Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The moral compass of our world?

When it comes to relating to authorities the first question is who rules the world. The answer is plain in the opening pages of the Bible. The one who made the world rules it. He decides how things happen. And it is He who who gives dominion over the world to humanity. He appoint us as creatures in his image to rule the world under him. Appointed to explore, label, develop and sustain planet earth as he holds it together by his word.

In the new creation, Christians will reign with Christ but how about here and now. Are we the rulers of the world? Are we responsible for it? It seems that until the new creation comes God has appointed authorities and governments to regulate the world. In Romans 13 we God appointed them. They're a terror to the evil and no harm to the good. Peter says the same. They're appointed to punish evil and praise good. They are the conscience of God's world. An imperfect moral conscience, restraining evil and promoting good. Not an ultimate solution but a temporary one.

Recently I heard someone say it is the job of the church to be the conscience of society. So, which is it - the curch or the government, or both? I'm not entirely sure I see the case for it being the church - argue it in the comments if you like, I'm open to hearing. The problem is that if the church is to act as the world's conscience then our message will be one of justice now and moralising the world. Yet, I thought it was the job of the church to preach the gospel. Yes, the Spirit convicts the world of sin but the they're not listening and the case has been delayed until the last day.

The reality is that the only way lives really change is through the work of the Holy Spirit through the gospel of Jesus. People change when they become Christians not when the law tells them too. Heart change is what matters not a better society. Should we moralise the world or evangelise it?

How does it work out? Christians are to live under the law. We're subject to it. We're to pay tax. Keep the law. Doing that is part of our life under God's rule. In doing that we do show the world something:
For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
We're to live as God's Image Bearers but that probably wont be much appreciated by the world. Nonetheless, if we live spotless lives it will be difficult to criticise us with any weight. It's a loud message to the world:
Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.
God's grace is revealed if we end up suffering for doing good. We see that in the the example of Peter and John. They face trial for preaching the gospel, in Acts 4, but the people flock to them for the good they do and the community they are part of. One day we will be kings. We already share in Jesus' authority as little Christ's on earth - but the world doesn't see it. Our future is glorious though we may appear downtrodden. Some will see the glory of the gospel in us, in our quiet submission earthly authorities.

Now, that said - in our culture Christians can be in government. We can vote. We can stand for office. We can help the government do it's job of punishing evil and praising good. And, we can pray for those who lead us - indeed we must do that.

Some might say, if we'll eventually reign in the new creation why bother here? Because this creation and the next aren't entirely separate. This world will be renewed rather than burned. All sin destroys people and as rescued people we ought to be full of compassion for the harrassed and helpless people around us who have no Shepherd King to lead them. That compassion has no boundaries, and within the crowd are many who will one day receive new life in Christ. How much more might they be able to enjoy God's gifts in a world that isn't left to degrade entirely to the worst it could ever be.

The compass of the church points to Christ more than to a better moral life. Our words testifying about the true King of this world. Our lives showing what it looks like to live the way we were made to live, men and women in the image of God.

..to be continued.


  1. Thanks for this Dave, well-rounded in general and an especially important second to last paragraph.

    'Heart change is what matters not a better society. Should we moralise the world or evangelise it?'

    I wonder if there is a (potential, unintended?) false dichotomy here? For example, hypothetically, what would happen if

    a. The church was 'successful' in proclaiming Christ and the majority of the people in a democracy were confessedly Christian? How should these Christians vote/legislate/govern? Should they seek to use their democratic power christianly or not?

    b. The church is 'successful' in calling on the kings of the earth to submit to the Son (Psalm 2)? How should those Kings govern? On what basis should converted kings legislate/compile the statute book? According to the commandments of Jesus Christ or not?

    I reckon that evangelising society could well result in 'moralising' it in some respects.

  2. I found myself in Acts 19 yesterday... evangelism was the driver that bankrupted the idolatrous silversmith industry of Ephesus.

    I've seen Christians campagain against X,Y or Z but it's quite different to evangelise the people who are keeping them in business and through discipleship put those who resource idoaltry out of business.