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Three Thoughts on Christians in Society

October 12, 2017 by

Two great blog posts about the role of Christians in society caught my attention over the weekend. First, Brian Zahnd’s Postcard from Babylon:

America is many things. It’s a country, a culture, an empire, and a religion. As a country and culture America can often be respected, admired, and celebrated. But as an empire and religion, America is a rival to Christ. One of the reasons that Christian discipleship is so difficult in America is that we are trying to make disciples of people who are already thoroughly discipled into a rival religion. You can either operate under a governing philosophy of America first or you can seek first the kingdom of God, but you can’t do both.

Among other things, Zahnd’s thoughts on history, when describing Peter’s first epistle (or postcard), give one pause:

To live as a political citizen of the Roman Empire but as an actual citizen of the kingdom of Christ was tricky business. Making it through day-to-day life in the empire while maintaining absolute fidelity to Christ required tough decision making and inevitably led to some suffering – which is why faithfulness amidst suffering is the prevailing theme of Peter’s postcard. That’s the history lesson. But history, because it’s merely the memory of what has already happened, is safe. History is benign, history is academic. We can know history, but we can’t live history.

Yes, history can be ignored – if we choose to do so. But bear in mind the old saw about those who don’t study it being doomed to repeat it. Which is a point (perhaps the point) in a post from Jason Duesing:

When thinking about the role of the Anabaptists in the Reformation and contemporary Baptists, I am helped by Carlos M. N. Eire’s assessment in his new history of the Reformation, where he concludes that the Anabaptists were “ahead of their time.” Perhaps, particularly in terms of their advocacy of the separation of church and state as well as religious liberty, they were made for our time.
man laying bricks

“Made for our time”! This is a splendid recognition. Anyone wishing to live as Zahnd describes – as a true disciple of the kingdom within an empire – could do worse than using the Anabaptists as their touchstone. But we should not stop at simple admiration. The Anabaptists must be a concrete example, a foundation upon which to build a new way. Eberhard Arnold thought likewise, but went even further back in history, to the early church. In 1933 he put forth a call to disengage not only from the state, but from the established churches of Christendom:

We have to find a different way. It is a very modest way because we refuse to attempt the reform of social conditions by political means. We abstain from all efforts to improve conditions by legislation; we refrain from playing any kind of role in the civic order of society. It may look as though we were withdrawing and isolating ourselves, as though we were turning our backs on society. In fact we are building up a life that is disengaged from the established churches with their autonomy and self-sufficiency. We want to free ourselves of all these things as far as we are given the grace to do so and to follow Christ by living like the early church in Jerusalem. Such a life means that a quite new reality has to determine everything in social, economic, and religious affairs, a new reality based on the unity and unanimity given by the Holy Spirit.

Zahnd says creating this new reality is “the contemporary task of the church . . . to make Christianity countercultural again.” As many churches ponder their role in government and society, how many are pondering no role at all, but rather a freeing disengagement? Will you join us in heeding this call today?

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Red Zimmerman

Red Zimmerman

Red Zimmerman lives at the Woodcrest Bruderhof and is the editor of Bruderhof.com.

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    Edward Hearn