A Kingdom Not of This World
In Evgeny Barabanov’s brilliant essay, “The Schism Between the Church and the World,” he establishes a fundamental flaw in the thinking of the Russian Church (and to my mind, in the Western Church as well) which left the door ajar to humanistic activists:
Heavenward aspirations often went hand in hand with execration of the earth. Too often the ideal of salvation was built on a foundation of inflexible renunciation of this world. Thus salvation itself was understood as an escape from the material world into a world of pure spirituality. Evgeny Barabanov, “The Schism Between the Church & The World,” From Under the Rubble, Bantam, p . 181.
The Soviet State had a message for the Church, and it came in the form of a cynical resolution by the Soviet Central Committee:
You say you are not of this world, well then, there is nothing for you to do in this world. “Concerning Religious Societies”—Resolution of the Central Committee, April 8, 1929, Para. 17.
Perhaps this is a message the Church wants to hear. It would certainly appear that way when one observes her extreme reticence to handle any of the burning issues of our day. The primary line of reasoning is that admitting political and social issues into the Church tends to encourage factionalism, which in turn erodes unity. I quite agree when no clear biblical guideline is evident, but there are plenty of clear-cut issues on which the Church must take a stand.
Be that as it may, there is one thing of which we may be certain: If we do not want to be involved in this world, there are scores of godless people who will gladly take our political and social “burdens” from us. With responsibility goes authority; by abdicating our responsibilities, we in turn lose our voice and authority in the world. The Church’s message to the humanistic princes of this world has been clear—”You go ahead and run things. Just let us go on with our fellowship.” This “drop out” mentality was noted by Bob Dylan in his hit song “Desolation Row”:
Ophelia she’s ‘neath the window
for her I feel so afraid
on her twenty-second birthday
she already is an old maid
to her, death is quite romantic
he wears an iron vest
her profession’s her religion
her sin is her lifelessness. “Desolation Row” by Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited, Columbia Records.
What a travesty that the Church of Jesus Christ should be indicted for lifelessness! Our detachment from this world has made a mockery of our message. Perhaps Our callousness stems from our obliviousness, but perhaps not. The fact remains, according to the words of Christ, that a Christian is one not only called out of the world but sent back into the world as well. Certainly the good news of Christianity is not limited to the world beyond the grave.
Recently I observed two women engaged in a strange, new Christian ritual. They’d spent quite some time discussing the miserable state of the world, fuming over this and fretting about that—all the while gesticulating their distress in a most remarkable manner. Eventually, just prior to wrapping up the solemn conversation, they slapped each other on the back and asked with enormous smiles, “Aren’t you glad Jesus is coming to take us out of this mess?”
This longing for “home” affects us all at times, and there is assuredly nothing wrong with this. That is, until we become so intoxicated by other-worldly thinking that we neglect to maintain the present. Malcolm Muggeridge put it this way: “I often pined for total detachment from a society whose standards I despise and whose future prospects I regard as catastrophic, but in which I, nonetheless, have an inescapable stake.” Malcolm Muggeridge, Jesus Rediscovered, Pyramid Publications, p. 159.
How many times has it happened that an athletic team has found a weak opponent scheduled prior to some important contest, and wound up getting beaten? They had their minds on future matters while their bodies were trying to conduct present business.
Jesus said we were to be in the world but not of it. He said we were to be the salt of the earth. He said we were to occupy until He returned—so let’s get on with it! Let’s occupy territory for the kingdom of God. Let’s work on preserving our society from wanton destruction by actively pursuing and demonstrating righteousness. We are behind in a game we ought to be winning!