05 May 2008

Shine Before Men

Part 1 of a series on Matthew 5:16
See also:

by Phil Johnson



"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).

hat's a familiar verse that practically interprets itself, with a command ("Let your light so shine before men"); an explanation of what the command entails ("[Let your light shine so] that [people can] see your good works"); and a reason for the command ("[So that people will] glorify your Father . . . in heaven.")

Despite the simplicity of that verse, there's a lot of misunderstanding nowadays about what it means and what it demands of us. The passage and its context are often cited by those who seem to think it's a call for Christians to harness the political process. It seems like every time I hear anyone talk about "salt and light" nowadays, it's someone trying to rally Christians for political activism or persuade evangelical church members to sign onto some boycott, petition, or letter-writing campaign—as if lighting and salting the culture were nothing other than consolidating the evangelical movement behind a political agenda and then making our voices heard in the political process.

But if you look at this passage carefully in its context, it is not talking about political activism at all. It's not talking about using our clout as a voting bloc, or organizing mass boycotts and protests, or electing Christians to public office. It's talking about holy living at the individual level.

Please understand: as I said last week, I have no objection to Christians who run for political office. I have no doubt that God calls some of His people to serve in government, just as He calls some to serve in business, some to teach in universities, and others to work in every segment of society. All society is salted with Christians, and each one ought to have a beneficial effect in his circle of influence, no matter how big or how small that circle of influence may be. Collectively, we all benefit and preserve and season society as a whole. That truth is certainly what this text is about.

But our influence as Christians is most effective at the personal, grassroots level. There's no suggestion in our text that the church's mission is to commandeer the machinery of secular politics in order to wield our influence through political force or clout. If you have the idea that's the best way (or the main way) the church is supposed to influence society, I think you're missing the point of the text.

I hope you vote. I hope you're a good citizen in every way. And I hope you use your vote conscientiously and with discernment. But if your hope for the future of our society rests in the democratic process, or if you think the fortunes of the church rise or fall according to which party is in power, you need to look again at how the people of God have historically made their influence felt in society. You'll discover that those times when the church has grown the most and when revival has spread furthest are times when believers have been most concerned about personal holiness and evangelism.

And quite often, that has been under governments hostile to Christian truth, even while the church is suffering persecution. That's because the church's most powerful influence comes from the power of the gospel and the testimony of changed lives.

But when influential Christians have tried to steer the church into the political process, their testimony has failed, and they have actually lost influence.

Political clout is not what we need to influence a hostile secular society like the one in which we live today. All the power and all the politics and all the public policies in the world will never force unbelievers to yield their hearts to Christ as Lord.

And if you think when Jesus described believers as salt and light, He was calling His church to political activism—then you need to look at this passage a little more closely.

We'll do that together, Lord willing, in the days to come.

Phil's signature

59 comments:

Brother Slawson said...

"...truth is certainly what this text is about..."

I beleive you nailed it there!

I am a professor at a secular university. I've often lacked boldness to speak what I believe. But more and more I've come to realize that I can take a stand that I am honestly "seeking truth." (Most) academics respect the idea that there is "truth." I can even make the statement, "We are about discovering truth," and that statement is respected by most academics.

One christian professor who I believe is a good example is the philosophy professor at USC, Dallas Willard...

http://www.dwillard.org/biography/default.asp

Kim said...

Amen!

I think I'm going to read this out loud to some of the teens I know. They seem to believe that they can only be effective as salt and light if they becomed "famous."

Ben said...

I agree with you Phil. Christian have to shine before men by their good works and, by the beginning of this week, let's say this :
"Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world" (Phil. 2:14, 15)... and...
He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God ? (Micah 6:8).

May the Lord bless your ministry...
I enjoy !
Ben from Québec city.

Johnny Dialectic said...

Yes, we've had the wilderness years, the years of "The Politics of Jesus" (Yoder) on the Left, and Moral Majoritarianism on the Right; Sojourners v. Christian Coalition, etc. And the church's witness had only weakened as a result.

This is a good moment for such a study. Looking forward to it.

dac said...

JD -

We have been in the Wilderness since Constantine

David

Lisa Nunley said...

Isn't this my primary duty as a Christian in regards to political activism:

"I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men, for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; Who desires that all men be delivered [from this world], and come to the knowledge of the truth." (I Tim. 2:1)

I am not called to pray for peace in this world, nor happiness or morality. I am to primarily, as a Christian, focus on the heavenly means of change by pursuing holy living, proclaiming the true Gospel, and praying... asking God to show me how to pray according to His will knowing that He hears. He is trustworthy, faithful and just.

"as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts, says the Lord" (Isa 55:9).

My weapons are Truth, Prayer, and holy living for His glory.

God is our eternal Commander-in-chief.

Hayden said...

Brother slawson,

Be careful of Willard's 'contemplative prayer' notion.

Phil,

I read an ETS paper that I believe properly put this in the context of personal evangelism. The author, Eric Zeller, believes this verse is a precursor to the Great commission. If you would like to read it I believe it can be found at:

www.ewz.com

As far as the politics aspect, I COMPLETELY AGREE. I was reading a book yesterday that used this verse as a call to political action and was disappointed. The rest of the book was stellar, but it stumbled on this point.

Carla said...

I suppose it all depends on your individual circumstances, but where I hear the "salt and light" comment quite frequently is not in the political context, but the educational context (homeschooling v. public schooling). As in, if you don't send your kids to public schools, shame on you bad Christian, you're not encouraging your children to be salt and light.

What I see in this verse of Scripture is a call for individuals to be this kind of person in whatever context they're in. Janitor, landscaper, teacher, cop, housewife, etc. (As you've already pointed out, quite well).

To use this verse as a club to compel folks into making political or educational (or other) choices is really no different than so many other abuses of Scripture that are used from a sadly ignorant and usually self-serving agenda.

The Spokesman said...

I'm afraid that the Christian's role to Shine Before Men is badly misunderstood by many as waging a culture war that seeks to make "Christian nations" through collective political and social activism.

The gospel is the power of God unto salvation and not the government! Society is not transformed by legislation but by proclamation of the gospel and demonstration of lives changed by it!

This is exactly what happened at Ephesus in Acts 19:11-40. The transformation of Ephesus was a result of the gospel not the government and it is interesting to take note of what would have happened if the apostle Paul would have resorted to a Moral Majority: The Church would have joined hands with the unbelieving Jews (see Acts 19:32-34) in their attempt to pass legislation against idolatry leading to an ungodly and forbidden alliance - "Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?" (2 Corinthians 6:14).

What I find interesting about the whole Moral Majority or collective political clout movement is that it is ecumenical to the core with an appearance of righteousness (legislating morality) as its camouflage.

DJP said...

So: you see a gang of toughs beating up on some young kids. A couple of men standing near you say, "Hey, we have to stop this."

Naturally, your response is, "Not so fast. Can you affirm the Apostle's Creed? Nicea? Chalcedon?"

stratagem said...

This is just my own observation, but most of the right-wing political action of the past thirty years has fallen into two categories:

1) Trying to pass laws to protect the unborn and the helpless, to the extent possible.

2) Trying to thwart the left wing's desire to pass laws making it difficult to instill Christian values into our own families.

In the case of points 1 and 2, the intention is good. But lest we succumb to the "either be this, or that" emergent type of thinking, obviously our good works have to include works outside of the political. But to say that good works are holy living on a individual level (true) does not prove that the above goals are unworthy or even detrimental to the influence of the church upon society.

Lisa Nunley said...

Stratagem wrote: does not prove that the above goals are unworthy or even detrimental to the influence of the church upon society.

Where was that said? Isn't the main gist of this post about twisting Scripture? It was never about such goals being labeled unworthy...

Tim Brown said...

Good article.

As one who is constantly bombarded with requests for money from Christian legal groups, I've gotten to a point where I just say "how much is enough!"

It is about personal holiness. Being willing to obey God in a godless society no matter the personal cost. And you don't even have to raise your voice to do it.

Thanks for reminding me I'm not nuts.

Tim Brown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim Pauley said...

As I have thought about this passage lately, I have come to realize how easily we can attempt to be salt and light through political activism without fulfilling the personal righteousness for which these verses truly call. How often have we seen believers involved in political activities who do not exhibit the qualities of the Beatitudes in their own lives?

dac said...

Is part of this based on the new Evangelical Manifesto?

http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2008/05/05/evangelical-manifesto/#more-796

http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/05/02/evangelicals.ap/index.html

dac said...

and by "based" I should of said "impetus", or what got you thinking about you topic.

stratagem said...

Lisa: True, it wasn't "said" outright that the political goals are unworthy. It was strongly implied, by this article, and its juxtaposition with the previous one. Phil is clearly saying that political maneuvers by Christians have been overemphasized to the detriment of the church and those it should be converting.

I have often thought myself, many times, that the political emphasis is too much. But upon further dissection of them, I cannot figure how the goals to save the aborted generation from unjust death were worthy of anything but zeal. Ditto, for saving the un-aborted generations from secular misinformation about sin via pop culture and public educational indoctrination; these are also worthy of zeal. Especially when pursued by those whom God may have called to pursue these goals; something we can never know one way or the other.

I also acknowledge, as Phil does, that Christ's church will grow even under totalitarian regimes, because it is the work of God, not of man. But I'm not sure that is a reason to willingly hand all political power over to the ungodly, when we are not in totalitarian situations.

stratagem said...

PS., I forgot to mention that a lot of the objections to right-wing evangelical politicking in the past 30 years have been that this causes the ungodly to not "like" us because we are opposing their agenda. But that is founded on the emergent, seeker-sensitive hypothesis that if the world likes us, then they will like Jesus and follow him. I just don't believe that hypothesis.

Shawn said...

I couldn't agree more with Mr. Johnson.

We need to approach politics like anything else in our lives; individually, fully dependent on the Spirit, and with God's ultimate glory in mind.

You can't force anything no matter how big you think you are. God will move in His time and in His manner, according to His purposes. Sometimes this requires a vote from believers because there are choices we can make with a clean conscience to God, and quite frankly, sometimes there aren't.

In the end, all that we've accomplished for God when we organize into some political group in order to create a block vote, and identifying with particular "leaders" (i.e. Haggard) in the process, is the creation of a lever with which the rulers and leaders of this world can move us to and fro with; ultimately gaining wholly unintended influence for personal or party power.

Archimedes has a very famous quote on levers, which I think is very appropriate here.


http://simpletonthinker.blogspot.com

The Spokesman said...

DJP: So: you see a gang of toughs beating up on some young kids. A couple of men standing near you say, "Hey, we have to stop this."

Naturally, your response is, "Not so fast. Can you affirm the Apostle's Creed? Nicea? Chalcedon?"


A little humor first: No, as an American Christian I would have to find out whether these men near me are Democrats or Republicans. If they are Republicans then I can join in and kick some gangster butt and afterwards we can celebrate how pleased God is with us for winning. If they are Democrats then I would have to kick their butts and some gangster butt so that those liberal democrats get no credit for stopping crime against young kids.

Now seriously: Your illustration makes a categorical mistake. Your group of vigilantes were unorganized and unintentional and therefore there was no real fellowship or partnership or binding together. They were not a formal gang against gangsters!

On the other hand, a coalition of a moral majority for the purpose of legislating morality, seizing the reigns of government, and ushering in the utopian age is organized, is intentional, and therefore is real fellowship, partnership, and binding together.

This is not how God intends for us to be the light of the world and is not His means of transforming society.

Solameanie said...

I think the salt thing is connected to the idea of salt being a preservative i.e. keeping things from rotting.

Nothing wrong with that analogy, but one sure way to improve society/our culture is by making more disciples for the Lord Jesus Christ. That in turn makes more salt, which in turn helps improve society.

Not quite the theology of The Youngbloods or the World Council of Churches, but much more biblical.

Daryl said...

Spokesman,

So would it be your contention that we (individually) should not be a part of citizens groups, community associations etc.?

Or is it your contention that the church as a body should not be involved in those things.

Seems to me that Phil was saying that we individuals should be involved but that those things should never be our primary focus. And, further to that, the church as a body is a different thing and is called exclusively to the proclamation of the gospel.

Daryl said...

...further to my last comment.

Even as we individuals are involved in civic responsibilities, that salt and light part of it is our demonstration of Godly character and telling of the gospel, NOT whatever other civic action we are taking part in.

stratagem said...

Seems to me that Phil was saying that we individuals should be involved but that those things should never be our primary focus. And, further to that, the church as a body is a different thing and is called exclusively to the proclamation of the gospel.


So, the church and the people in it are different? If so, how do I tell when, as an individual, I've stepped outside the church and am now operating on my own as opposed to as a part of the church?

Now if (on the other hand) there is no difference between the church and the indivuduals in it, then to be consistent you'd also have to say that each individual is also "exclusively called to the proclamation of the Gospel." Right?

Maybe the Bible scholars out there can tell me if there are places in the Bible where we're told to do one thing as the "church", and another thing as individuals.

Lisa Nunley said...

Stratagem,
I guess I see a completely different tone and emphasis than you do. I cannot see the strong implication that you write of at all. I also cannot see where it says or implies that we are to "willingly hand all political power over to the ungodly."

I do believe that I am a Christian that lives in America... and not primarily an American with a Christian agenda.

I will be active politically but never at the expense of the Gospel or my call to holy living, God-willing. I am foremost pro-Christ which of course, should make me pro-life.

I have spoken before hundreds and on the radio, giving my testimony on abortion and then pleading for Christians to be active and stop burying their heads in the sand. What I condone is GODLY ACTIVISTS. WE MUST reflect the COMPASSION and TRUTH of CHRIST on this issue and all issues of life. This is a battle that is actually Spiritual far more than physical... so lets move forward on our knees with the full armour of God. This world has no ability apart from God to conform to God's standards.

"...The Saviour is, by His Spirit, still on earth; let this truth encourage us. He is always in the midst of the fight... and as the conflict rages, what a sweet satisfaction it is to know that the Lord Jesus, in His office as our GREAT INTERCESSOR, is powerfully interceding for His people! O anxious gazer, do not look so much at the battle below, for there you will be enshrouded with smoke and amazed with garments rolled in blood. Instead, lift your eyes yonder where the Saviour lives and pleads, for while He intercedes, the cause of God is safe. LET US FIGHT AS THOUGH IT ALL DEPENDED ON US, BUT LET US LOOK UP AND KNOW THAT IT ALL DEPENDS ON HIM..."--Spurgeon


In the meantime, I think this post is primarily about continually taking a particular Scripture out of context to fit an agenda. It is not about forsaking meaningful causes and just willingly handing all political power over to the ungodly. That is foolishness.

But then truly, our greatest impact on this world is our day to day, sometimes mundane living as we strive to run this race well for the glory of God alone. Am I the same person on the radio or on that podium as I am when no one but God sees my actions? Who am I to my children? Am I the same to them as I am on my blog? Isn't that the greatest cause for Christ?

Am I willing to shine the light of Christ in the mundane things of life, where I am not applauded or given a public forum? Who am I at home and how bright does my light shine there?

Daryl said...

Well Stratagem, would it be wrong for the Church (body) to open a shoe factory for the purpose of...making and selling shoes?

I'd have to say, yes it would. The Church is not called to that.

Would it be wrong for me, Joe Christian to do that. Of course not, I must support my family and shoes are as good an occupation as any other.

In the same way I, individual, may join the army or run for office.
The Body at large wold be wrong to raise an army or openly campaign for political office. No?

Daryl said...

Stratagem,

You said: "Now if (on the other hand) there is no difference between the church and the indivuduals in it, then to be consistent you'd also have to say that each individual is also "exclusively called to the proclamation of the Gospel." Right?"

To which I would say, wrong. The individual Christian is not "exclusively called to the proclamation of the gospel". I am also called to raise my kids, go to work, coach baseball, fix my car, vote etc. While all of those can involved proclamation of the gospel, none of them are explicitly that. The Body on the other hand...

stratagem said...

Lisa: It's highly subjective of course, but Phil is admonishing Christians for some aspect of politicking, if I'm reading him correctly. I can empathize with what he's saying to a large degree, I just can't put my finger on what is actually wrong with the politicking, as long as one isn't trusting in "Christian leaders" in so doing (just as one should not trust in "Christian leaders" for their understanding of Scripture or in other non-political arenas). OK, enough of that. Then you said: I will be active politically but never at the expense of the Gospel or my call to holy living, God-willing. Fine, if Phil is clearly saying that it's OK to do your politicking while always obeying the ten commandments, that is great. I read it as being a bit more than that, personally.

Daryl: I think my point was, "the church" is a theoretical construct, which no group of people seem to be able to agree upon a unifying definition of same. Therefore anytime you say "the church should do this, and individuals should do that", interpreting that into an actionable idea is elusive. About the only thing people can do is to create synthetic organizations and call them the church, which is exactly what Christians have been doing for millenia. Not really sure if that's what Jesus had in mind, though.

stratagem said...

Daryl, addendum: Using your shoe factory analogy, if Joe, Bob, and Jim Christian meet to worship, they are a church, possibly. If they then walk across the street and start a shoe factory, do they cease to act as the church? If not, then the church just started a shoe factory.

Solameanie said...

Strategem,

The church corporately doesn't run the legislature, the executive branch or the Supreme Court. However, Christians can certainly occupy these positions and -- hopefully -- their Christian convictions/worldview will govern how they operate in the public sphere. Given that we're not a theocracy, that's the way it's supposed to work for believers, provided I understand the issue correctly.

Make sense?

Daryl said...

Stratagem,

As far as I can tell, your a nice guy. But you seem to be either not getting my point or purposely over-looking it. (I'll opt for the former...:) )

Surely we all know the difference between "The Church" and "joe Christian".

Joe and his buddies are not a church. Where is the pastor, elders, deacons etc? Do I, as an individual have the authority to baptize? Does First Baptist?

In the same way, I am Daryl. I play ball. I am not the team and I do things the team wouldn't do. The team plays ball, only. I play ball, with the team. Sometimes I shop. That doesn't mean the team is shopping, it means I am shopping. (Don't try a pick apart the obvious failures of the analogy, just see the point...)

Should First Baptist have a "Committee to re-elect Sam Snead".
May I join Sam's campaign?

I disagree on the Bible differentiating between individuals and "The Church".

Am I the bride of Christ? No, "The Church" is.

Am I baptized into you? No, I am baptized into "The Church".

Perhaps I would be clearer is I referred to what is commonly called 'The Visible Church'.

Any clearer?

donsands said...

" ..have been most concerned about personal holiness and evangelism."

It's the human heart that our Lord said was the problem.

The Church is looking for the "pursuit of happiness" in America, because we deserve it.

Shining is becoming more and more like Christ (being conformed into His image), and less and less like me, or you, or us, the Church.
The Church needs to be a "city on a hill" shining brightly, being set apart for the Glory of Her King and Master.

She also needs to be salty, for if this salt loses it's saltiness, then it's good for nothing.
The culture of politics has truly washed away the saltiness of the people of God, and we look much like the world.

The world should be crucified to us, and us to the world: That's shining, and being salt.

Thanks for another timely post.

stratagem said...

Daryl: I know a lot of individual believers who have baptized people after a profession of faith, without "the church" being present. I wonder if that baptism counted?

Now, onto the issue of whether you can define the church, or not. If a home church in China meets and doesn't have an elder or deacon board, then it must not be a church either. But I suspect they would dispute your definition that they are not a church. You're back to the "synthetic organization" definition of church.

Carlo said...

RC Sproul did a radio broadcast on Ligonier called Revival and Reformation.

The theme was not harnessing the political process but a great summary of the influence of a true Revival and Reformation on the culture. Please excuse the grammar but it was a verbal radio broadcast, not a paper.

Here's a tiny segment below:

"The church as an institution under the guise of separation of church and state (which now means the separation of the state and God), what has happened is that the church has been disenfranchised as an institution it has been pushed by the secular community to the outer fringe of cultural life. The best analogy of what has happened or is happening to the church is the idea of the Indian reservations.

After the settling of this country and the newly established White country with the Native American tribes and once these tribes were conquered, these tribes were not annihilated but they were neutralized from being forces that would shape the future culture of the new country. They were placed on a reservation that had physical lines drawn around it and said they can live here and be at peace and experience some of the best benefits of the protection of the federal government as long as they stayed in their place and didn’t go on the war path and didn’t try to come back in and penetrate the structures and institutions of the White man’s nation.

I see a real analogy between that and where the church in America is right now. The amazing thing is the church has accepted this role and this position and banishment from culture and placed into exile docilely and we are content to accept the myth that Christianity only exists to give spiritual consolation and comfort to people in a tiny compartment in their lives rather than seeing Christianity as a revolutionary life where all of life is to be brought into conformity with the image of Christ and under the sovereignty of God.

The church in history during its healthiest periods (I’m not talking about taking over the government) were major contributors to the world of art, literature, of music, in other words to the culture – principles of business, economics and yes, even principles of government and jurisprudence. Virtues were making a significant impact on the whole culture and the people around them. The church did not see itself as having a faith that was private and personal and living off the remote reservation having nothing to do penetrating the life of the world around it. Jesus never called the community to stay locked in a monastery. He empowered them to go Jerusalem, Judea, Galilee, and Samaria (essentially to the ends of the earth) bearing witness to the reign of God over all of life."

End quote. I think it's a beautiful summary of the lack of savor the church has. Of course the chief cause, is that for many circles in the church, they have abandoned the one true gospel.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

FWIW, not voting for any politician who is pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage.

gavinbrown said...

Phil,

Great post. I assume your next series will be on 2 Chronicles 7:14

Rick Frueh said...

The political process pursues influence, the Gospel process pursues transformation. The church hsa too long settled for moral influence while being content with little spiritual transformation.

Strong Tower said...

"For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another."

Does this go along with the other salt passage? And if it does, then salt is fire and fire is salt. Then what Jesus said about coming not to send peace on earth but fire takes on a different light (fogive the pun). And if that fire is in us, that same fire which will destroy souls in hell, then we are ministers of flame and the only means to peace is through division. It does not negate the law of righteousness nor its demands upon us for right action for it is written be holy for I Am Holy. But in keeping with Matt 5 there is also the requirement to bear testimony which is faithful. It then becomes not our actions first but the lamp set on the table that gives light. Why we act the way we do takes some splainin. And when we screw up if our splainin is keeping the truth then the world is still condemned even though our action do no exalt the Word. It is the Word that exalts itself and one of the things is says is that no man has a pure heart. It is the Word that cleanses it. Matt 5-7 becomes for us a rule of life which can only condemn sin in us, it can not give us life and except that the Spirit of God dwells in us by which we testify to the Word and not to our actions, our actions will, and can only expose our deviancy.

How does this affect any interaction with the world, be it in their accusations or commendations? It is this, that our testimony does not cease, nor compromise, but is put on the table so that all can benefit from its light. It is this which has made the salt lose its flavor, for we will put on our sunday best and go to the market place of ideas, hiding our sin beneath our fine clothes and jewels, but we are hesitant to proclaim the reality of Christ, our sin and his satisfaction for us, for fear of rejection.

It really does not matter what our actions are, though it is better to suffer for righteousness than as an evil doer. What does matter is our faithfulness to the Word. Why? Because our best will never be good enough for the world. No matter what the slight of the commandment be it large or small, the world will condemn it. And even if there is no slight at all, the world condemned our Lord, didn't they?

Jim Crigler said...

Phil, perhaps I'm looking ahead at your upcoming posts (or perhaps not), but I would modify this to say that there are relatively few "Christian" political issues. And (this will probably get me in trouble, but here goes anyhow) every one of them has a convincing case to be made that doesn't require the Bible.

To name some issues we shouldn't be dividing over as Christians: taxes; the war in Iraq, global warming. Some that perhaps we should divide over: abortion, euthanasia, equality before the law, homosexual "mawaage."

Carol Jean said...

"would it be wrong for the Church (body) to open a shoe factory for the purpose of...making and selling shoes?"

Wow...there's a fair-trade emergent po-motivator in there somewhere!

Bryan Riley said...

I love that verse. And we can think of it as a part of the Great Commission as it is one of the things Jesus taught the disciples. It is very telling that it focuses on letting the light shine through others seeing our good works. I don't think it has anything to do with political processes, but at the same time it doesn't exclude those as being one of many ways that the light of Jesus can shine through us by our being about Kingdom work/good works to the glory of the Father.

I think the problem with trying to steer the Kingdom of God into the World is that the two can never meet. It also ascribes power to the world that it doesn't have after the cross, and we as followers of Jesus need to start living in the reality of the power God has given us now over the World. I don't think that precludes God from calling someone into political work, as you have said, or for anyone to be involved in politics, but we all must remember whom we serve. If we try to serve anythign less than God, then we won't be serving God at all - at least not as He intends.

Daryl said...

"If a home church in China meets and doesn't have an elder or deacon board, then it must not be a church either."

That's true, it wouldn't be a church. I say that because I would challenge the idea that there is a legitimate church meeting anywhere that doesn't have at least one elder/pastor in a recognized leadership role.

But that's not the point.
If there is not difference between "The Church" and me as an individual Christian. And if I am free to run for political office; then why would it be wrong for "The Church" to be my campaign headquarters and try, as a body, to get me elected. (Or Bush or Obama etc)

Or, if it's OK for my, as an individual Christian, to join a band for the sole purpose of entertaining the public, then how is it not OK for a church to be in the business of pure entertainment?

You see where I'm headed?

stratagem said...

Daryl:
"If a home church in China meets and doesn't have an elder or deacon board, then it must not be a church either."

That's true, it wouldn't be a church. I say that because I would challenge the idea that there is a legitimate church meeting anywhere that doesn't have at least one elder/pastor in a recognized leadership role.


Daryl, your contention is absurd, seriously. The secret, home churches in China are whipping the backsides off of your "every church must have an elders board and look like I expect it to" model, when it comes to evangelism and finding true converts who aren't looking for their "best life now." That is also true of home churches in majority muslim and hindu areas.

If there is not difference between "The Church" and me as an individual Christian. And if I am free to run for political office; then why would it be wrong for "The Church" to be my campaign headquarters and try, as a body, to get me elected. (Or Bush or Obama etc)


I didn't say there isn't a difference between individual believers and the Church. I only said that you can't define what it is. And neither can any of us. It is known only to God. The highly-effective and faithful home churches have already debunked your definition of a "church", since they often have neither pastors, elders, or doctrinal statements. Yet not one of those believers will be snatched out of the Lord's hand.

As far as whether a church organization over here in the US (where we have elders, doctrinal statements, and pew warmers looking for God to heal them or give them a new Mercedes) could be part of the Obama or McCain campaigns, no, they can't: It's against the law for them to do so. If it weren't against the law, these organizations probably could and would.

Those who make their livings off of church organizations hate to admit there could be a legitimate, functional church without their office being occupied. But this hope/myth is dispelled by the Lord every day, in areas of persecution.

Daryl said...

"Daryl, your contention is absurd, seriously. The secret, home churches in China are whipping the backsides off of your "every church must have an elders board and look like I expect it to" model, when it comes to evangelism and finding true converts who aren't looking for their "best life now." That is also true of home churches in majority muslim and hindu areas. "

Not sure what "best life now" has to do with anything...and I never said anything about "an elder's board that looks like I want it to"...but if reports from the persecuted church are to be believed, then yes, they do have pastors and elders. And why wouldn't they? They are obedient to Scripture...Incidentally, from whom are the Chinese reports coming? From the Chinese pastors.

"no, they can't: It's against the law for them to do so. If it weren't against the law, these organizations probably could and would."

That's completely irrelevant to this discussion. We're not discussing legalities, we're discuss what the church is biblically permitted to do/not do. Big difference.

"Those who make their livings off of church organizations hate to admit there could be a legitimate, functional church without their office being occupied. But this hope/myth is dispelled by the Lord every day, in areas of persecution."

I'm not sure who you're talking about here, certainly not me. I make no living from the church. And no, this is not dispelled, those offices are in fact being held, everywhere, out of obedience to the word.


"I didn't say there isn't a difference between individual believers and the Church. I only said that you can't define what it is. And neither can any of us. It is known only to God."

If that's true, we have no real warrant to say there is a difference. And yet you say there is. Which is it?

stratagem said...

"I didn't say there isn't a difference between individual believers and the Church. I only said that you can't define what it is. And neither can any of us. It is known only to God."

If that's true, we have no real warrant to say there is a difference. And yet you say there is. Which is it?


I'm saying that no one but God really knows what the difference is, or can define a difference between a group of Christians and a "church" well enough to be able to say that one group is, and another isn't. In other words, there is no operational definition.

From what I've read in Scripture, Jesus uses the term to refer collectively to all true followers of him. I know of nowhere where he referred to an organization as the church. Virtually everywhere the term is used, whether by Paul or anyone else, he seemed to be referring to the portion of believers who were in a certain area (say, Ephesus), rather than to an "organization" that was there.

If you think that all Chinese (or for that matter, American or Canadian) home churches have pastors or elders boards, then you are so steeped in the organizational model that I simply can't help you. Apparently you don't think they are churches without those things, just as the Roman Catholics don't think you can have a church without a pope or supreme pastor. I won't try to change your mind on this, but I think most people can see that there is something odd about your definition of the Church.

Daryl said...

Fair enough. Although I'm not all that concerned about the ever elusive "most people".. :)

We still have the question...how involved can/should the church (whatever that is) be in non-gospel-proclaiming things?

We know that individuals can be involved in anything not explicitly sinful, so that's not my question. My member of parlaiment is a member of my church, I don't like his party of choice, but I have no issue with the fact that he is a politician.
I would have a problem if our local church ran his campaign.

I happen to think that is exactly what Phil was after in his post.

So...should I hold that distinctive?

The Spokesman said...

Daryl: Spokesman,

So would it be your contention that we (individually) should not be a part of citizens groups, community associations etc.?

Or is it your contention that the church as a body should not be involved in those things.


It is my contention that the church as a body shouldn't resort to collective political clout (Moral Majority) in order to take over the God-given function of the State. I have no problem with individual Christians serving in any legitimate aspect of society. We have the example of some of the O.T. saints serving in high positions of governmental leadership, providentially placed there by God, and serving as salt and light.

I am not a proponent of isolation through some form of "Christian sub-culture" such as monasteries or nunneries or communes.

But I am an opponent of attempting to form a "Christian culture" through the power of government by wielding collective political clout and legislating morality rather than through the power of the gospel.

Make sense?

Daryl said...

Spokesman,

Makes perfect sense. That's what I was hoping you were saying and it's what I was trying to argue for with Stratagem.

I should take a cue from you on clarity in posting...

Thanks.

stratagem said...

Well, I was going to ask you, in accordance with Ephesians 4:11, how many apostles you have in your church. If you don't have any, according to your previous logic, your church is not a church. But according to mine, it may be part of the church.

But I digress.

We still have the question...how involved can/should the church (whatever that is) be in non-gospel-proclaiming things?

I'll answer that with a question. The church in England was instrumental in ending slavery in England. Do you regret its involvement in same?

Bryan Riley said...

I think we should make good works be gospel proclaiming. Good works are God's idea. He also created us to do good works and He prepared them in advance for us to do.

Let's not let the enemy make it look like anyone but God is up to good works.

Daryl said...

Strategem,

I reject the idea that there are apostles in the church (any church) aside from the original 12. So that question proves nothing.

Whether or not the church, as the church, was involved in ending slavery, I don't know. I know Christian politicians acted as Christians, and I know preachers exhorted their congregations to be obedient to Christ in the matter of slavery.
In any case, the rightness or wrongness of the church acting as a political entity can't be established by whether or not it has been effective in the past or not.

If you can't see the difference between me acting as an individual and the church acting as "the church", then we're at an impasse and I can only conclude that you disagree with Phil's article.

As you saying the church can/should be a political force?

stratagem said...

I reject the idea that there are apostles in the church (any church) aside from the original 12. So that question proves nothing.

Why? There it is in black and white, right in Ephesians! (By the way, I agree with you on this point, but I also reject the idea that every church MUST have the other offices listed in that verse). Your inconsistency on this subject of the necessity of certain offices in the church is puzzling.

If you can't see the difference between me acting as an individual and the church acting as "the church", then we're at an impasse and I can only conclude that you disagree with Phil's article.

I'm saying that Phil's argument sounds good in theory, and I initially agreed with it, but upon further reflection have concluded that it can't be applied with practicality, especially in a land of 10,000 denominations. All true believers are part of Christ's church and whenever they act either in unison or alone, a part of the church has acted. And that's a fact. You can prove me wrong by getting all believers everywhere ('the church') to agree to do something. Otherwise by your definition, 'the church' is doing nothing because it isn't acting in perfect unison.

As you saying the church can/should be a political force? I'm saying that as long as believers are involved in politics, the church already is a political force. Whether or not that makes someone uncomfortable or not, is a different issue altogether.

Daryl said...

"I'm saying that as long as believers are involved in politics, the church already is a political force. Whether or not that makes someone uncomfortable or not, is a different issue altogether."

Well man, why'd you take so long to get to that? I disagree with you, but at least I understand what you're saying now.

I'd put money on us not reaching agreement no matter how long we drag this out so I'll just say thanks for the discussion. I've enjoyed it.

Later.

Daryl said...

"(By the way, I agree with you on this point, but I also reject the idea that every church MUST have the other offices listed in that verse)."

Just a quick appendix because I couldn't resist...

There's a world of difference between saying "every church MUST have [all] the other offices listed..." and saying "every church MUST have any (or some) or the other offices..."

Realizing there is a tangential conversation looming on the very near horizon...I'll stop, again.

Strong Tower said...

"as long as believers are involved in politics, the church already is a political force"

As long a Jon is a MLB player the family is a MLB team?

As long as believers wash clothes, the church is a laundry?

The fact is the kingdom is not of this world, but we are in the world. It is not in the world that we fight for the expansion of the kingdom, but it is against the world that we fight for the kingdom. We are therefore traitors to the cause of the world while we are yet in it for we do not serve it but another. Now, can a slave wait on tables and do that for his master while serving his Master?

If anything we must honor our master being faithful to our Master. In which case when called upon we must give an answer as to whom it is we serve. We render to Caesar that which is his and God that which is his. Is it right to do right within govenment while not doing so as service to the Gospel, and yet render service to God? Absolutely, just as we can serve a meal to an unbeliever while not at the same time the fellowship Supper, though it might be the same food.

J. Wesley said...

Phil-

"But when influential Christians have tried to steer the church into the political process, their testimony has failed, and they have actually lost influence."


How would you reconcile this with Calvin in Geneva, Luther in Germany, Knox in Scotland or Kuyper in Holland? Wycliffe and Hus were also involved in the political conflicts of their day, and these magnified their spiritual influence. While these men didn't live in my particular period of study, my understanding is that all of them were heavily invested in the political process.


In fact, it's hard to imagine the Reformation having a fraction of its influence had not the Reformers involved themselves in politics. Rome would have smothered the movement in its crib, as it had done with those who came before.

From what I can see of Calvinism and the Reformation, they engage the culture and the political process more than I see reflected in this post. (That said, there are some great points made here. Thanks for writing it up.)

UinenMaia said...

Phil,

Great post! This was part of the gospel reading at our wedding. We chose it because we are both awed and intrigued by the idea that marriage calls us to be "saltier and lighter" as two becoming one than we otherwise would be alone. Needless to say, I am very much looking forward to reading as you unpack this idea in future posts.

By the way, my husband met you at T4G after listening to your sermon on this topic on the way down to Kentucky and was very impressed with your reasoning. It has helped him to refine his own struggles with the subject.

Crystal said...

This article mentions personal holiness as being salt and light.

It is clear in the Old Testament how the Lord wants us to treat the stranger, the needy, and the oppressed. So we cannot consider children being murdered in the womb with apathy and be abiding in the love of Christ. We should not serve politics, and make an idol of it, but we must do our part in speaking against abortion that godliness requires of us. And we should do so for the furtherance of the gospel, with humility and love witnessing to the light of Christ.