Take an example from our American early history as it relates to social justice. A case in point is slavery. Some of the criticism, and not always without some justification, has been aimed at Christians for supporting the “institution” of slavery. Some well known Christians such as Jonathan Edwards actually owned slaves. How could that be? Did they not think that slaves were human beings made in God’s image? If so, why did they not react against it? If you travel throughout the south and visit some of the old churches built back in early American times or read some of the older history books dealing with American history, you find that slaves were included in the church and given assigned places to sit and worship, along with the rest. Slavery was not seen as an issue that was connected with the spiritual and religious part of life. Slavery was primarily viewed as social or political issue and because the church failed to understand the kingdom concept and the church’s role in the kingdom, a tragic war was fought in the 1860’s from which our country has never repented or recovered morally and spiritually. As a matter of fact in many incidences, it was Christian against Christian in that terrible war.
If a proper biblical understanding of the church and the kingdom had been in place things might have played out quite differently. I agree with Dr. Harry (Skip) Stout of Yale University both in a conversation with me and later reflected in the book Religion and the American Civil War, that religion was the energy behind that Civil War, and we failed to repent.
The following timeline shows some of the major influences that have contributed to the downward spiral:
The real issue is: should the institutional church inject itself in the broader kingdom realm, particularly politically and socially? Or should it withdraw and focus internally and exclusively on the organized church? And is that the only alternative? It would not be too difficult to demonstrate that the failure to understand and apply the church and kingdom concept drove many to a more liberal view of Christianity by focusing on the broader kingdom thus taking the church, as an institution, into the broader realm, creating a great rift within the organized church, especially among those advocates of church and state separation.
The church’s role is to disciple its people with a kingdom focused world and life perspective who in turn realize you cannot separate religion from any part of life, because that is who we are, made in God’s image. Christians are not to be discipled to withdraw from the world, though they are called to be different and to have a different agenda in this world. Christians, trained, discipled, and equipped, are to move into every area of life, as the salt and light, as ambassadors of Christ seeking to make a difference in those areas. If people like John Calvin, Abraham Kuyper, and Carl Henry are correct that there are no areas of life disconnected from Christ, then we must reflect that in our lives. We must be trained in the Word of God, which is the basic step toward developing a Christian mind that knows how to think, reason, and apply God’s Word in all of life. The church must prepare us for that responsibility. There is no legitimate dualistic philosophy of life where Christ is concerned. God is the Creator and Redeemer who permeates all of his creation and generally he does that through Christians.
William Wilberforce is a good example. He did not do what he did in the name of the institutional church but in the name of Christ the King. He set out to abolish slavery in the British Kingdom and stuck with it until that happened. It was the Christian religion, applied to that area of life, that set him on his course with the determination and commitment to end that sinful institution. He did not do that in the name of the church but rather in the name of Christ the King and Lord.
I think of another illustration that grew out of a discussion in a recent sunday school class. In discussing the topic of human rights and justice, the teacher raised the question, “What was the word that caused so many problems for President George W. Bush?” The answer was “crusades.” That word was offensive to Muslims because of their understanding of the historic crusades in the middle ages. As the discussion progressed, I thought, Dr. Billy Graham has conducted numerous evangelistic crusades around the world. Criticism about “those crusades” were not heard, at least in the same way. If that is true, I ask why? The difference was the individuals involved. President Bush is a political figure with a political agenda, according to his audience. Billy Graham is a religious figure who used the word crusade with a spiritual vs. a political connotation. For a Muslim and from their world and life view, they saw the whole picture and were threatened by President Bush, but not necessarily from Graham. He represented no militant, political agenda with his crusades. In most other countries of Eastern orientation, people’s worldview incorporates religion and politics in a symbiotic relationship. European countries and especially America, embrace more of a dualistic separation of the two, following an Aristotelian and Acquinas model of dualism. This really became clearly evident in the late and early parts of the 1700’s and 1800’s.
If you have a biblically based kingdom perspective, you cannot leave God out of any area of life, education, science, economics, politics, law and any other area. “In all things,” said Paul, “Christ preeminent” or present. We are to seek first his kingdom in all things.