What role should Christianity have in the world today. Based on the title, obviously, I think the Christianity should, in part, have a strong subversive element. Consider some options.
1. Kingdom on Earth. Christendom. Europe and much of the Americas (obviously some other places as well) have had a history of Christianity being the dominant religion. There have been good things. A large percentage of what could be looked at technologically and sociologically as “progress” has come from these regions. However, where Christianity has become a dominant religion, people have chosen to take on the designation of Christian without actually seeking to take on the burden and calling of Christ. This problem was first witnessed back to the time of Emperor Constantine. The result is “Christians Behaving Badly.” Often we see it in moral failure, as well as abuse or disenfranchisement of minorities.
Not that Christianity is alone in this… the news in the last few weeks has been full of “Muslims Behaving Badly” in places where they have political superiority. But Christians should never be comfortable with the knowledge that other groups are just as bad as us. If we have a higher truth and a higher example, being no worse than another group means we fail that much more.
2. Kingdom in Heaven. Separation. Many groups deal with the world in an escapist form. Jim Jones and the People’s Temple, regardless of whether one should consider them a Christian group, are an example of this as they moved from San Francisco to Guyana and later killed themselves. Fundamentalist set up barriers to the mainstream faith around them. Many churches in religiously hostile environments turn in on themselves. They set up walls literal and figurative to protect themselves from those on the outside. Sometimes this hostile environment is non-Christian religion, or ti can be the dominant Christian expression within the culture. Harmavoidance certainly has its place, but that is not the center of our calling.
3. Kingdom of God. The term Kingdom of God, to me at least, forces me back to Jesus, as He spoke much of the Kingdom of God (or Kingdom of Heaven… not Kingdom in Heaven). Among the descriptions of the Kingdom of God is of yeast or a small seed. The Kingdom of God is here now, but it coexists with a hostile kingdom. We as Christians are part of one Kingdom while living in another, and are like yeast or a small seed that seems insignificant but should gradually grow and transform the environment around.
Going back to Lamin Sanneh (Yeah, I’m quoting him a lot lately)… he describes three general Christian responses to culture.
A. Quarantine. Maintain purity and high ethical standards isolated from the world around.
B. Accomodation. Compromise of faith standards… showing modest intermittent religious behavior.
C. Prophetic Reform. Act as a small vocal call to truth and change in a hostile environment.
Obviously, these two lists line up.
-Kingdom on earth… Christendom leads to Accommodation. Christianity becomes a pale influence because the regional culture is deemed “Christian.”
-Kingdom in heaven… This leads to Quarantine. If we don’t really belong here… we seek to separate ourselves from the culture around us.
-Kingdom of God…. This leads to Prophetic Reform. If the Kingdom of God is not a place but a rulership by God… we become subversive agents within the culture around us. This subversive calling is with us regardless of the culture we are in… regardless of whether the culture is viewed as “Christian”, “Secular”, “Muslim”, “Buddhist” or any other label.
Christians should never be too comfortable with the culture they are in… nor comfortable with rejecting or damning that culture. Christians are at their best when they are neither ruling nor cowering. Christians are at their best as Elijahs, Josephs, Mordecais, Peters, and Pauls. Or to be more to the point, Christians are at their best when they are little Christs.