What's the Password?

[caption id="attachment_541" align="alignleft" width="224" caption="What's going on in there?"][/caption] Okay, here’s where I might be misunderstood as a heretic, but my own imagination likes to relate the church to a speakeasy. Of course, I’m thinking of a speakeasy in a romantic way, as a whole world that is open to you by invitation and the correct password:  Jesus is Lord! (After that, my metaphor kind of falls apart.) But church really is a different world!  We are called out from all of our own working to receive. What are we receiving? It is so much more than moral instruction, or how to have Christ reign over your finances, fix your marriage, and help you have your best life now. We are actually receiving Christ and his benefits through the preached word and the sacraments. We come with our stories about nothing, and we are reminded that we are a part of a metanarrative, the story that encompasses all others. I’ve already alluded to this Horton quote from his book, People and Place in my last article; “The church is never the effectual agent; instead, it is the recipient and field of God’s sanctifying work in the world: the theater in which the Spirit is casting and staging dress rehearsals of the age to come (p. 197)”.  The speakeasy is the reality; only, it isn’t us doing the speaking. Horton refers to God’s speech act in creating life as divine peosis. “Created by speech, upheld by speech, and one day glorified by speech, we are, like the rest of creation, summoned beings, not autonomous. We exist because we have been spoken into existence, and we persist in time because the Spirit ensures that the Father’s speaking, in the Son, will not return void (p. 61)”. Do you see the importance of being under the preached Word of God, and receivers of the sacraments that ratify his covenant—the privilege?  God’s Word actually changes us. We may come into the speakeasy as rebels, but we are being transformed into the image of his Son, Jesus Christ. HOW DOES THE CHURCH INFLUENCE THE WORLD? Like a speakeasy, the church is countercultural (but, obviously, in completely different ways).  We are called out from our everyday work, to gather together as a peculiar people. We worship, as we are receivers of God’s grace. Equipped with the spiritual armor necessary, we are then sent back into the world with a benediction. We leave rejuvenated, encouraged to share the gospel with others.  But in the church, we are citizens of a kingdom ruled by grace, and in the world around us, we are also citizens of a kingdom ruled by justice. VanDrunen defines this distinction well in his book Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: “God rules the church (the spiritual kingdom) as redeemer in Jesus Christ and rules the state and all other social institutions (the civil kingdom) as creator and sustainer, and thus these two kingdoms have significantly different ends, functions, and modes of operation” (p. 1). Did you ever wonder why in his letter to the Romans, Paul teaches to submit to the government, whose authority is appointed by God, even to uphold justice to “execute wrath on him who practices evil” (13:5b)? And yet, he tells the Corinthians that it would be better for them to be offended or cheated than to take a fellow believer under the law to the court system? Or, we have Jesus telling the Pharisees to render to Caesar what is his, and yet, in his infamous Sermon on the Mount, we seem to be called to something much deeper than the law of justice requires—turning the other cheek, loving our enemies. This is because Jesus and Paul are clearly talking about our role in two different kingdoms. I think it goes without saying that as Christians our responsibility to one kingdom ties stronger than to the other. However, this is a benefit to the civil kingdom, not a threat. Paul is encouraging us not to sue a fellow believer, because the world is watching us. The church has its own government, in which it is to rule and discipline its members for the purpose of reconciliation. In the spiritual kingdom, justice has already been served and grace reigns. If another professing believer is unwilling to submit, in most cases (there are obviously more severe cases in which discernment and wisdom would lead us to the civil government for protection or prosecution) we are to accept being cheated over displaying sibling rivalry to unbelievers watching. The church is an influence to the world by being the church We no longer have a distinct land, like Adam or Moses, but we are a distinct people. Jesus points this out in his Sermon on the Mount. He said our goodness had to exceed that of the Pharisees; that we had to be perfect. He was describing himself. Jesus fulfilled the whole law that he portrays. It is with Christ’s righteousness that we are clothed in the spiritual kingdom. Therefore, we cannot impose our faith, and our redemptive way of government onto our unbelieving, fellow civil citizens. We cannot legislate the gospel.  And we cannot confuse law with gospel. The church proclaims the gospel. As an individual Christian sent out into the world, the law guides me. I graciously try to obey God’s law as I follow the Great Commandment given to all mankind (Matt. 22:37-39). But in light of the gospel, I know that I cannot try to earn my salvation by keeping the law. In this manner the law only condemns me.  Thankfully, by God’s grace I am united to Christ who has fulfilled the law. I am now free to serve my neighbor in gratitude. Here are some more questions to ponder in further reflection: 1.      God is graceful in both the spiritual and civil kingdoms of his majesty.  What are the similarities and differences of how his grace affects believers and unbelievers?  2.      How are our responsibilities as a citizen of Christ’s spiritual kingdom stronger than our civil kingdom citizenship?  What may be some circumstances where this would become apparent?  How does this actually benefit unbelievers? 3.      Do you find it hard to offer grace within God’s spiritual kingdom, even taking an injustice rather than asserting your own righteousness?  Do you teach this to your children? 4.      How has the church throughout history tried to impose its kingdom on the world?  What dangers have come from that?  Do you struggle with confusing the two kingdoms in your own politics?  What are the particular challenges for this as American Christians?