Thursday, February 03, 2011

Remembering Our Primary Social Calling

In some form or another, most Australian Christians realise that their ethical and political convictions should bear the marks of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The rediscovery by many Christians that the gospel is indeed ‘public truth’ has led some to assume that the primary means of Christian social influence is to grasp at the ‘levers of power’ in order to press home any residual Christendom advantage we might have before we are lost in some feared flood of secular and/or multi-religious voices.

Yet fears—real or imagined—while being impressive short-term motivators (as politicians show us especially at election time) are unworthy of those who dare to make the claim that the crucified Jesus is the risen, ascended Lord. While Christians should not sit idly in the midst of problematic social change and ethical challenges, there is something disturbing about the moral panic that is trumpeted by some Christians as though the redemption of the world was all up to them. There is something faithless and impatient about all of this.

Christians are indeed sent into the world to make a difference but the means by which that difference is sought are just as important as the ends. The attempt to guarantee security for the church’s voice through the machinations of legal and political apparatus may well be overlooking the depth of challenge that the death and resurrection of Jesus makes to our settled view of things. Our baptism into this death and resurrection does not remove us from the world but neither does it send us back with a sense of superiority and urge to rule and direct the lives of others in the name of the ‘word of God’. Those who would be ‘reigning with Christ’ are sent back into a world with a whole new ethos exemplifying what it means to live in the world that God in Christ really has reconciled to himself. That is a task to be lived out at cost to ourselves at every level of life.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Letters and Papers in Prison, pp. 382-3) reminds us that

the church must share in the secular problems of ordinary human life, not dominating, but helping and serving. It must tell [men and women] of every calling what it means to live in Christ, to exist for others… It must not underestimate the importance of human example… it is not abstract argument, but example, that gives its word emphasis and power. 
Such a life must be lived in the manner of the One we follow: not trusting finally in the securities of state, law, or social kudos, but in the God who raises from the dead and whose kingdom will indeed come on earth as it is in heaven.

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