21 Dec The World is Not Ours To Save
This brief post will likely upset some Christians. Within the Church today, there is a debate concerning the duty and responsibility of the believer to engage culture and fight for justice. The two extremes within this debate are often defined on one side by those in the deeply prophecy driven, pre-tribulational, dispensationalist camp. This camp can, (but certainly not always!) hold to an exclusively pessimistic vision of the future of the world, alongside a bit of fatalism and thus a somewhat passive, abandonment mentality. If it is all going to hell in a hand basket, why should I bother trying to save it? I’m outta’ here soon enough anyway. Why polish the brass on sinking ship?
On the other hand, and often as an over-reaction to the extreme just described, there are those who see themselves as cultural engagers, history makers. They are the post-millennialists, the dominionists. They are those who are seeking to conquer the “seven-mountains” of culture and influence. They are those who claim that they will end poverty, abolish slavery, and so on and so forth.
But between these two extremes is the thoroughly Gospel-centered, yet thoroughly premillennialist orientation of the early Church. This theological orientation sees it as the mandate of the Church to proclaim the Gospel to all the World, in both word and deed. Every word, every action, every good deed is meant to point to and bear witness concerning, the nature and characteristics of the messianic kingdom / age to come. The historical premillennialist carries out acts of justice as part of their mandate to bear witness to the kingdom to come. But the acts are not done without the correlating message concerning that kingdom to come.
The orientation of those who seek to imitate the early Christian community is such that as aliens and strangers in this age, they fight to rescue slaves, to help the poor, to impact and influence the world, without trying to conquer it. Impacting and conquering are quite different things. We are to be salt and light, effecting the world around us, but not conquerors of this world. Jesus will come back to conquer. But for now, we free slaves, because in the age to come, slavery will be abolished. For now, we minister to those who are poor now because in the kingdom that is coming to the earth, the poor will be cared for. In fact, they will no longer be poor. Once we acknowledge that our job now is to declare a message to an irretrievably wicked and corrupt generation concerning the nature and beautiful characteristics of the age to come, then we can put our hands to the plow without falling into the subtle trap of what I call “the Kingdom Now Hamster Wheel.” The Kingdom Now Hamster Wheel is a term that refers to the trap that those who are working hard to conquer the world (for Jesus) now can so easily fall in to. Those who climb on board the Kingdom Now hamster wheel always eventually reach a point of burn out and disillusionment.
All this to say that eschatology has deep relevance in terms of how we engage culture. And unarguably, it is historic premillennialism that is the most balanced and effective in motivating believers to engage the world and reach it with the Gospel of the Kingdom. Neither promoting an abandonment nor a dominionist mentality, it encourages an active Gospel-centered engagement, while recognizing the limitations of that engagement. It places the proper level of responsibility on us to be His witnesses, while allowing room for Him to come back and conquer. If the Church today would return to the premillennialism of the early Church, with the cross as its center, and the resurrection of the body in the coming Messianic Kingdom as our hope, then I believe that like the early believers, we could “turn the world upside down.” in just a few short decades.