The Church: A Kingdom Counterculture

Aug 28th, 2021 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview, Featured Issues

The mission of Issues in Perspective is to provide thoughtful, historical and biblically-centered perspectives on current ethical and cultural issues.

When the dignity of all humanity is disregarded, relegated or unintentionally overlooked by those in the body of Christ, the name of our God is disparaged.  Believers are to mirror God:  He loves all human beings; He values their existence and seeks to recognize their value as His image-bearers.  God honors all human beings and has a vested interest in who they are as His creatures.  He grants humans dignity and honors each one with responsible freedom.  His protection of all humanity is reflected in His providential care (i.e., His common grace); in His love for them; and in His provision for their redemption through Jesus Christ.

As God’s image-bearers redeemed through Jesus Christ, we will value what He values; honor what He honors; and walk in loving obedience with Him in this world of darkness and rebellion.  We will be His salt and His light (Matthew 5:13-16).  We will, therefore, love, honor and value all human beings, regardless of their age, race, ethnicity, gender or sexuality.  We will invite all human beings to be involved in God’s great rescue program, called the Gospel.  We will both represent Him and proclaim Him through our lives and through our words.  In a word, as ambassadors of our King, we will champion grace.  We will be His salt and His light.  With neither pride nor fear, we vow to not be defensive, to not be vindictive and to not retaliate.  We will build a kingdom counterculture that represents the values, virtues and standards of our King.  This kingdom counterculture, among other things, is pro-life and posits a healthy, redemptive sexuality.  And, as the church, we are not engaged in a culture war but a rescue mission—by the power of the Gospel, we participate with Jesus in rescuing people from sin, death and Satan.

What does the kingdom counterculture look like?  Answering this question would involve a book length response.  Instead, permit me to focus on one dimension of this kingdom counterculture—marriage.  Bruce Wydick of the University of San Francisco writes “The simple act of standing up in front of one’s friends and family and God and promising to be faithful partners ‘till death do us part’ is not a trite relic of Christendom.  It is wisdom, beauty, and love rolled into a single sacred institution that protects, stabilizes and nurtures a lifelong relationship.  As a result, we can confidently communicate to our children that the traditional model of sex and marriage is strongly supported not only by biblical faith but also by evidence and reason.  If we want to communicate the wisdom of marriage to the next generation, we need to patiently articulate and demonstrate what gives life, joy and sustained relational happiness.  Let us create strong models of marriage for our kids.  But let us also be able to articulate why it represents the best choice for relationships as well.”

Why is it so important for the church do this?  The following statistics demonstrate the need:

  • Mark Regnerus, co-founder of the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture, shows that marriages have plunged 59% since 1965, “when there were 9 weddings for every 10 funerals.  By 2017, that ratio had dipped to 3.7 for every 10.  Unless you’re pastoring a hipster evangelical church whose median age is under 40, you may be doing more burying than marrying.”
  • In late 2018, 51% of evangelicals 29 to 39 were married compared to 40% of that total population.  This is encouraging, but the portion of evangelicals who said they were cohabiting rose from 3.9% to 6.7 % in the same span of time.  Support for cohabitation sprouted from 16% of this population to 27% by late 2018.
  • David Brooks points out that “at least 27% of Americans are estranged from a member of their own family, and research suggests about 40% of Americans have experienced estrangement at some point.  The most common form of estrangement is between adults children and one or both parents.”
  • There seems to be a “psychological unraveling of America.”  Major depression rates among youths aged 12 to 17 rose by almost 63% between 2013 and 2016.  American suicide rates increased by 33% between 1999 and 2019.  The percentage of Americans who say they have no close friends has quadrupled since 1990, according to the Survey Center on American Life.  In addition, 54% of Americans report sometimes or always feeling that no one knows them well, according to a 2018 Ipsos survey.

What are the elements of a kingdom counterculture in the areas of human sexuality and marriage?

  1. A Healthy Sexual Ethic
  • God created the human body and gender as a dimension of being in His image (Gen. 1:26-27)—“male and female He created them.”  Gender is a specific, intentional feature of God’s creation.  Two complementary sexes (male and female) is the first mentioned fact in connection with the “image of God” concept.  The Creation Ordinance (Genesis 1 and 2) strongly implies sexual intercourse as a bond between a man and a woman brought together in a “one-flesh” union.
  • God created woman as a complement to man in the marriage bond, Genesis 2:18-24.  The result is a complementary union of two different human beings (“male and female He created them”), each with unique physical, emotional, and psychological characteristics.   The result is a marriage bond in which both are stronger and more capable of serving God together in their integrity.
  • The One-Flesh Principle, Genesis 2:24.  Genesis 2:22-24 connects the creation of Eve from a part of Adam’s body with the one-flesh sexual union between a man and a woman in marriage.  Note the important term “therefore” in v. 24.  It is the union of two constituent parts—male and female— into a sexual whole.  Jesus stresses this connection between the two different sexes—“male and female”—when He addresses marriage in Matthew 19:4-6 and Mark 10:6-8.
  • God performed the first marriage:  The result is Genesis 2:25—there is no shame, no self-centeredness or selfishness; only total innocence and other-centeredness.  This is God’s ideal and His goal.
  1. A Healthy Marriage Culture Ethic:
  • Marriage is the fundamental institution God created for organized civilization.  It is tied to His creation and His purpose for the human race as His image-bears who have dominion authority over His world.
  • Marriage is monogamous and heterosexual, and, from Jesus’ perspective, permanent—“what God has joined together, let no man separate”, Matthew 19:6.
  • Marriage is a commitment before God, regarded in Malachi 2:14 as a “covenant” commitment over which God stands as a “witness.”  Indeed, Jesus states in Matthew 19:6 that “God has joined together” this union.  The man and the woman have a new status before the Lord—they are husband and wife together.
  • It is therefore logical to assume that some kind of public commitment is a necessary part of marriage.  Society must regard the man and the woman as a couple, now bound together; they are no longer single.  Therefore, sexual intercourse alone does not constitute a marriage.  Cohabitation alone does not constitute a marriage.  There must be some kind of public commitment recognized by God and by the community.
  • Marriage is a metaphor, an archetype of the covenantal relationship between Jesus Christ and His church—sees Ephesians 5:32.

The rescue mission of Jesus Christ and His church is countercultural.  When a person places faith in Christ, the process of transformation (aka sanctification) begins.  Jesus transforms a person from the inside out.  The mind, the heart and the will of the justified person are renewed.  Therefore, that person sees things the way Jesus does. The sexual ethic is transformed and the institution of marriage is equally transformed.  Such is the eternally significant dimension of the kingdom counterculture Jesus is building.  Application?  End the culture war; join the rescue mission!

See Bruce Wydick, “Married with Benefits” in Christianity Today (July/August 2016), pp. 72-75; Mark Regnerus, “Can the Church Save Marriage?” in Christianity Today (July/August 2020), pp. 35-41; and David Brooks in the New York Times (30 July 2021().

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One Comment to “The Church: A Kingdom Counterculture”

  1. Arlie Rauch says:

    Well said! Though it is not well recognized, marriage is profoundly theological. What a privilege and responsibility in marriage to reflect the relationship between Christ and His Church, between God and human beings. This high status should be taught as the basis for marriage going forward. It also gives a proper foundation for the Bible’s actual teaching on divorce.