A Thousand Amens

Allow me to differ with Michael Horton, then agree with him, and then differ again. I am referring to this article.

Here, in the first place, is the key place of difference.

“If the church is not to be identified with culture, is it necessarily a counterculture? If Christians as well as non-Christians participate in the common curse and common grace of this age in secular affairs, then there is no ‘Christian politics’ or ‘Christian art’ or ‘Christian literature,’ any more than there is ‘Christian plumbing.’ The church has no authority to bind Christian (much less non-Christian) consciences beyond Scripture. When it does, the church as ‘counterculture’ is really just another subculture, an auxiliary of one faction of the current culture wars, distracted from its proper ministry of witnessing to Christ and the new society that he is forming around himself (Gal. 3:26-29). This new society neither ignores nor is consumed by the cultural conflicts of the day.”

Now there is an agreement at the center of this. I of course believe that the church has no authority to bind consciences beyond Scripture. That is exactly right. There is a regulative principle in civil affairs — governance must be according to Scripture. But this doesn’t leave us with a minimalist anything. There is a whole boatload of scriptural injunctions on five hundred wooden pallets that I could think of unloading on the dock of the United States Congress — “thou shalt not steal” being near the head of the list.

So I am on board with Christians not giving directives to the magistrate that they spin out of their own heads. Good job, and let us stick with that game plan. Just Bible, and nothing but Bible. But what makes us think that we could start applying Bible to the activities of a modern state, and somehow get done with plenty of time left over before lunch? It seems to me like a bigger job somehow.

I grant that Scripture doesn’t say a whole lot about plumbing, but it does say a lot about business, hard work, honest weights and measures, and so forth, all of which apply to plumbers. And all those things apply to the magistrate as well, in addition to all the specific instructions given to kings and princes — kissing the Son lest He be angry being among them.

The next quotation is where we have a measure of agreement.

“The kingdom of God is never something that we bring into being, but something that we are receiving. Cultural advances occur by concentrated and collective effort, while the kingdom of God comes to us through baptism, preaching, teaching, Eucharist, prayer, and fellowship. ‘Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:28-29). There is nothing more important for the church than to receive and proclaim the kingdom in joyful assembly, raising children in the covenant of grace. They are heirs with us of that future place for those ‘who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the Word of God and the powers of the coming age’—a holy land ‘which drinks in the rain often falling on it’ and is ‘farmed’ so that it reaps its Sabbath blessing (Heb. 6:4-8).

Here is the agreement. Our first order of business is to worship the Lord in joyful assembly, and to bring our children up in the covenant of grace. A thousand amens. We are to worship Him in reverent awe, as we preach and teach, celebrate the Eucharist, as we pray and live out lives of koinonia fellowship. Another thousand amens.

But good luck doing this without having a cultural impact. If the anchorites of olden times couldn’t even go out to the desert to meditate without having a cultural impact, what makes us think that we could worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness in the midst of our culture without shaking things up a bit? This is especially true in these disintegrating times. The more the kingdom is the kingdom, the more a longing world will ask questions about it.

In short, Horton is up against a paradox, and there is where the last difference comes in. The most effective way for the church to transform the culture outside her walls, discipling the nations, is to quit being a lobbying agency. The fastest way to change the nations is to quit trying to. I am not talking about the church turning inward in some impotent way. I am talking about the church being the church in just the way Horton described.

You can conquer a culture without trying to. It has happened before. And it would be kind of cool if it happened again . . . to some thoroughly bewildered amillennialists.

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