The church of the Lord Jesus Christ is called to be “stable and steadfast” (Col 1:23). Steadiness is not high on the list of desirable traits among Christians today, however. In evil days, we are greatly tempted to be anything but steady; from some understandable motives, we seek extreme solutions, radical proposals, and try to ramp the church up to fight fire with fire. As one common example, if we see our country slipping into darkness (as it surely is), then we need to punch back and take it over.
This sounds appealing to many. We can grasp why. It is good for Christians to have great influence in their context, and I am thankful for Christians who have that desire. But here is the problem: without even knowing or intending it, we can end up drifting from the central mission of Christ’s church. That mission, as Scott Aniol helpfully articulates, is to make disciples in fulfillment of the Great Commission, teaching them a holistic Christianity centered in the redeeming gospel that affects all of life (Matt 28:16–20). A vibrant church will have 10,000 salutary effects in a given society, rendering believers nothing less than the “salt and light” of it (Matt 5:16–20).
The faithful church hews close, very close, to the Scripture. We mind our mandate. Today, however, Christians are urged to embrace proposals for Christian action and influence that—in the frankest terms—are not firmly and incontestably grounded in New Testament exegesis. The aforementioned push to “Christianize” the nation and create a new “Christendom” fits this category. So too, in far more troubling terms, does the exhortation to preserve our distinct ethnicity through ethnically homogeneous marriages and families and churches. Doing so, we hear, is essential to forming a “Christian nation.”
While we want a public square strongly influenced by biblical truth, I contend that the above ideals do not represent our new covenant mission. (I say this, by the way, with awareness that there are different streams of “Christian nationalism,” some of them more intentionally exegetical and worthy of consideration, others less so.) I need not offer a case for this; Scott Aniol does that in the pages to come. But I can simply affirm what is laid out in this text: we are most essentially citizens of the kingdom of Christ, as Aniol elegantly shows here. We are not trying to form a Christian commonwealth; we are already a “holy nation” through the blood of Christ (1 Pet 2:9). This nation is not a project we are building in our strength by our schemes and our activism; this holy nation is what God is building through the gospel of divine grace.
I believe this is an important conviction to state. Of course, I also hold that Christians can disagree about many particulars. Even where the Bible speaks, we have much freedom to work out what biblical obedience looks like when fleshed out. As one example of this, we can and will differ over precisely how we engage government in a fallen world. There are all sorts of matters that require careful handling, and where we face them, we do well to walk in humility and charity. Yet with this stated, I repeat myself: we simply do not have freedom to tweak, let alone overhaul, the mission of the church.
Thankfully, many are grasping this afresh in our time. Theological camps that once fought with one another are now finding more and more unity. At the level of historical theology, I can say without blushing that I track with Abraham Kuyper. I want a vivified church and a robust public theology. But as I read the material of explicit 2K advocates, I see growing convergence of conviction between “two kingdoms” theology and Kuyperianism. The two systems may not be exactly the same, but advocates of each system (like Aniol and me) find ourselves agreeing a good deal more often than we differ. This is a heartening development.
To put this succinctly, some “2K” aficionados emphasize cultural engagement more than in past days. Some in the Kuyperian crowd emphasize the spiritual mission of the church more than in past days. Each of these is a correction, and a salutary one. 2K theology has at times tended toward an unhealthy isolationism; Kuyperianism has at times tended toward an uncareful “redeem culture” approach. On a personal level, but also a broader one, I am thankful to see the two groups finding increasing commonality. This book represents encouraging progress toward that end.
The major point of agreement today among many Reformed and evangelical believers is this: our duty is to be faithful, biblical, and steady. The New Testament does not call us to renew the world by our own work. We are to plunge into this present darkness, and work with abandon to speak truth and act in love (Matt 22:34–39). But only Christ can put the world to rights. Only Christ can call the nations to bow at his feet. Only Christ can overcome the devil, consign him to undying flame, and end his reign of terror. Only Christ can usher in the world of love, to use Jonathan Edwards’s beautiful descriptor of our eschatological home. Only Christ can; only Christ shall.
Until that day, we wait. We may see God work in amazing ways in our neighborhood, city, or country. God is not limited; God is not small. But in general, Christians are not walking the way of earthly glory. We are walking the way of the cross. We are following a crucified and resurrected Savior who has ascended to the Father’s right hand. We live in triumph already, triumph won by the work of Christ on our behalf, but that triumph is not yet realized as it will be on the last day.
2 Corinthians 4:7–10 speaks powerfully to our current station. It does not ring out with the promise of cultural conquest. Instead, it urges us to persevere in bitterly difficult circumstances:
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.
The last day is indeed coming. But it is not here now. So, until then, we persevere. We groan. We pray. We weep. We rejoice. We endure. We fight evil. By the grace of God, we stay steady in Jesus Christ. The tomb is empty; the gospel is advancing; very soon, the Son will make all the sad things untrue.
Come, Lord Jesus.