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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The role of the Church in society

I've been thinking a lot lately about the responsiblity of the Church to be salt and light in the earth. I immediately think of great leaders such as William Wilberforce and Martin Luther King whose faith made a positive impact on society. Within Christianity, there are numerous views on how the Church relates to the State. Some believe that the Church is not doing its job unless it excercises worldwide political influence. The idea is that Christ is Lord over all of creation, therefore, the Church must redeem the culture and take dominion over the earth as part of the original mandate given to Adam. Others say that given the fact that Jesus refused political power when the people tried to make Him king and given His words, "My Kingdom is not of this world", Jesus wasn't interested in building an earthly kingdom.

Here is an interesting verse of Scripture I have been pondering for a while. I think it is very relevant to the question of the role of the Church in society.

The Apostle Paul says to the Corinthian Church,
"For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? For those who are outside God judges."
What do you think this verse tells us about the role of the Church in society? Note to self: this is a huge topic!

I'd love to hear your thoughts.


toby said...

have you ever read the book "what's so amazing about grace?" by philip yancey? that pretty much sums it up.

Pete said...

I haven't read it, so could you give me a brief synopsis of your thoughts here. I'm kinda interested.

Aaron D. Taylor said...


It's funny that you mentioned this book. I just got an e-mail from Charlotte Barton in reference to something she said to me after hearing my speech that I really liked. I asked her to write down her thoughts and e-mail them to me and in the e-mail, she mentioned the same book.

I agree with Pete. We need to hear a bried synopsis from you Toby.

toby said...

the book is way better than what i can write about it in a few sentences, i think every christian in the states should read it. but here are a few main points/ideas.

1. the world runs on a system of ungrace. late fees, parking tickets, taxes, jail sentences, etc. the one thing that the church can offer that the world can't is grace. and strong example of true grace astound people because the world knows little about grace. great examples of grace are outrageous, scandalous and may leave even Christians questioning the situation (ie, where is the justice?). however, the church easily gets away from grace into legalism and morality based pride via selective acceptance of people (while Jesus hung out with social outcasts) and domestic culture wars (mostly via political type means).

2. yancey presents unforgiveness as the opposite of grace and goes on to explain the biblical reasons for forgiving others and what a huge impact forgiveness has on the one doing the forgiving (as well as possibly the one receiving forgiveness). tied in with this section is the idea that some of today's political problems stem from unforgiveness.

3. the church today is showing grace to some people. but there are still a few groups that are getting a lot of ungrace (his word, not mine) from the church: homosexuals and divorced people. also, he discusses legalism as grace avoidance and deals with the relation between grace and sin.

4. the last part talks about why the separation of church and state is such a good idea and how Christians should not mix faith and politics. the church needs to be the light of the world (and can be light to the government), but when the church tries to be the government or is too focused on getting the government to do what it wants, it loses its most valuable asset: grace. this section ends with the idea that the world is desperate and begging for grace and they will recognize it and be amazed if we as Christians show them what real grace looks like.

so the book covers the topic of grace from just about any angle you could think of. the author also includes throughout the book many true-life short tales/examples of grace in action, so that it's not just a sterile dissection of the topic. but after reading the book, you get a good sense of what grace really is and why it's so important.

just so you know, i didn't remember all those details without taking a brief look at the book again.

Aaron D. Taylor said...

Thank you for the summary Toby. Charlotte is bringing the book with her on Sunday for me to borrow. I look forward to reading it. It sounds like Yancy has summed up a lot of what I have been trying to say on this blog for quite some time now. Goodness! What am I going to write about now?

Pete said...

Thanks Toby!
That made me think of an interesting question. Does grace require that we don't impose discipline?
The author states that our justice systems are full of "ungrace", which I'm sure as a reader makes you want to stand up and say "Yeah, the MAN is against God".
However, God is not without a sense of justice. Afterall, this idea of grace doesn't extend to Hell.
So my question (which I realize I have laced with my own opinions, but I still want to know what you think ) is can grace and justice coexist and if so how?
P.S. This is just for fun, but it's a good jog for the mind to take so that it understands the path.

toby said...

pete, that's a great question. i think to answer that you have to define justice a little more clearly because man's justice and God's justice are two totally different things.

God' justice is the fact that God will one day hold us personally responsible for everything that we do or don't do. one could also say here that God may not exclude us from the natural consequence of our actions (eg, someone who has sex with many different people has a greater chance of getting STDs than people who go the way of abstinence). sometimes God may punish us for what we did; sometimes our action may just close a door that God wanted us to go through. it's kinda vague and today we don't see as much of the instant and obvious penalties for sin. these types of penalties are all over the place in the bible: guy in NT who did said it was all the money but it wasn't and peter said he would die; or plenty of OT examples like Korah, death of David's men, Aaron's sons, etc. which brings me to man's justice.

man's justice is way more trivial and temporal; we want people who speed pass us on the highway to get pulled over or the guy who murdered someone to be executed. man's justice is we want to SEE people pay for what they did, and we want to see it now.

so as for grace and justice coexisting, i'd say man's justice and God's type of grace are polar opposites; it's one or the other.

but as for God's grace and justice (the law), doesn't Paul have that same dilemma in Romans? he goes on and on about why we shouldn't keep sinning even though God's grace is greater than anything we know. the law (justice) brings death, look again at the OT. but the Spirit brings life: consider someone who has a dramatic encounter with grace. they are not caught up in following all the rules, they are caught up in what God has done for them. grace brings us to a place where we're not that much concerned with justice, but we're concerned with the two greatest commandments: love God and love others as yourself. yes, justice is still there; God will still hold us responsible for our actions. thankfully He doesn't instantly punish people with death or diseases like He used to (at least I haven't seen a lot of that lately, and honestly if that was going to happen, I'd probably be dead by now because I've sinned a lot).

there may be more to that, but that's all i've got for now. let me know if you think of anything else. meaning: i would like to hear (read) you answer your own question.

toby said...

a few more things, actually.

there are several examples in the NT where Jesus explains that one day God will judge everyone. sheep and the goats. parable of the talents. i'm thinking also of a passage that says we'll even have to answer for every (idle) word we've spoken (not sure of location on that).

this idea of post-life judgment can be quite frightening if you think about it. God knows everything that you've ever done, said, or thought. and what are the implications of these judgments? i'm not just talking about people going to hell, either, more the fact that even christians will have to answer for our lives on earth. we all know that we will have to answer, but how will we have to answer? will God make us explain what we did? will He scold us? will he play our lives on video screens so that He and everyone else waiting in line to get into heaven can see it and we'll be ashamed of ourselves? probably not that last one.

but my point is that God's justice very certainly still does exist, even though grace exists as well. for people who are operating on a very short timeline (earth) the fact that God's justice is not always immediate may lead people to believe that there is no penalty for sin; so His grace seems like the only force at work. but really, His justice is so much more real and permanent that it far exceeds the scope of time and earth.

ok, really, i'm done for now. somebody stop me (the mask, anyone?).

Pete said...

So what about speeding tickets? Should man judge his fellow man and pass out his disciplinary actions on him? If a Christian does this, are they without grace?
Hopefully we can all agree that the answer to this is NO. Correction and discipline are required of us as well as grace. So I guess my point is that it is easy to misjudge something as non-Biblical when in fact it is just a different aspect of the Bible than perhaps the one we are focused on.
NOTE TO SELF: Careful about the judgements I make!
P.S. Wonderfully answered Toby

toby said...

pete, this is a great point.

"So I guess my point is that it is easy to misjudge something as non-Biblical when in fact it is just a different aspect of the Bible than perhaps the one we are focused on."

and the whole grace vs justice was a great topic to bring up.