Thoughts About The Church In 2020

May 16th, 2020 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

Year 2020 so far has been chaotic and, some would say, cataclysmic.  The COVID-19 virus, the economic and financial collapse of the world economy, and the poisonous politics of our nation have caused disruption to our lives.  But there have also been remarkable demonstrations of compassion, creative ways to maintain communication during the isolation (e.g., Zoom) and astonishing acts of generosity across America and the world.  The events of this year have also caused me to think deeply about the church of Jesus Christ.  So, in this Perspective, I want to share some of my reflections on the church.

First, God has created three primary institutions through which He does His work—the family, the state and the church.  For the Christian, there is a stewardship responsibility owed to each.  What is that responsibility to the local, state and national levels of government?  Should Christians vote?  Should they run for political office?  Is it proper for Christians to engage in civil disobedience?

 

It is the New Testament’s clear teaching that the Christian does have an ethical obligation to the state.  This is the central point of Jesus’ teaching in Mark 12:13-17:  “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”  What are our stewardship obligations to the state?

 

  • The believer owes the state respect.  Romans 13:7 and 1 Peter 2:17 both admonish the Christian to honor and respect government as “ministers” of God who have been ordained by Him and are accountable to Him for their solemn trust of promoting justice and thwarting evil.
  • The believer owes the state obedience (see Titus 3:1, 1 Peter 2:13-17 and Romans 13:1-7).  Yet, this New Testament mandate is neither slavish nor absolute; we see Peter and John defying the Sanhedrin’s order to stop preaching.  The issue apparently to them was clear: We obey the state until it is a sin to obey the state.
  • The believer must pay taxes (see Mark 12:13-17, Matthew 22:15-22, Luke 20:20-26, Romans 13:6-7).  Jesus makes the payment of taxes our essential obligation to the state, regardless of its morality or ethical bankruptcy; remember that the Roman Empire was a corrupt, evil and ethically repulsive state.
  • The believer must pray for those in authority (see 1 Timothy 2:1ff).  Constructive criticism and calling the state to accountability need to be balanced with fervent, persevering prayer.

 

Additionally, there are reasonable citizenship inferences for the Christian who lives in a democracy:

  • The Christian should vote.
  • The Christian should keep oneself as fully and reliably informed as possible concerning political, social and economic issues.
  • It is legitimate to criticize the state, its policies and its agents in light of the God’s revelation.  This includes the president of the United States.
  • The Christian should work for just and righteous laws and oppose those that are unjust and unrighteous.

 

How then does the Christian decide what to support and what to reject in public policy?  How does one decide whom to support in elections?  For what kinds of laws should the believer work?  Let me suggest five major principles to guide the Christian:

  • The pre-eminence of religious liberty.
  • The protection of life as sacred.
  • Provision of justice for all. God desires that government promote laws that protect the poor and disadvantaged from exploitation and oppression.
  • Preservation of the traditional family, as detailed in Genesis 2 and Ephesians 5.
  • The promotion of Judeo-Christian values in education and legislation. The values of honesty, integrity, personal responsibility, accountability can be easily undermined by a leader who wantonly lies and shows disrespect for the law.

However, there is an important caution:  Some Christians think that by marshaling a Christian voting bloc we can establish Christ’s kingdom on earth.  We dare not confuse the external and limited good that political power can achieve with the internal and infinite good that God’s grace produces.  Further, we cannot buy into what the late Chuck Colson called the “political illusion,” the notion that all human problems can be solved by political institutions.  It is idolatrous to believe that, for the Bible declares that the root problem of society is spiritual.  What the Christian seeks through government is justice, not power.  The task of spiritual transformation is for the church, not the state.

 

Second, the fundamental struggle in this age is over who has the right to rule—God or Satan?  Satan is challenging God’s right to rule His Creation.  And, tragically, as Genesis 3 demonstrates, humanity has joined Satan is this rebellion against God.  The term “world” in the Bible is not related to creation but to the Fall.  It describes a world of evil, of adverse spiritual powers that work through humanity and aspects of God’s creation to produce hate, selfishness, greed, murder, violence and perversion.  Satan, who rules this “world” (2 Corinthians 4:4), seeks to influence people in such a way that the true function of creation is brought to ruination.  He distorts the structures of existence and seeks to hold people under the power of his perversion.  Satan works through the structures of culture to distort, pervert, and disfigure that which is good.  No part of the created order can escape the influence and power of Satan.  This created order involves not only the physical realm of nature, but also the cultural institutions that regulate human existence:  The state, economics, the family, ideas, social rules and regulations, and everything that orders human life and social institutions.  The reality of satanic and demonic power is real and integral to biblical revelation.

The church of Jesus Christ is a part of this cosmic struggle:  The church, created at Pentecost (Acts 2, partially fulfilling the prophecies of Joel), is the New Covenant community of Jesus, indwelt by His Spirit, and empowered thereby to represent Him to the “world.”  We represent Him with a certainty rooted in Christ’s finished work:

  1. Christ has bound Satan and all demonic powers. In Matthew 12:22-30, Jesus claims that He has entered into the domain of evil and found its source—Satan.  It was in the temptations of Jesus (see Matthew 4) where Satan met his match.  The Son of God, who came to enter the battle with Satan, seeks to destroy him (fulfilling Genesis 3:15).  His success over Satan’s temptation demonstrates His power and His authority over Satan.  He seeks to restore the wholeness of God’s creation that has been demented, twisted, distorted and corrupted by Satan.  Hence the importance of Jesus’ healings, raising people from the dead, and of His death, burial and resurrection.  He has triumphed over Satan in order to set creation free from the “bondage to decay” (see Romans 8:21).  In a word, Jesus is eradicating evil in this world by becoming a victim of that evil, which in the end will mean its total and absolute destruction.
  2. Christ, through His death, burial and resurrection, has dethroned the power of Satan. In John 12:30-31, Jesus emphatically announced, “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.”  In Colossians 2:15, Paul declared that through Christ’s death and resurrection, He “disarmed” the powers and authorities and “made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”  Christ has exposed Satan and his demonic powers for what they truly are.  Thus, the church need no longer fear the tyranny of his falsehood, his deception or of his manipulation and control.
  3. When Christ returns, Satan’s influence over the world system will be utterly destroyed. Matthew 25:4 and Revelation 20:10 make clear that Satan and his minions will be forever cast into the lake of fire.
  4. Between Christ’s resurrection and Satan’s final defeat, his power is limited. Satan is still the master of deception.  He still blinds the eyes of people to the truth.  He still masterminds faith in false gods and creates illusions for people to follow.  But we must always remember the words of Jesus, “Take heart!  I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  That is the central importance of the preaching and teaching of God’s Word.  Through such preaching and teaching, Satan continues to be exposed to his defeat.  Faith in Jesus Christ limits the extent of Satan’s activity.  Preaching Christ unmasks the power of Satan, for that faith opens a person’s eyes to the deceptive nature of Satan and his power.  Each time someone trusts Christ, the limitation on Satan’s power is exposed.
  5. Ephesians 1:9-10, Colossians 1:20 and 1 Corinthians 15:28 demonstrate that with the triumph of Jesus and the destruction of Satan comes the re-creation of the entire universe. This cosmic reconciliation will be completed when Christ returns, vanquishes His enemies and establishes His Father’s kingdom on earth.

Given these profound truths, what can we conclude?

  1. The church is the agent of God’s power in the world. The church is inextricably linked with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, through which evil was defeated.  Robert Webber writes: “This new view of life belongs to the church because Christ, the head of the church, is inseparably linked with it.  His power over sin, death, and the dominion of the Devil now belongs to the church . . . The church acts in the name of Christ to witness through prayer, preaching, baptism, communion, lifestyle, and other means proclaiming that Satan is now doomed.  The church is a corporate body of people who know Satan as a deceiver and liar.  He has no ultimate power over them and their lives.  Consequently, the church is a threat to Satan.” Satan truly hates the church and seeks to destroy it.
  2. Satan seeks to produce heresy in the church, discord in the church, to re-order the church’s priorities and to get the church to cultivate faith in power, in wealth and in human authorities, not in Christ. Anything that seeks to get the church off focus becomes a tool of Satan.  For that reason, the church must be vigilant, on guard and dressed with the whole armor of God.
  3. The witness of the church in this age is to expose evil and to be the agent of reconciliation to God. That is the nature of the Gospel.  That is the nature of being salt and light.  We serve now because we will one day rule with Him; we serve now, rule later!

 

See Robert Webber, The Church in the World.

 

One Comment to “Thoughts About The Church In 2020”

  1. Ted veer says:

    Ideeply appreciate your obligations each week. Blessings on you and your continued ministry in the Kingdom.

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