Gospel –> Individuals –> Culture

Too often the Church has thought her mission was to transform society through institutional means, through moral structures (laws and mores), to the neglect of personal means, through the individual’s conversion to a new Lord and Savior. If the latter becomes the Church’s mission, then cultural instantiations of Christian values naturally follow, in law, art, and personal relations. However, sometimes the Church must fight for the institutional recognition of moral truth for the sake of innocent victims (e.g., abortion) even if the moral foundations for this truth have been eroded in the larger society. This is part and parcel of being the Good Samaritan, of recognizing and defending the duties owed to our neighbors (=everyone), but it is not the peculiar mission of the Church, to baptize in the name of the Triune God of our salvation. The Church has often been tempted to make the Christian life the content of the Gospel, instead of the Christian death, i.e., our death, burial, and (only then) resurrection in Christ. The Church contents herself with half the Gospel — not surprisingly, it’s the easier half, the half more pleasant to preach and less a stumbling block. But the Church’s commission is “to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). So, how we seek to promote and establish the Kingdom of God in our society is determined by our fidelity to the Cross and its claim on the lives of every individual. The Church’s commission is not, Gospel –> Culture –> Individuals, but Gospel –> Individuals –> Culture. It is a bottom-up movement. P. T. Forsyth understands this well:

“That was the Puritan dream [i.e., “a new order of society wherein should dwell the righteousness of God”]. But even a parliamentarian army was still an army; and a Cromwell ruled for God by the sword — as many of us who are his admirers today would seek the kingdom by the vote, that is, by our political tactics instead of by his military. It was what still makes, and always has made, the chief temptation of his Church — the reformation of society by every beneficent means except the evangelical; by amelioration, by reorganization, by programmes, and policies, instead of by the soul’s new creation, and its total conversion from the passion for justice to the faith of grace, from what makes men just with each other to what makes them just with God. It was the temptation to save men by rallying their goodness without routing their evil, by reorganizing virtue instead of redeeming guilt. …It is the error which leads men to think that we can have a new Church or Humanity upon any other condition than the renovation in the soul of the new covenant which Christ founded in his last hours, before the very Church was founded, and which is the Church’s one foundation in his most precious blood” (The Person and Place of Jesus Christ, pp. 303-304).


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