Had a few responses to the post ‘Toward the vacuum’ and also Steve Lowton re-posted it on his facebook page soliciting a few more comments. In the post I was both reflecting back on the dream from years back on the opening up of the façades, the response of a number of believers in the public sphere and the danger of the ‘familiar’ being our default response. In the post – now some 8 years on from the dream – I suppose there were a few paradigms that crept through that I am becoming increasingly aware of. So I thought I would outline what I think they might be below.
Surprisingly (!!) I am not an advocate of Christendom. I have been too heavily influenced by anabaptism, the new church movement and the like to be in that camp. I see Christendom as an aberration of the apostolic faith, not as some sort of fulfilment of eschatological hope. And given the nature of God (another paradigm here) this does not mean that God did not use Christendom… he works in all things for a purpose. His work ‘in’ does not mean his approval ‘of’.
Paradigm 1: the church is here for society
The primary role of the church is not to evangelise society (keep reading…), but to, as witness to God, create / fashion / hold a shape where something redemptive can fill it. It is our responsibility as royal priesthood to stand to mediate the presence of God to the world and to allow the world to grow up into a healthy space. This is not a) withdrawal to a spiritual realm (sorry to one stand of anabaptism there) nor b) to impose some kind of theonomy on the world (sorry to that strand of Calvinism, Reconstructionism, Kuyperism, 7 mountains etc.). The latter is ultra-Christendom. Not all come to faith, but there are those who will grasp the Jesus’ values and fill space in a Jesus-like way, even if some of those were to be atheists. (I see this in the reference to the Asiarchs in Acts, for example.) The former (a withdrawal) is to deny the intensely political nature of the Gospel. Not political in the sense of party politics, but carrying an all encompassing vision for society. The kind of vision we have been trying to capture with the word ‘convivencia’.
(Now don’t read ‘don’t evangelise’ into the above but do read ‘some evangelism is not a witness’.)
Paradigm 2: the world is not the church
My background of course left me very clear on that… however, the two realms are related. One has been redeemed, the other, not being evil but fallen, is there to be redeemed. The church that resorts to the familiar and does not connect with the era in which it is placed and participate with God’s redemption of the world might not be able to fully own the term ‘church’. Church is political (the ekklesia of Christ in every geography was a provocative term when the cities of the empire already had their ekklesia shaping the city and future). We have to somehow engage with the tension that not everything is in Christ but everything is in God. In him we move, live and have our being…
In Jeremiah 22: 16 Josiah is honoured because
He judged the cause of the poor and the needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? says the Lord.
The chapter begins with a call to:
Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.
Jeremiah did not say that Josiah’s behaviour was indicative of someone on the way to knowing God, nor that someone who knows God will seek to behave in this way. His words are too strong for that. Someone behaving in that way is showing the evidence that they know God! (And Jesus promise was not that people who followed him would know God… but that they would know who this God was.)
Paradigm 3: God is not in control
A little strong maybe? But what on earth do we mean by ‘in control’. Love and partnership have to be the ways in which we understand God at work in the earth, not omnipotence. Love means he is at work. It means he will work in and through whatever he is given. But he does not act in isolation – we are partners with heaven.
In all the above I am not an advocate of Christendom, I do see a distinction between the church and the world. I am not looking to Christianise society, but to heavenify it. That kingdom that comes from heaven does mean that convivencia has to manifest. Space for those who are not believers in Jesus to express their gifts for the sake of others. It means any wall that is built is a sign of failure, that any bridgebuilding will mean we are trampled on from both sides.