Westminster Speaks

Westminster Speaks


Worship In All of Life
Posted January 1, 2003 By William Edgar

[Taken from Give Praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship: Celebrating the Legacy of James Montgomery Boice, ed. Philip Graham Ryken, Derek W. H. Thomas, and J. Ligon Duncan III (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2003), 339-357. Used by permission of P & R Publishing Company, copyright ©2003. All rights reserved. Materials are not to be distributed to other web locations for retrieval, published in other media, or mirrored at other sites with permission of P & R Publishing Company.]

It has become a truism to speak of the globalization of world culture. McDonalds, the world-wide web, the Visa card, rap music, cell phones, all these represent icons of the network that has become our common experience around the world. Inevitably, such globalization has affected the church. Jubilee 2000 saw thousands of people from every corner of the globe coming to Rome. Recently a group of Turkish Christians visited South Korea. They were so impressed with the vibrant churches they saw, they decided to plant Presbyterian churches, using Reformed theology and the synodical form of government, in Turkey. In China, while the house church is illegal, hundreds of Chinese scholars trained in Europe are free to teach the Christian worldview in official universities, because it is respectable to hold that pragmatically, faith in Christ is effective for the social good. In Harlem, various African believers have formed churches, but have brought their tribal rivalries with them into the new world.
In this setting there are enormous opportunities for the gospel. But there are enormous challenges and threats as well. The growing interdependence of people around the world means that churches are interdependent as well. On one level this is no doubt a good thing, reflecting the injunction that we work together until “we all reach the unity of the faith” (Eph. 4:13). Yet it also means the bad habits of the strong and powerful churches will be shared with the more vulnerable churches. For example, the tendency of American churches to believe that money is the main force in enabling ministries to succeed is being imported to many different assemblies around the world, even in the poorer places where wealth is not easily generated. The so-called “health and wealth” gospel has made a substantial impact on the continent of Africa, and is wreaking havoc in the churches.
But here, we want to concentrate on a particular problem. Another typically Western tendency that is often exported around the world is impatience. Specifically, we are impatient with the slow pace of change. We long for the gospel to make an impact, to see change in the surrounding cultures, but it does not seem to be happening, at least, at the rate we would like. Perhaps Americans are the least patient of all peoples.

Three misguided strategies
These are frustrating times for evangelical Christians in North America. Despite the enormous boost they received when Newsweek declared 1976 to be the “year of the evangelical,” and the promise during the ensuing years of an increasing evangelical presence in politics, the results, two and one half decades later, are disappointing at best. Sociologist Dale McConkey recently commented that evangelicals are, still, largely in the socioeconomic margins, even adding that they will likely remain in their tribes: “All of these [profiles mentioned] place evangelicals at arms length from the strongest forces of modernity, making it more likely that evangelicals will be able to barricade their traditionalist worldview away from the corrosive forces of modernity.” [1] Why so little impact? What should be done? What can be done, if evangelicals are to be faithful to their calling?
Three deeply mistaken strategies are often used in a situation such as ours. The first is rationalized aggression. Confounded by the lack of progress, and stymied by the apparent inertia of many colleagues, some Christians have resorted to baptized violence. From attempts to destroy abortion clinics, at one extreme, to the practice of uncivil methods of discourse, a softer form of aggression, a love that “endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7) is pushed aside in order to accomplish social goals more forcefully. Unfortunately, such tactics are not only in violation of Jesus’ order to Peter, to put away the sword (John 18:11), but they are usually counterproductive. Vaclav Havel, the visionary leader of the Velvet Revolution faced serious criticism once he was established as President of free Czechoslovakia (as it was then). After the heady years of the overthrow of Communism, now the people longed to move faster into the new freedom. Havel replied that he too was disappointed, yet in order to bring more progress they dare not sink to using the same methods as their former oppressors. It would be like the child trying to make the flower grow faster by tugging at its stem. Instead, the flower is ripped up.
A second approach is quite different. It is the way of resignation. Paul Weyrich, in his now famous Open Letter to his constituency, went public, saying evangelicals had been operating on the false premiss that a majority of Americans agreed with their basically conservative values. Because they don’t, we should all rethink our position on social and political involvement. With the oft-quoted statement, “I believe we probably have lost the culture war,” Weyrich called evangelicals to withdraw from public institutions, and instead, practice “holiness.” [2] While understandable, this view is quite hopeless, literally, for it is based on two mistaken assumptions. The first is, as Weyrich puts it, that Christians need to find agreement in the surrounding culture before they can truly act as agents for its transformation. Is it biblical to strive for a consensus, hoping that a minority can become the prevailing voice, so that our country may be called “Christian America”? No, the Bible does not call New Testament Christians to work for a consensus where there are winners over losers. Rather, it calls believers to strive to live a godly life. This means a public policy where leaders all seek a truly representative republic, one where every religious group has the right to build its institutions without penalty for what they may believe. This is not because all religions are somehow true, or, even less, saying the same thing. This is because we are in the time of God’s patience, not in the time of Joshua’s armies.
The second assumption is that there are only two options, driving for dominance or fleeing for purity.[3] But is this biblical? The Scriptures call believers in every culture, no matter how apparently friendly or unfriendly to the gospel, to live in the tension of operating within the system without succumbing to it (John 17:13-19). Followers of Christ are called to strive for justice and peace in every setting. There may be occasions when withdrawal is an acceptable temporary move. But usually the opposite is the case. It is when we face temptation, and take the risks that go with it, that we become authentic. Paul tells us to “test all things” (1 Thess. 5:21). The author of Hebrews describes the mature as those, “who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Heb. 5:14). In fact, withdrawal is usually a shameful accommodation to a social trend that represents the very essence of worldliness [4]. Cultural analysts tell us America is “going indoors.” We don’t go to the bank teller or the ticket vendor anymore, but do it all online, from the comfort of our home. Should we really be imitating this worldly pattern of retreat into isolation?
A third stratagem is related, but different again. It is the approach of “evangelism only.” By this is meant that while cultural activity is perhaps allowable, it is beside the point. Winning souls is the most obedient endeavor in which to engage during the days in the end times. Some would say that evangelism is the highest Christian vocation. All other activity is in a support role. A world-class evangelical musician likes to say, “I don’t give away my strategy to the enemy.” He further explains that when he plays in concerts, he is hoping the music will draw people in the audience to him as a person. Then, in conversation with them afterwards, he can give them a tape containing his testimony. But, again, while no one would deny the value of evangelism, it is never a question of either/or in Scripture. The church is called to make disciples of the nations, but also to teach them to “obey everything I have commanded you” (Mt. 28:20). There is much in the Christian life that does not directly relate to evangelism, and yet, like playing an instrument well, does not need to be justified by the “real work” of evangelism. Indeed, evangelism is rarely discussed as an individual calling in the New Testament. Although every believer should “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks” (1 Pet. 3:15), only a few are specifically qualified as evangelists (Eph. 4:11).

A better way
If none of these tactics is appropriate, then what are evangelical Christians to do? Romans 12 and following gives us the answer. The Letter to the Romans is one of the greatest masterpieces of religious writing of all times. No wonder it has been the dynamic for so many crucial turning points in the history of the church. Augustine was brought to faith by reading Romans 13. Martin Luther was delivered from his sense of guilt before a holy God when he understood Romans 3:21-4, where Paul describes the free gift of “alien righteousness.” John Wesley felt his “heart strangely warmed” at the reading of Luther’s preface to his commentary on Romans at the Aldersgate Street society meeting. Robert Haldane’s lectures on Romans to the students of Geneva led to the great French revivals of the nineteenth century. Karl Barth’s reading of Romans led him to proclaim the return of God’s sovereignty in a way that, as he put it, was like a man climbing a dark tower, and grasp a rope for guidance, only to find it rang a bell and awakened the whole countryside. Francis Schaeffer’s lectures on Romans from the Café in Lausanne established the fundamental doctrinal foundation that led to the wider impact of l’Abri. The force of this letter has no explanation other than the power of its primary author, the one who inspired all of Scripture, but who spoke with particular impact here.
The twelfth chapter to the end of Romans contains invaluable truth in answer to the question, how to effect the surrounding culture, without falling into the three misguided approaches mentioned. As the word “therefore” indicates, this chapter comes at a transition. Typical of Paul’s letters, the first eleven chapters have been foundational. Now he turns to the application. Not that the first part is without application. Nor that the second has no foundations. But the first part lays the ground, carefully, for the universal guilt of mankind, the free gift of God’s grace, and the way to live in God’s grace until the end of history. Even chapters 9-11 are foundational, because they explain how God is still faithful to his promise, despite the unbelief of his chosen people, the Jews. How is it, he asks, can God call them and yet they be unresponsive? He answers with the doctrine of election. They have not been forgotten, but not all Jews are elect. Their unbelief opens a way for the Gentiles to come to faith. But the Jews still may return, and thus both Jew and Gentile can be saved. The plan is so marvelous, Paul ends with a doxology of wonder and praise, for the depth and riches of God’s wise plan (11:33-36).
On the strength of all this, one could wonder, what is there left to say? But there are five more chapters! And Paul is quite urgent about it: “I appeal to you,” he tells them (RSV). What could possibly be so urgent, after all that he has already affirmed?
Worship! Yes, what Paul has to tell his readers, after this matchless build-up, is that they must worship God. This is the culmination of everything he has set down. More precisely, he tells them to offer their bodies as “living sacrifices” (12:1). The Old Testament flavor is apparent here. Like the animal sacrifices of the old covenant, this one must be holy and pleasing to God. No blemished lamb for the Lord God. But unlike the ancient sacrifices there is no bloodshed in view. It is the human body, regenerate, redeemed from sin, that we are to present, “as those who have been brought from death to life” (6:13). Why this stress on the body? It has been argued that Paul uses the body here as a symbol for the whole person. Our body is the vehicle for the self. And, of course, there is no reason to limit what he is saying to the physical self. But neither is there good reason to go beyond his words. The body is to be sanctified. Paul often alludes to the physical body, both in this letter and elsewhere (Rom. 6:6, 12; 8:10; 1 Cor. 5:3; 6:13; 2 Cor 5:6, etc.). Unlike Plato, the biblical view is not embarrassed by the physical self. It is part of God’s image. Though life in the body has become a curse (Rom. 7:24) redemption is incomplete without the physical resurrection (8:23; Phil 3:21).
Worship with the body is Paul’s first and foremost injunction. In view of the many abuses of the body in the surrounding culture, one can well appreciate his emphasis. In our own day we are rapidly slouching towards pure hedonism, the degeneration of the self into permissive decadence. Holiness for the apostle is not withdrawal, but it is sacrifice. We are told here to give up what we want for our gratification, to say no to our appetites, and present ourselves to God. Our entire lives should be an offering to the Lord. The decalogue tells us to have “no other gods before my face” (Ex. 20:3). All of life is to be a calling coram deo, a covenant walk with the Lord. So much would change if we were to take this seriously and lift ourselves up to God in perpetual sacrifice, for, “no one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame” (Ps. 25:3). This is not “evangelism only,” far from it. Rather, Paul is calling us to everything that is holy and pleasing to God. Soon in the text he will spell out what this means, and set forth many areas of life in need of obedience to God. But here he tells us the basic, most fundamental principle, to worship God with our bodies.
He further qualifies this worship as spiritual. The Greek word he uses, logiken, is unusual. It means spiritual in the sense of rational (the AV translates, “your reasonable service”). This is no doubt, first, because our worship is meant to be voluntary, conscious, intelligent, and not mechanical. The body may be physical, but it is not autonomous, guided purely by instinct. Second, however, the term probably means something like systematic. The word logiken contains the term logos, from which we derive argument, or account. The idea is that worshiping God must be controlled by our worldview. There is no area of life which falls outside of a rational, systematic understanding. While we may not have all the elements of a biblical worldview firmly in hand, we should nevertheless strive towards owning a full-orbed world and life view which takes “every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). This is not intellectualism, far from it. And it is the opposite of pietism, or of a kind of quietist spirituality which “lets go and lets God.” While God is the dynamic, and, indeed, the Holy Spirit is the primary agent of sanctification, to the point that we cannot ever rationally control or even understand the process, yet, still, there is a human agency without which no progress can be made. “Work out your salvation,” Paul tells his Philippian readers, though “with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Phil. 2:12-13).

A wide-ranging prohibition
Two aspects coexist in this radical worship. The first is negative. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world,” is Paul’s next injunction. Christian faith is world denying. It denies the flesh and the devil as well. Why does the apostle begin with the negative? In his writings he does not always begin with an interdiction, but he often does. To the Ephesians, in chapters 4 and 5, he gives a series of requirements which begin with a prohibition: “you must no longer live as the Gentiles” (4:17); “each of you must put off falsehood” (4:25); “he who has been stealing must steal no longer” (4:28); “do not let unwholesome talk come out of your mouths” (4:29); “there must not even be a hint of sexual immorality” (5:3), and so it goes. Each of these, to be sure, is immediately followed by the positive command which represents the amends. To take but one example, after telling the thief to stop stealing, he continues, “but [he] must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need” (4:28). But why not simply state the positive and let the negative be assumed?
The reason is the way in which the order of salvation (ordo salutis) is built upon the history of salvation (historia salutis). Jesus was humiliated, suffered, died, and then was raised up to glory. He fulfilled the requirements mankind failed to enact. In our Christian lives, then, we show forth the virtues of the one who brought us from darkness into God’s marvelous light. Again, throughout the text of Ephesians, Paul reminds the readers they were once children of darkness, living like the Gentiles, but now, they have been taught Christ and have put off the old self, and put on the new. The Decalogue reflects the same principle. Out of the ten, no fewer than eight of the commandments begin with a negative. As children of darkness by nature, we need to be told what not to do first, and then we may go on to the positive. This does not mean law must always precede gospel. In fact, the gospel is always first, and any meaningful application of the law cannot be made without respecting the entire context of the work of salvation. The Decalogue begins with the premises that God brought the people out of Egypt’s bondage and into a place where they could worship God in freedom. Still, we need to rehearse the order: because of who you are in Christ, by God’s mercy, desist from this practice, and then begin another discipline.
In Romans 12:2 Paul prohibits conformity to worldly patterns. The phrase literally says, “do not scheme together according to this age.” Just as worship is systematic, so is worldliness. We are being delivered from our entire era’s deep structures. A particular age has a shape, or a culture. Everything in life comes in patterns, whether it be trends in the social world, political structures, or personal habits of the heart. C. S. Lewis once said he could tell what kind of person you are by whether you began the day reading the newspaper or the Bible. Becoming disentangled with the world is more than following a list of rules. It means radically changing one’s behavior patterns. Often that means looking into the deep fabric in the surrounding culture. David Inge famously remarked, “If you marry the spirit of the age you will soon find yourself a widower.” Marriage is a good analogy, here. This present evil age is not manifest simply with a few clearly perceived idols. Avoiding the world’s seductions is not simply a matter of rejecting certain temptations to sin. Rather, since the attachment is like a conjugal alliance, the remedy is divorce! And following divorce, we must continue to avoid any compromise, any ambiguous relational patterns.
J. B. Philips translated this verse, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its mould.” The world could squeeze us like a boa constrictor, until we suffocate, unless we refuse to conform. Christians often are not aware of the subtlety with which conformity beckons. A familiar parable makes the point humorously, if forcefully. Petrov was a prisoner in a work camp, a part of the Gulag system under the old Soviets. Each day, he went to work in a designated area, and then returned through a check point to his barracks. One evening he returned to his barracks with a wheelbarrow containing a large sack. At the check point, the guard stopped him, and asked what he was stealing from the work site in that sack. Petrov protested that he was not stealing a thing, and that the bag contained only sawdust. The guard opened it up, and sure enough, it contained only sawdust. The next evening, the procedure recommenced. The guard stopped the inmate with his wheelbarrow and sack, but all he could find was sawdust, again. This routine happened again several evenings in a row, until finally the exasperated guard told Petrov he knew he was stealing something, but couldn’t decide what it was, but he promised not to denounce him if he would only confess. “Wheelbarrows, sir, I am stealing wheelbarrows,” the clever prisoner admitted.
It is often the same in the Christian life. We think we are resisting the world because we refuse to be taken in by the content of the world’s ways. Yet we are nevertheless seduced by the form, the container which shapes that content. We may reject a secular ideology, for example, or a secular philosophy. But we accept the terms of secularization by privatizing our faith, and assuming it has not incidence on government, the workplace, the school. We may reject any attempt to embezzle church funds, but still, we run the church like a corporation. We switch channels on the TV when there is foul language, but we keep the medium itself alive, forgetting it often tends to reduce almost any program to entertainment. We withdraw our children from the school system, only to seclude them in the worldly atmosphere of our own subculture.

An intensive command
In the same sentence, though, Paul runs to the positive. “But,” he says, “be transformed.” Notice the opposite of nonconformity is not “be different,” or, worse, “be yourself.” Rather, it is the constant process of renewal which characterizes the Christian life. This age, and its patterns, are going to disappear. They are ephemeral, temporary. In them we wither and stagnate. But Christian renewal is permanent, solid, everlasting. In it we progress and grow. The word literally means metamorphosis. It is the same concept as Paul elucidates in 2 Corinthians 3:18 when he describes believers as those who gaze upon the face of Christ, and therefore “are being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory” (3:18). John Murray’s commentary on this verse is eloquent:

Sanctification is a process of revolutionary change in that which is the center of consciousness. This sounds a fundamental note in the biblical ethic. It is the thought of progression that strikes at the stagnation, complacency, pride of achievement so often characterizing Christians. It is not the beggarly notion of second blessing that the apostle propounds but that of constant renewal, of metamorphosis in the seat of consciousness. [5]

The change is nothing less than radical. Again, the notion of worldview expresses the radicalness. But we should take care not to limit ourselves to merely an outlook. The optic metaphor in the term worldview can be misleading. It fails fully to carry the dynamic aspect of our vision. We are not limited to having the right ideas, even the right doctrines, in Paul’s command. We are told to change, to be converted.
We may sense a problem here. We are uncomfortable with being told to be changed by the renewing of our minds, as though we could possibly effect such a transformation ourselves. On the surface, it sounds as though Paul were telling us to “get it together,” to “pull up our bootstraps.” Surprisingly, in a way, he is saying just that. He is telling us to be changed and to renew our minds. This is no different from any command in Scripture. We are told by Our Lord to “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48). We can no more achieve this by our own merits than any of the commands. Only God can effect such a change. And yet he does so, not by violating human agency, but by engaging it. In the same way that our worship is rational, here it is voluntary. The great difference between self-generated transformation and biblical conversion is that God is the one ultimately at work to effect the change. The underlying presupposition here in Paul’s text is that we do all of this by faith. How can we know that? Simply because of the opening words: in view of God’s mercy, he tells us. This is a world away from the self-help pablum of the Oprah Winfrey Show or the New Age bromides of Deepak Chopra. The only way we can be transformed is by operating, in all areas of life, under the grace of God, who gives to all who believe in him unconditionally.
Again, J. B. Phillips puts it nicely: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its mould, but let God re-make you so that your whole attitude of mind is changed.” Paul is gospel-driven. The gospel is God’s mercy for undeserving sinners. But the gospel effects change. That change is no less caused by the God of all mercies than initial salvation. And it is comprehensive.
In telling us to have our minds renewed Paul is not courting intellectualism. The Greek word for mind, (nous) is not a technical term for the logical self. Rather, it includes all faculties of perception, the feelings, and the capacity to make judgments. In Ephesians 4:23, Paul tells us we have been made new, “in the attitude (spirit) of our minds.” From the context we can tell he is being quite broad, since he likens this to having “put on the new self” (4:24). Here, in Romans 12:2, he is no doubt telling us to be renewed in our essential, spiritual selves. Our logic would certainly be a part of this mind, but so would our acumen, our discernment, our understanding, in short, our worldview.
In the second part of verse 2, Paul tells us what this is going to look like. It is in order to test, or approve God’s will. We ought to be careful here to discern exactly what he has in mind. He is not saying that we should suddenly become the arbiters of God’s will. We are mere creatures, and it is nothing short of sabotage to imagine we can in any sense become the judges of the law. James compares this kind of attitude to slander. In his argument, he puts it this way:

Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you - who are you to judge your neighbor? (4:11-12)

What Paul means, rather, is that we should learn by experience what God’s will might be. God’s will never fails. It applies to every situation.
God’s will is the very definition of what is good, pleasing and perfect. The good is the will of God. The pleasing is the will of God. The perfect is the will of God. The will of God is nothing less than his character, shaped into laws for our conduct. We can never change that. It is the summum bonum. But we can discover his will in its marvelous breadth and beauty. His commands are never burdensome (1 John 5:3). But they need to be practiced in order fully to demonstrate their liberating character. It is interesting to note that the word translated “approve” here is the same word used earlier in Romans, in 1:28, when Paul is describing the human depravity that deserves God’s displeasure: “Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain (to approve) the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done” he declares. The failure of humanity to recognize the goodness and perfection of God’s will deserves God’s judgment. And that judgment takes the form of relegating that humanity to desperate life styles.
Upon the approval of God’s will or not: that is where everything is based, and everything is determined. And so it is that only those who are under God’s mercy, the beneficiaries of his alien righteousness, can effectively approve God’s will. Another way of putting it is this: developing a fully biblical worldview in which we are constantly showing forth the virtues of God’s character, as revealed in his law, that is where all things are decided. Once again, we have the clearest possible teaching that all of life is meant to be worship. There is no area falling outside of the will of God. Now, of course, this opens up the whole question of discerning God’s will. It is one thing to affirm in theory that everything is included in God’s will, it is quite another to demonstrate what this means. Reformed Christians have rightly been criticized for waxing eloquent on the theory of worldviews but coming up short on concrete examples. It may not always be easy to find out what God’s will might be for certain questions. What does his law say about stem cell research, about musical rhythms, about teaching mathematics? The answer to these kinds of issues is not always evident. And yet in principle there must be answers, or we could not be transformed and renewed. Is there a biblical approach to science? To marketing, the arts, or politics? Where should we begin?

An extensive command
What sorts of issues will be at the top of the agenda for the church in Rome as it renews its mind? The subsequent lines tell us. Paul’s first concern is for the life within the church community. He is anxious that no one in the body assume that his gifts be considered higher or more important than those of any one else (12:3-8). Yet he reminds his readers right away that theirs is a global outlook. He wants them to be aware of the world-wide fellowship of the saints, some in affliction and need, but all of them family (9-16). Relations to outsiders are crucial as well. So he moves right to the question of persecution. He is anxious that believers not take justice into their own hands, but always defer to God’s judgment. He asks them to do everything possible to ensure a peaceful coexistence with their neighbors. In fact, he tells his readers, in a counter-intuitive way, that if they treat their enemies with the kindness of the gospel, rather than the justice of vengeance, they will accomplish great things for the advancement of the kingdom (17-21).
These are matters directly flowing out of the worldview the apostle has been setting forth. Not that it is easy, nor immediately apparent how the worldview should apply. For example, how would a balanced, biblical doctrine of calling be developed from the verses on the gifts (3-8)? Some things are obvious. The fundamental equality, the equal worth of each gift, rather than a hierarchy, can be derived directly from these verses. In chapter 14, Paul speaks further about treatment of fellow believers whose conscience is more tender. Indeed, he cares a great deal about the protection of those weaker brethren from self-betrayal. That much is quite clearly established. But what about the larger issues surrounding calling? Are there not governing offices in the church? What about the missionary calling to evangelize the world? And what about the legitimate vocations in the world, such as professions, citizenship, family life, and so many others? And what about cultural transformation? Many would agree with H. Richard Niebuhr’s “Christ the Transformer of Culture,” the fifth option (which happens to be that of Augustine and Calvin) in his classic scheme?[6] But there are many critics of this view. When Paul says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good” (21), how active is that overcoming meant to be?
It is important to work through these texts and see how the apostle argues. He is not presenting an abstract theory of calling. Many of us have benefitted from Abraham Kuyper’s notion of sphere sovereignty. In it the church is independent, but in dialectical relation to other domains, such as the school, the state, the family. If this is Paul’s view, he does not arrive at it by means of social theory. Yet, he does assume certain social structures in which it is perfectly legitimate for Christians to participate. He assumes them, because he tells his readers how to treat them, how to live in relation to them. In this way his message is quite universal, for he does not presuppose an ideal social order before a Christian vocation may be lived-out. But his assumption sends an important message. Social change will occur in the present régime, but within the existing structures. Paul never calls for a revolution that would change the structures of society. This is partly because he respects the propriety of the order God laid down at the creation of the world. But even when those structures are not altogether good ones, or when we may not live in the best of circumstances, Paul still does not encourage abrupt change. He tells the Corinthians not to change jobs or to seek release from marriage (1 Cor. 7:17 ff.). This is not for reasons of social conservatism, but because of the greater priority of the kingdom of God. Indeed, change will occur when the church is faithful to its calling in every realm of life. Thus, even within these earthly structures, significant change may occur. For example, in a marriage where only one spouse is a believer, the unbelieving spouse is sanctified and the children are holy (14).
Indeed, the apostle clearly sets down kingdom injunctions for believers according to their situation. Towards church neighbors he tells them to employ spiritual gifts with zeal. The devotion of brotherly love is in an eschatological setting: “joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (12:12). Hospitality, living in harmony, refusing elitism, these characterize life in the body of Christ. Towards outside neighbors Paul’s commands take a different shape. With them we must learn the patience of a persecuted people. Resisting vigilante justice, Christians should bless their enemies, and “overcome evil with good” (21). Submitting to governing authorities is right, because they have been established by God himself (13:1-5). This is counter-intuitive for believers who will inherit the earth and even judge the world (Mt. 5:5; 1 Cor. 6:2), that is, until we realize that the creation structures are still in place. Marriage, procreation, labor, worship, and, indeed, government, these are still fundamental to the ordering of God’s world today. Magistrates are thus God’s servants (13:6), and though they may not be brethren, they are to be honored because their task includes “to do you [believers, citizens] good,” and to punish evil. Paul could never say this of the church. He would never say that the church is an agent of wrath, and “does not bear the sword for nothing” (13:4).
Notice how positive Paul is about governing authorities. Though not the church, they are established by God, and their task is to promote the social good as well as to judge against evil. True, he tells the believers to obey not only for fear of punishment but for conscience’s sake (6). But even here the issue is not merely pragmatic, but based on the ultimate criterion of divine institution (2). This approach gives comfort to the Reformed view of “Christ the transformer of culture.” Many Christians today would disagree. Stanley Hauerwas, for example, takes exception to the Reformed idea of transforming society through social involvement. This is because he is opposed to a worldview that seeks to secure a more just society by participating in politics. The only political involvement we may have is “because we recognize that our politics inherently involves compromise and accommodation.” Thus, for him, the church is the primary sphere of activity. To be sure, in the church we “gain the experience to negotiate and make positive contributions to whatever society in which we find ourselves.”[7] But any change in society must be indirect. Hauerwas is unable with enthusiasm to invite Christians to consider a life in politics as a fully valid calling. Furthermore, the church for him becomes a sort of pilot plant which models the virtues and ethical norms for the rest of society. The idea of each sphere carrying its own set of norms, and being mutually complimentary, is foreign to him.
Based on our understanding of Paul’s argument in Romans 12 and 13, we would have to disagree. To be sure, the church is called to holiness. Paul can intersperse injunctions to obey governors with behavioral norms for the body of Christ. The entire fourteenth chapter is devoted to discussing the strong and the weak of conscience. In a way that would seem to comfort Hauerwas’ approach, he relates the life of the church to missions. At verse 7 of chapter 15, Paul makes the link between mutual toleration in the church and the plan of God for the nations. He recalls the argument from chapters 9-11 about Jews and Gentiles, and then appeals to the “priestly service” of his own missionary work (15:16). But Paul is not so much saying that the church will convert the world as he is saying God is extending his kingdom throughout the world, of which the church and its life are a primary component.

Think globally
In his brilliant comments on Paul’s missionary theology, Herman Ridderbos notes that the evangelistic consciousness of the church is expressed at several levels. For example, the church is deeply involved in Paul’s own efforts. Moreover the church is to be ready with the equipment of the gospel of peace (Eph. 6:15). It is an essential part of the church’s nature that it give testimony, directly and indirectly, to those on the outside. It’s inner dynamic, however, is an understanding of God’s great work of redemption, both extensively and intensively, now and until history comes to an end.

And the deepest motives for this, just as for the work of the apostle himself, lie in the consciousness that the church is included [emphasis mine] in the great world-encompassing work of God in Jesus Christ. It is not the church itself that is the ultimate object, not its number and prestige, but the revelation of the full eschatological salvation in Christ, of whom the church is the pleroma, that is to say, the bearer of the glory of Christ (Eph. 1:23; 4:13, 16). [8]

At this level, then, we are looking at questions beyond evangelism and even missions. We are looking at the fullest possible picture of God’s work in the world. We are seeing an eschatologically comprehensive approach to cosmic history.
This is why the apostle can so freely use language from the Old Testament, even while he is profoundly aware of the special characteristics of the present time. From his quotes of Job, the Psalms, the prophets, the Pentateuch, to his use of the Decalogue, there seems to be no dichotomy in the instruction given between the old and new administrations. That is because both are administrations of grace, and both require obedience to the law of God. It is true that in the New Testament era the configuration of spheres is different from Mosaic times. But the fundamental principles are the same. The movement known as Theonomy errs in compressing the two administrations, and thus confusing the two different contexts for the exercise of God’s law. But it correctly reminds us that God’s law is very much in force even in the Christian dispensation.
So, is there a Christian view of the arts, a biblical approach to politics, to education, commerce, entertainment, and so on? The answer must be affirmative, or we will find ourselves claiming God’s law has gaps in it, and that we cannot truly “test and approve what God’s will is” in every situation. Making the connections requires patiently drawing implications from God’s law and applying them in every sphere of life. There is far more data to draw from than we might imagine. When we are free to navigate in the Old and the New Testaments together, we will be surprised at how much there is. Sometimes the information will be direct, clearly spelled-out. At other times it will be indirect, requiring wisdom and insight. God gives his wisdom freely and ungrudgingly to all who ask in faith (Jas. 1:5).
But there is one condition for success in developing a biblical worldview that is truly comprehensive. And that is, to heed the fundamental call to worship. This is truly worship for all of life. The great historian, Arnold Toynbee, is said to have been struck by the fact that civilization can only survive when it is undergirded by a strong religious drive. He noticed that in Western civilization, more often than not, it was the presence of Christians that lay behind the most remarkable developments, from the arts, to medicine, democracy, a higher standard of living, and so forth. He wondered exactly what the connection might be. In one of the volumes he describes a dream he had had years before the book project. In it, he walked into Ampleforth in Yorkshire and looked up at the altar. Above it he saw a cross, and he went and clung to it. Then he heard a voice, saying, amplexus expecta [“embrace and hope”]. He suddenly understood the connection. Great change occurs in lives and in cultures not when people prescribe elaborate programs for change. Rather, they occur when believers humble themselves before the crucified, risen Christ, and cling to him, expecting change. In his dream, Toynbee preached this message to the congregation. The key is the attitude. Change will occur, but his way, and in his time. Not that believers are passive. Quite the contrary. They are fully engaged. But only as worshiping creatures, sacrificing all to the Savior whom God did not spare, but gave up for us, giving us, along with him, all things besides (Rom. 8:32).

Act locally
When we read that all of this is “in view of God’s mercy,” we realize we have only begun to grasp where that can take us. But there are many practical directions we can move in, building on the past, and looking to the future. We said at the beginning that our world is increasingly globalized. How, then, can we function as a church, rooted in the local setting, but yet aware of our world-wide reach? One answer is never to neglect the local communitarian character of the church. It is tempting for church leaders to move around, following the trend towards increasing mobility. The average American family moves every four years! Pastors should consider very careful the wisdom of staying in one parish for many, many years. It is patent that Dr Boice’s life-long commitment to Tenth Presbyterian Church, and to living right in the city of Philadelphia, was a visible testimony to the stability of our relationship to Jesus Christ in a chaotic world. Not only leaders, but families and singles should ponder very carefully before they decide to move. What will the impact be on the children? On the local church? Is a promotion always the only option?
This does not mean the church should be tribal. It always has the great responsibility of connecting to the surrounding culture, and even to the surrounding world. In the recent crisis of the destruction of the World Trade Center many churches in New York became engaged in giving critical aid to victims. Some of it was financial. And here churches around the world responded by sending love-gifts to specific New York ministries. But it also consisted in providing counseling for those who were traumatized. We had the sobering privilege of attending the worship service at Redeemer Presbyterian Church on the Sunday following the terrorist attacks. Of course, it was packed with people, and the church had to multiply the number of services throughout the day, just to accommodate the demand. The bulletins were pared down to a simple page. The music was a mixture of lamentation and resolution. The sermon was a powerful application of John 11, where Jesus faced the death of his friend Lazarus with grief and anger. He neither blamed the victim nor indulged in a good-guy-bad-guy narrative. He furiously conquered death by becoming its victim. Thus, the unspeakable evil of this attack, and all other manifestation of depravity, would one day vanish, as in a bad dream.
Local churches can do a great deal, despite globalization. They can instruct their members on proper Christian involvement in politics, in science, the arts, agriculture, family life, careers of all kinds, in short, every sphere of life. One remarkable African-American church in a major city has endeavored to focus strong on training men in leadership. This is not due to chauvinism, but because of its conviction that in the history of black American people significant loss of male involvement in family and local church has reached crisis proportions. Going back to slavery, where so many families were simply broken up, and then compounded by the false promise of prosperity in the Northern cities, where men left their local setting to try and find work in places like Chicago and Detroit, in the earlier part of the twentieth century, men were often isolated from communities that could call them to account. This church works especially with the younger African-American males, trying to reach them early, before they fall into the same patterns of isolation as their forefathers. They create ministries requiring male leaders to function as visionaries, they visit families to encourage men to nurture their wives and children, they set up mentoring programs where young men can be guided by older, more experienced males.
None of this means that specialized groups, not identical with church bodies, cannot also have significant roles to play in encouraging believers to participate in every sphere. The Arts Center Group in London, and the Parvis des arts in Marseille, are but two in the growing numbers of fellowships dedicated to promoting a Christian aesthetic in the artistic realm. Part of their work is simply to instruct Christians in a full-orbed, biblical worldview. Part of it is to put various Christians in particular fields, be it visual art, poetry, theater, etc., in contact with one another. Publications, shows, employment opportunities, all of these form aspects of their ministry.
Christians around the world need to return to this Pauline balance of worship for all of life. In this way, when they resist the American temptation to impatience, they can begin to see true change, long term, no doubt, but substantial nevertheless. We are blessed at the seminary where I teach to have a strong group of Chinese students. Hearing their stories is both fascinating and revealing. One can hardly find examples of more devoted believers, whose faith has been hammered-out on the anvil of persecution. At the same time, many of them report that the theology of the house church movement is often pietistic, unable to “test and approve what God’s will is” in every sphere of life. Politicians are simply enemies of the gospel. Culture is a distraction. Science is for technicians, the arts for the sensuous. And so many of our students are studying Reformed Theology with a few to developing a specifically biblical approach to politics and culture, one which will enable them to return one day, in God’s providence, to their homeland, and be the kind of salt and light in society their Master calls them to be.
And so, if we are to recognize ourselves as worshiping creatures, sacrificing all to the Savior whom God did not spare, but gave up for us, giving us, along with him, all things besides, we may see great change. For truly, we have a God who is anxious to give us, along with Christ, all things besides. If only we could grasp this. What a difference it would make!

Endnotes


[1] Dale McConkey: “Whither Hunter’s Culture War? Shifts in Evangelical Morality, 1988-1998,” Sociology of Religion 62/2, summer 2001, 168-9.
[2] Paul M. Weyrich: “A Moral Minority?” Free Congress Foundation, Feb. 16, 1999.
[3] This view is well described in the Public Justice Report, vol. 22, no. 2, 1999, 11.
[4] This is contrary to the received wisdom which identifies withdrawal as otherworldly. See Dick Keyes: Chameleon Christianity: Moving Beyond Safety and Conformity, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999, 15-22.
[5] John Murray: The Epistle to the Romans, New International Commentary on the New Testament, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965, 114.
[6] H. Richard Niebuhr: Christ and Culture, New York: Harper & Row, 1951, 190-229.
[7] Stanley Hauerwas: “The Church and Liberal Democracy: The Moral Limits of a Secular Polity,” A Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Christian Social Ethic, Notre Dame, University of Notre Dame Press, 1981, 73-4.
[8] Herman Ridderbos: Paul: An Outline of His Theology, John R. De Witt, transl., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975, 435.