The following is cast in the form of a letter to certain persons, but it should be quite possible for others to follow.
Following the animated discussion on Monday regarding the relationship of mission and culture (and, in that context, long-term planning for cultural change) in light of the Great Commission in particular, I submit to your opinions an article in Cross†Way, ‘Reasserting Evangelism’, written by the Rev. John Richardson. I think you will, whichever ‘side’ you take, find it to express a sound judgement. It will be of interest to Mr M. that the article quotes Dr N. T. Wright favourably, pointing to the announcement of Christ’s lordship as the essence of the Church’s mission. This will be my theme below.
My reservation about the focus in some quarters on cultural transformation, despite my strong affirmation that institutions will inevitably be affected by the prophetic call of the gospel, faithfully proclaimed, is the Anabaptism often latent in this move. God knows that I, an antidisestablishmentarian, would be the last to suggest withdrawal from the political arena: God does and will judge all politicking by his own standard and none other, a standard ever consonant with holy Scripture. Nevertheless, the call to ‘change the culture’ practically results, through a certain construal of the Church-world divide (due in turn to multiple senses of the term world), in an attempt to foist an essentially private (or, more precisely, partisan) interest upon a nation, a move I find evangelically and politically disastrous. The movement for cultural change in accordance with biblical norms is bound to fail at the hands of God himself, as an endeavour of blasphemous hubris, unless it grounds itself in a genuinely and deeply Protestant political theology.
I hope my thought will be free from the charge of individualism, for I have projects of my own that aim at developing structures, both in theory and in ritual, that reflect biblical truth. Can this be called long-term planning? Undoubtedly so, unless one thinks it worthwhile to set something forth that will be useless in 500 years; I intend to speak to the present but hope to do something that keeps its value a thousand years hence, if the Chinese civilization be permitted to endure that much longer. I think a project of this nature, if successful, will satisfy anyone of its society-wide application and long-term vision.
Yet such an undertaking, without the influence of the Holy Ghost giving real faith to real individuals, must fail. Public faithfulness to God’s holy law, a temporal thing of the visible Church, depends on private faith in God’s holy gospel, a spiritual thing of the invisible Church. Though the former manifests the latter, it must disappear when the other dies; where the invisible Church is absent, the visible Church cannot be. For the very idea of society’s godly obedience will take no root without real power in individual men to do it for the love of God. This is why the invisible Church is sometimes called the true Church, defined as it is by faith (a mystery of the Holy Ghost) and not by any outward marks.
Now I must return to God’s holy Scripture. The Great Commission, as I read it, does indeed tell us to teach the nations the whole counsel of God, which is both the law and the gospel. Thus a Christian writing in political theory, being a member of Christ’s Body, writes about political wisdom as a member of Christ’s Body no less than he writes as a human, for indeed it is from Christ that he derives his full, sanctified humanity. The reign of Christ is everywhere indeed: of necessity we teach this truth as inseparable from the gospel, unless the gospel would have the Church justified in heaven and not sanctified on earth as a visible Temple of the Holy Ghost. The Protestant ‘three uses of the law’, namely the pedagogical, the civil and the normative, bear witness to this indivisible reign of Christ, which extends over both the secrets of the human heart and the outward works that bear the image of God’s righteousness. Whether nations actually obey God’s word or not, the point is to proclaim Christ as him who calls all men and all nations to account, and redeems both men and mankind, both individual sons of Adam and the integral race of Adam.
To confess the first and deny the second is to deny that man is meant to live socially, and thus to nullify even the meaning of relationship with God; to see the the second as accomplished here on earth is to lose sight of the true eternal city, which is far above any sanctification to be attained here. To think of mankind fully renewed here is little more pious than the doctrine of transubstantiation, and he who holds such a doctrine will see just how finite his works are. To think of social redemption on earth as extraneous, however, is nothing short of denying both that the sacraments are true and that sanctification is a part of salvation, and he who does this belittles the grace of God. He who would obey God will reject both errors as unworthy of his majesty.
Brethren, the Holy Ghost inhabits not cultures but men: it is by converting men that he saves mankind. When Christians learn the way of obedience in social acts, each applying himself faithfully in his own station, and when righteousness appears in both sound theory and decent living, the light of Christ will shine ever brighter in the world to condemn evil and glorify the Name of God. Then the righteousness of Christ will discredit Satan and gladden the holy angels. Let us watch, therefore, for any occasion to show the goodness of our God, in whom I remain,
Yours by the sanctity of Christ,