Thursday, April 06, 2006

Transforming Society

Even during Jesus’ ministry the question of the role of the Kingdom in society was a hot issue. Both Jesus’ disciples and the Jews wanted Him to transform their society to one that was just, liberated from Roman oppression and free of poverty. Satan tried to convince Him to build His kingdom on feeding the hungry (Matthew 4:3); Judas argued that the precious ointment could have been used to feed the poor and the other disciples could not wait for Him to set up His Kingdom and chase the Romans into the sea.

Eventually Constantine merged church and state and Christians thought that utopia had finally arrived. But, rather than the church transform the government, the state began to degrade the church and eventually plunged it into the dark ages and Catholicism. Much later Calvin thought he could legislate righteousness as he in vain tried to beat the citizens of Geneva into submission by setting up a “Christian” city-state. Even as I write Mr Thomas Monaghan is working towards building a city in Florida, to be called Ave Maria, which will be run on Roman Catholic laws and norms.

In the meantime millions of dollars have been spent by churches trying to eradicate poverty, disease, moral decay and social injustice. While many have done good work and use the feeding schemes as an opportunity to preach the Gospel, most have been sidetracked as the Gospel became the side issue and the social program became the main focus. (The Salvation Army is but one example.)

Then there are those who adopt a more spiritual tack and try by “spiritual” means to change entire communities, cities and states. The methods they use range from the bizarre to the devious. There are those who in vain have tried to bind the demons, gone on prayer marches, visited the high places and done “spiritual warfare.” The Transformation Videos [by George Otis] claim to show entire villages that have been “transformed” by these methods. None of these claims have ever been verified.

In Pensacola, Florida, where the Brownsville Assembly claimed crime had declined as a result of the church doing weird and crazy things, the police chief insisted that the contrary was true. In the last few months Bruce Wilkinson admitted failure and beat a hasty retreat from Swaziland when his "prayer of Jabez" failed to fix that country's problems. And right now Rwanda is Rick Warren’s purpose-driven nation prototype.

The bottom line is we have no mandate from Jesus Christ to “transform” society by any of these means. That does not mean that the church will, and should not, have any impact on our societies. There are countless examples of how revival in the church changed society. During the Welsh revival pubs and bars closed down because there were no patrons any longer. As a young boy I remember the pictures in the newspaper of literal mountains of weapons, drugs and demonic paraphernalia being burnt in Duncan Village in South Africa as a result of thousands being saved under the ministry of Nicholas Bhengu. Many missionaries have provided proof of dramatic social change as entire villages turned to Christ in many parts of the world.

The difference between true social transformation and the pseudo kind is that the true works from the inside out, one believer at a time. The false kind tries to work from the outside in and vainly attempts to change entire societies by either mystical means or political maneuvering.

Underlying all these methods is the false notion that the church will set up the Kingdom of God.

Communities can only be transformed when the individual people that make up those communities are changed through the power of the Gospel. When a man is dramatically changed, and stops doing all the wrong things and begins to do the right things because his heart has been changed, that does have an effect. First it affects the family, as families are transformed by the working of the Holy Spirit, their neighbors are impacted and so it spreads. Unfortunately the number of true Christians in most societies, is so small that the impact is often imperceptible to the human eye.

We are called to be salt and light and even though the percentage of salt in food is minute, its presence or absence makes a real difference. Jesus said that “A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14). One candle in a dark world does make a difference, even though it cannot totally dispel all darkness.

But these changes cannot be brought about by rules, laws and governments. As the transformation of the individual can only come as a result of a changed heart, the change of a community can only happen as those true believers begin to put their lights on a lamp stand instead of under buckets. This does not mean bigger advertising budgets. It means that Christians need to begin to live the lives that please the Lord. The world are not interested in our message as long as our lifestyles contradict the message of the Bible. When we begin to live holy lives, exhibit a zeal for the things of God, act righteously in all our dealings, order our families in a Godly way, and begin to manifest the fruit of the Spirit, then our neighbors may begin to listen to our message and be drawn to the Lord Jesus Christ.

In the meantime we can sign every petition we can find, wear our shoes out on prayer marches and claim the city for God all we like, none of that will not make any difference. Are you tired of a dysfunctional world? Well it has to begin with you. Only once you become the person the Lord wants, will you be able to have an impact on your family. Once your family begins to reflect God, then you may begin to have an impact on your church and your neighbors. Will we ever change out city, country or continent? I very much doubt that but that is not your and my concern. Charity must begin at home. There are more than enough politicians out there who are trying to run the world when they cannot even run their own lives. You get right with the Lord. Everything else will flow from there.

The Truth:

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13-16)

[Reprinted with permission of Anton Bosch]