good news of the kingdom inherently confronts the kingdoms of this world, we are able to understand why the gospel is offensive. Far be it from us to needlessly offend but we should also not avoid the offense of the gospel because we have not embraced the hostile message it is to earthly rulers and authorities.
Hope - We should be dispensers of the hope of the kingdom. The sound of our gospel preaching should be like the sound of an ice cream truck to a child. It should elicit joy. But for some, it will be a sound of intolerance because they are lactose intolerant. The hope of the gospel only reminds them of their condemnation. This hope is only found in allegiance to King Jesus. It cannot be found in any earthly nation or ruler. This message will profoundly confront nations who are beholden to partisan leadership. When we preach the hope of the gospel, we are inviting people to keep their eyes on the prize. When we proclaim the hope of ‘kissing the Son’ to nations, we are inviting them to profess allegiance to God’s Son and honor the bride of the Son. We preach the hope of God to systems and structures within nations not in hopes of a revolution or revolt but to transform and renew culture with the gospel. The hope we preach should give us patience as we work towards a vision in which Jesus returns to the earth and establishes his kingdom in finality. As Matt Chandler said, “the kingdom of God should shape and ultimately give space in the kingdoms of this earth.”
We as Christians want good for the state and society. That good is found in our involvement with our church and the advancement of Christianity in society. As Bob Thune has said, we should see “our involvement in the church and flourishing of the church as good for the state.” These are not binary issues. They are intricately involved. Let us work toward to the good of the state and our world so that the knowledge of the Lord will fill the earth.