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The church’s mission is not societal transformation

The church’s primary responsibility in this age is gospel proclamation and making disciples. Members of the church are destined to reign over a restored earth when Jesus returns. But in this age before Jesus comes again, the church’s mission is not cultural or societal transformation. This does not mean the church has no concern for or relationship to cultural or societal matters. When Jesus returns, members of the church will assist Jesus in His rule over the nations (Rev 2:26-27; 3:21), which includes cultural and societal matters. God created man to rule holistically over all aspects of God’s creation. And a restored mankind will rule over a restored planet. Although such matters are not the church’s emphasis in this age, Christians are called to apply their Christian worldview to every aspect of the environment. Thus, Christians can be involved in all aspects of culture including music, the arts, architecture, agriculture, politics, education, sports, etc. for the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31). Christians certainly should vote and promote values that most accord with God’s righteous standards. Yet there should be the understanding that true cultural and societal transformation will not occur in this evil age. These await the kingdom of Jesus at His return. The NT also teaches that Christians must be concerned with meeting the physical needs of fellow believers.

As those who live between the two comings of Jesus the Messiah, the church should avoid two extremes concerning culture and society. The first is acting as if the church has no relationship to these areas. The second is to see the church’s mission as transforming the world before the return and kingdom of Jesus.

Michael Vlach, He Will Reign Forever, 541-2.

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Conclusion to By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture
Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

9 Responses to The church’s mission is not societal transformation

  1. As far as I can make out from the Bible and History, it may not be the Church’s task to transform society, but the presence of the Church certainly does transform society. If I were to be shipwrecked and cast on an island in the Pacific, it would comfort me greatly to hear that the island had been evangelized previously – I would then have a far smaller chance of landing in a cannibal’s pot like poor Captain Cook! Many Christians seem to think that because the mission of the Church is not primarily to transform society, they can safely get on with their lives and leave the real work to the pastor and other leading members of the Church. Meanwhile, Jesus specifically told us that we are to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. Wherever Christians are, in whatever field, whether it be politics, education, the arts, economics, the media, or whatever, we are supposed to be representing our Lord Jesus Christ by being salt and light and working against the kingdom of darkness in that place. When Christians realize this and do it faithfully, the society is transformed. Of course it brings conflict and upheaval (witness the Reformation and the Wesleyan Revival, to name two examples), but the general effect is to bring more of this earth under the control of our Lord and Saviour. We should never sit back, fold our hands and say piously, “When Jesus returns, all will be made right”. When He returns, the battle will be over. We are right in the battle now, and we need to be fighting the forces of darkness where our Commander has placed us. There is no place for laziness, complacency or compromise in this battle! Let us be up and doing, and the Lord will bless His work through us.

  2. I agree with you in a sense. Each Christian should live faithfully to Christ in whatever vocation he has called them, spreading the gospel, and doing all to his glory. When Christians live this way, it certainly has positive effects in society. But never should we expect large society transformation until Jesus comes again. Historically, all Christian attempts to “transform” society have resulted in compromise, syncretism, and distraction.

  3. I think it comes down to whether we are going to have a positive outlook or a negative one. If soldiers in a war know that they are going to be defeated, they are less likely to give of their best, much less hazard their lives. When they know they will win, or at least believe they will win, they will fight to the death if necessary. It’s the same with the battle we are in. If we believe that “at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11), we will be more likely to give everything we have to further His Kingdom on earth. After all, we pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. This is not a throw-away, “disposable” world. This world is to come under the Lordship of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is its rightful King. Each of us is responsible for our section. If I have only a bedroom that belongs to me, it is my duty to my Lord to keep it neat, tidy and clean to the glory of Jesus Christ. If I am involved in teaching children the alphabet, it is my duty to do that to the best of my ability so that they learn to read His Word and can be informed of His laws and principles as they grow up and take their place in society. In all things we are to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). There is no area that is not to be taken for Him. If I think that my only duty is to “spread the Gospel”, which is going to fail anyway because this world is doomed in any case, I am not going to be doing my best to bring my area of jurisdiction under His control. Of course He is going to come again. We don’t know when that is going to be, but generations of Christians have fallen into the trap of being “bus stop Christians” (waiting for the Rapture) and allowing their areas of jurisdiction to be taken over and swamped by the enemy. How on earth did abortion get legalized? The Church, by and large, was silent. Now millions of babies have been murdered. Here in South Africa, Ascension Day, which used to be a public holiday, was removed without a murmur from the churches. Sunday sport, Sunday shopping, etc. have made it impossible for many young people to attend church because they are involved in team sport or have jobs and have to work on Sundays. This affects even children from Christian homes. Again, the Church was silent. Many people go from church to shop in the malls, not thinking that by doing so we are helping to keep some Mom, Dad or young person away from their families and from worship because we want to have the convenience of shopping on a Sunday. We are guilty of depriving our young people of the chance of hearing the Gospel and worshipping God on a Sunday, because it has become a way of life for so many not to attend church any more. I think the Lord is going to hold us all to account for not speaking up when we could, for retreating into our churches and comforting ourselves with the thought that we can’t do anything anyway, and when Jesus comes again He will set all to rights. Well, that is not what He taught in the Parable of the Talents. In fact, He condemned the lazy servant who knew his master’s will but didn’t do it. The hour is extremely late. Our civilization – based on Christianity for 1500 years – is on the verge of extinction. It is time the Church woke up to her responsibilities in this world.

  4. This is exactly Vlach’s point in the post above; yes, Jesus will win one day, and that give us hope. But there is no promise or expectation in Scripture that WE will win in this age. The NT promise is that things will grow worse and worse. Only Christ will be able to win when he comes again.

  5. Where does the NT promise that things will grow worse and worse? I don’t see that in Scripture at all. What about the words of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in Me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 6:33) He said, “I HAVE overcome the world”, not “I WILL overcome the world at some future time at least 2000 years in the future”. Also, in Ezekiel 47 we have a prophecy which is generally regarded as a prophecy of the Church Age. The waters (of the Gospel) issue from the House of God and a man is told to measure them. After a thousand paces they are ankle deep. After another thousand they are knee deep. After a third thousand they are loin deep. Finally they become a river that cannot be passed over. The last chapter of Revelation picks up the same theme, showing how the water of life has become a mighty river. I would say that at this stage in the history of the earth, we are knee-deep. We have a way to go yet! But the river itself is unstoppable. There is no way that our Lord, having won the victory over Satan on the Cross, is going to hand this world over to him. We are the Church Militant, and we continue the battle against Satan as we live our lives, bringing every thought captive to our Lord Jesus Christ. History shows us that countries where Christianity has prevailed have done much better (and continue to do much better) than countries where the Gospel has been rejected. Compare America with Cuba. Of course, America is presently living on her spiritual capital, which is swiftly being eroded, and may well end up like Cuba unless there is a tremendous revival. The real battle is in the heavenlies, but the practical aspects of it are worked out on earth by very human human beings. Our ancestors fought for the privileges we enjoy today. We need to do our part to restore our areas of jurisdiction to the control of our Lord and, in the words of Winston Churchill, never, never, never, never, NEVER, give up. And yes, I do expect to see positive change. I have seen plenty of it already in my own lifetime. I’ve seen setbacks too, of course, but we need to remember that our Lord cannot possibly be defeated, and that means here and now, not at some mystical future date when He has to bring His angels to come and rescue His Church, when He promised us that He would be with us now, while the battle is raging. Yes, I do believe in victory!

  6. Christ specifically spells out that the world will grow worse and worse in Matthew 24. Read the whole chapter, but verse 21 states, “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.” Verses 3-14 speak even more specifically about the depth of tribulation that will come upon the world!

    Paul discusses these tribulations and hardships as well in 2 Timothy 3. “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty” (verse 1). The following verses describe why the last days are like this.

  7. 2 Timothy 3:13 says “evil men and seducers will wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.” It does NOT say that God has decided that His Church will be defeated by these evil men and seducers. It also does NOT say that because of this the world will grow worse and worse. As we look at History, we find that evil does not last. The French Revolution caused havoc, but ended after 6 years with the execution of Robespierre, a wicked bloodthirsty man, on the guillotine. Napoleon rampaged through Europe, but was defeated after 20 years and died six years later on St. Helena. Hitler rose to power in 1933 and committed suicide in 1945 – a mere twelve years later. Sure, they caused havoc while they lasted, but they didn’t last long. Voltaire predicted the death of the Church. He is dead, and his house became the headquarters of the Bible Society. When the dust settles, every time we see God’s Kingdom further along and growing. Daniel 2 describes a dream that Nebuchadnezzar had, and Daniel’s interpretation. In the dream a stone “cut without hands” strikes the great image and breaks it to pieces. Then the stone grows until it fills the whole earth. Daniel identified the “stone” as the Kingdom of God, which was established when Christ came to earth and defeated Satan at Calvary and His subsequent resurrection. Since then that Kingdom has been growing, and it continues to grow. One day it will fill the whole earth. How can things possibly be getting worse? Evil is temporary; God’s Kingdom cannot be destroyed. So what if we have to suffer persecution? Let us at least deserve it by standing up to the evil around us and trying to defeat it with the help of our Lord, instead of skulking away in our “safe” churches trying to stay out of the firing line. What happens to us doesn’t matter – the important thing is that God’s Kingdom continues to grow and overtake the works of Satan, which are being destroyed. Our duty is to do the very best we can to undo Satan’s works – and as the Lord blesses those who obey Him, we know that the end result will be victory. Our main concern is that the Gospel be preached. Well, let us be wide awake and do something about it when opportunities to preach are closed down by wicked men around us. Let us have some compassion on the millions who will never hear the Gospel because of wicked decrees that prevent it. Let us do something about the unborn children being murdered in the most horrific ways while the Church, by and large, says nothing. Our faith has to result in works (see the whole book of James), otherwise it is worthless.

  8. There are many interpretations of Matthew 24. As far as I can see, the judgment spoken of there is on the wicked, not on the people of God. However, to me the most important part is the section from verses 45-51, where the Lord specifically warns us to be “faithful and wise” servants, rulers over His household (and He is the Ruler over the whole earth – see Matthew 28:18 – so the whole earth is His household), giving them “meat in due season”. Our Lord has given each one of His people work to do in this world. Some are called to be pastors. Others are called to other areas of service. All of us are responsible to be faithful and wise in the work we have been given, realizing that it is for the Lord, not for any other reason. As we do that, we help to transform our society. It is due to the unfaithfulness and foolishness of so many Christians that we have the mess we see around us today. It is time we changed that.
    I am not a sports fan, but of course I know something about it. Imagine a coach saying to his team, “Listen, guys, we have ten matches this season and we aren’t going to win any of them, because the sports body in charge has decided that we won’t win them. No matter how well you play, you are going to lose. However, don’t be downhearted, because the sports body has already decided to give our team the cup at the end of the season. Just do your best, but don’t expect to win, and at the end you will be rewarded.” I think that could come under the heading “match fixing” and I seriously doubt that a coach like that would be allowed to continue in his position. Yet this is what some Christians say Christ does! He tells us we are never going to win, everything is going to get worse and worse, we can’t do anything about it because He has decided that His Church must be defeated in this world, and if we stick it out He will reward us at the end of time! It doesn’t sound like Him at all, especially if you read the whole Bible, and not just selected verses out of context. Read the parables of Matthew 12, which do not indicate the failure of the Church, but rather the growth and triumph of the Kingdom. The wicked are destined to fail – not the people of the Living God.

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