Imagine the difficulty the young seminarian faces. He’s worked through his systematic theology and boy things really came together in those courses. He’s studying ethics and philosophy and finding them helpful, foundational, and orienting. He’s enjoying his time in the hallowed halls and considering where he will take up his place on the battlefield of ministry as a soldier of Christ in truth arrayed.
But the more he looks out from the third story southern-facing window of that red brick library, the more he sees the Philistines advancing. He circles around to the north, passing by works he loves from the Reformation. Before he peers out of the northern window, he takes the Foxe’s Book of Martyrs which someone left strung about and places it on the “to be filed” table for the librarian. Then, lifting his eyes to the north, he sees only more advance from those who have exchanged the truth of God for a lie.
This soldier in training has a critical decision to make. He will either enter into real ministry or he will enter into imaginary ministry. The imaginary kind will involve many of the same practices: preaching, prayer, counseling, and the like; but the whole operation will be done three feet off the ground. Traction will not be part of the equation. This imaginary kind of ministry has been going on for so long that it can be hard to know what the real kind is like. As an Anglican Bishop once said, “Wherever Paul went, there was a riot. Wherever I go, they serve tea.” If this young man labors for the welfare of the kingdom of God on earth, then he will know the truth of the Bible verse, “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). But will he engage in the battle?
His decision is complicated by the fact that he has only a few models of real-time faithfulness. Looking over the horizon, he mostly sees Philistines blowing by churches, while people and their ministers obliviously pass in and out of those churches as if in another world. If he looks far enough out, he sees a few areas where the dust of battle ascends into the sky. In his heart and mind, it looks like just the place he should be. But along comes a well-respected professor of the institution who says, “Ah, my young friend, that is the culture-warrior type out there. Their tone is not winsome, and they’ve taken their eyes off of the heavenly things. Don’t go that way.” This word fits the paradigm in which the seminarian has been steeped since his youth. So, in agreement with the sage professor, the young man reopens his church history book to the chapter on Calvin’s Geneva, as he works up his philosophy of ministry paper.
The State of the Nation
A 2021 Pew Research study found that nearly thirty percent of Americans identify as religious “nones.” Only ten years ago, that number was ten percentage points lower. The study, however, also showed that the majority of Americans still identify as Christians. Such make up sixty-three percent of the population. But, unlike the “nones,” the Christians are rapidly declining in the States. Only a decade ago, Christians made up seventy-five percent of the nation.
Those stats ought to orient the church of God to the times. Pew Research indeed does not know the heart of man. But they have collected the profession of man. They’ve told us what the citizens of the nation claim to be. In this sense, not only did America have a Christian founding, America is still a majority Christian nation. Approximately sixty-three percent of Americans have been baptized in the Triune-name, maybe more depending on how many of the “nones” have walked away from where they once were.
Even so, the ten-year trajectories are clear. Nones on the increase; Christians on the decrease. This shift in the religious orientation of the nation is clearly seen in the cultural life of the nation. And now that there is strange and rotten cultural fruit growing from the pagan root, Christians and their ministers are asking, “Does Jesus have any authority over what’s growing around here in these United States?” The answer to that question is: yes, indeed, sure does, and welcome to the battlefield.
The Societal Crown Rights of King Jesus and Heavy Doses of Kuyper
What the young seminarian must get a grip on, and what saints all over this land must join him in gripping, is that Jesus has crown rights over our society. Kuyper is immensely helpful here.
Christ has kingly dominion over society:
“When we discuss Christ’s kingship, we cannot pass directly from the family to the state. Between them lies what is usually called social life, and it has become very important especially in our days to give as clear as possible an account of what Jesus’ kingship means for society.”
Society is an expansive sphere distinct from family, state, and church, while liken to family and state in that it is no addition, but creational. Now that point might sound a bit strange, but stick with me:
“The concept ‘social’ includes everything, whatever it is called or looks like, that goes beyond the borders of the family, is not bound within the stays of the state, and still forms an integral part of the life of the world. Family, society, and state are indeed three independent factors in human life, to which is added the church as a fourth and extra factor. The first three are of creation, and to them the church was added as a fourth factor arising from the domain of grace, because of sin.”
Upon reading the quote above, the immediate realization should be that Christians far and wide in the States do not grasp their duty in the social sphere. They know their duty in the family. They grasp their responsibility in the church. They know they have obligations as citizens of the state. But their duty to Christ in the societal realm is lost on them. And this is the reason that the sage professor above can get away with telling the seminarian that the Nehemiah’s out there in the distance building real-life Christian communities have fallen into the culture-war error. There is, of course, several wrong ways to go about the culture war (more about that in Thursday’s post later this week). But Christians fighting the culture war poorly is no reason to lay down your God given duty to fight it well.
As Kuyper identifies, society is a sphere over which Jesus has dominion. So, when Pagan America asks, “On what authority do you do these things?” we actually have an answer to that question. And we don’t only point to the entrance of the Second Adam into the world—we do point there, and with gusto—put we also point to the beginning since a Christian society is the genuine original. Kuyper again, and for the win—
“If, therefore, the design for life has been established in the ordinances of creation, it follows that Christ’s kingly dominion over society is bound to these ordinances. A ‘Christian’ society can never be a newly invented society, but will always give room for the ordinances originating in creation to come to full expression . . . Christ does not abolish the work of creation, but follows it and builds on it . . . If the foundation for society was given in creation, and if sin caused the structure of society to shift and lean, then Christ does not come in order to establish a new society alongside it, but his kingship is rather intended to restore the original, to place it upright again, and to complete the unfinished building.”
Jordan Peterson recently noted to Joe Rogan that the Bible is more than truth, it is the precondition to the manifestation of truth. And, well, wow, yes, amen, and pray for Jordan Peterson. Similarly, the point is not only that society should be Christianized. It is that Christianity is the very pre-condition to society itself. Any society that is not Christian is a knock-off, an invader, a corruption of the genuine article and the authoritative original.
We are not in a battle between a Christian society and another form. We are in a battle between a Christian society and the void.