7. The Kingdom of God must be embodied by the church; but Christianity can also oppose the work of The Kingdom.
We then embody this Kingdom as a collection of individuals- the Church as Christ’s body here on Earth. Pastor Michael talked about this just last Sunday, using Paul’s beautiful description from 1 Corinthians. We as a church must stand in opposition to the ways of the world as we ask God’s will to be done and his Kingdom to come. Let me again quote from Schaeffer’s “How Shall We Then Live?” In this chapter he is discussing the decline of the influence (and even commitment) of the church in society:
“As the more Christian-dominated consensus weakened, the majority of people adopted two impoverished values: personal peace and affluence. Personal peace means just to be let alone, not to be troubled by the troubles of other people, whether across the world or across the city- to live one’s life with minimal possibilities of being personally disturbed. Personal peace means wanting to have my personal life pattern undisturbed in my lifetime, regardless of what the result will be in the lifetimes of my children and grandchildren. Affluence means an overwhelming and ever-increasing prosperity- a life made up of things, things, and more things- a success judged by an ever-higher level of material abundance.” (Schaeffer, How Shall We Then Live?, Chapter 11)
Schaeffer wrote this in 1976. This amazes me in part, but I’m also not too surprised because these are not “new” problems. I believe he’s hit the nail on the head. In our American culture, especially in West County, personal peace and affluence are the idols our culture worships. Again, as the church we are to embody the alternative to this way of the world with the Kingdom of God. Personal peace- we don’t want to be troubled by the troubles of other people, whether across the world or across the city. Think about what sets us off- famines and AIDS in Africa, oh that’s sad. Gas at $3 per gallon, that’s an outrage! Do you think it’s any coincidence that Metro Link doesn’t run out further west? We don’t want “those people” out here! Our children attend some of the best schools in the state, meanwhile only 17 miles away the St. Louis school district is in such a sad state it has been taken over by the state of Missouri and is currently considering closing some schools. The Kingdom of God beckons us not to just ignore these problems, or merely be thankful that we’re not facing them; we’re called to be agents of change, to see God’s will being done SPECIFICALLY outside of our church community.
The other idol Schaeffer describes is affluence. I know everyone’s most hated sermon topic is money, but Jesus sure talks a lot about it. Again, this is not a new problem: Mark 10: 23: Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!" Ouch! Jesus teaches us that we should not run after material things as the pagans do, and that ultimately we cannot claim to be in the Kingdom of God yet still have a foot in the world: Luke 16: 13: “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money." So we as the church cannot measure “success” on purely economic terms as the world does. We must reject the notion that things bring happiness. Now, understand that I typed this sermon on a laptop and I listen to iPods and just registered at target and bed bath & beyond. However, I must refuse to allow myself to be deluded into thinking that the stuff is where life’s worth is found. I registered for kitchen items- but it’s the meals I share and relationships forged in my kitchen that matter, not what brand of knives I’m using.
The problem is not that comfort and possessions are problems in and of themselves, but that excessive desires of personal peace and affluence come at the expense of others. The problem is with putting your will above God’s. Our culture teaches us that we are somehow entitled to whatever we decide we want- like the child who learned the concept of “mine” only now that child has an American Express card and a resume. So the church has to stand and proclaim that we seek first the Kingdom of God, and that means our personal peace and affluence will be most certainly be disturbed in challenging to the ways of the world.
However, there are many streams of Christianity who have become strange bedfellows with the ways of the world. Try this sometime. Go to Borders or Barnes and Noble. Get a Tony Robbins or Donald Trump book about self-motivation. Then go get one of Joel Osteen’s books, or another big Christian author, and try and determine any real difference. There isn’t one. My friends Christianity as an “organized religion” can actually oppose the work of the Kingdom of God. One of these manifestations is called the Prosperity Gospel. The prosperity gospel says that Jesus wants you to have everything you could ever dream of- a big ol house, a boat, and even a benz! It equates happiness to material comforts: Name it and claim it, health and wealth. They have hijacked the gospel and made it just another means of telling people what they want to hear with a little Jesus for good measure. Book titles like “Your Best Life Now” or “Become a Better You” give us a clue to the prosperity gospel- it’s all about you. If nothing else, we have gone to great lengths to show that the Lord’s prayer orientates us as secondary to God, the focus is definitely not on us!
The church must be different from the way of the world around it. How are we to witness to an alternative way of life in the Kingdom of God if our lives our no different? If it is impossible to tell any real difference in the lives of two neighbors one Christian, one not, what’s the point?
In the same way the church cannot simply exist for itself. The whole point of the Kingdom of God is to advance, Jesus tells parables about servants being entrusted with the master’s property, and the master expects them to be used shrewdly:
Matthew 25: 14-30: "Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents[a] of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money."After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.'
"His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!' "The man with the two talents also came. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.' "His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!' "Then the man who had received the one talent came. 'Master,' he said, 'I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.' "His master replied, 'You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. "'Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'
The church must be instrumental in advancing the Kingdom of God in the face of personal peace and affluence, and sometimes this will mean righting itself and its members for the sake of the call of Jesus to share the good news.