Charles Spurgeon said: "The Gospel is like a caged lion: it does not need to be defended, it just needs to be let out of its cage."
At the beginning of the 20th century, particularly after the famous Scopes trial, religious conservatives adopted a "retreat, separate and escape" philosophy of ministry.
The belief was (confirmed, it seemed at the time, by World War I with II soon to follow), that the world was careening toward terminal disaster and the return of Jesus Christ was imminent.
This ministerial philosophy, with forethought and purpose, gave priority to personal piety and ceded the cultural and civic institutions of society to secularists and post-modernists.
To be involved in these arenas was considered "non-spiritual," something Christians "ought not to do." The church should save souls, but not get involved in the lesser realms of "the world," or so we were taught. As history has unfolded, and as the continuing decay of our culture testifies, this strategy was a mistake. In spite of occasional pockets of "revivalism" which are frequently little more than rotating already harvested grain from one person's bin to another, with little or no net increase to Jesus Christ's kingdom, the repercussions of that decision are ongoing.
Surely the Church is called to save souls, but "Christianity" has become so individualized, internalized, and privatized as to no longer have a "salt and leaven" effect on society. Today, in the institutions of culture and society, religion is condescendingly tolerated as a private indulgence for the intellectually weak, with no objective relevance to society. This internalization and privatization has been an unmitigated disaster. The Gospel of the kingdom is both individual and social.
As Christians, if we win souls, win elections, change a few laws, and lose the culture and the hearts of people, we have lost. As the bearers of God's image, our pre-fall cultural mandate did not disappear when sin entered - it just needed to be redeemed, and it has been! Being a believer in Jesus Christ is a redemptive vocation. Our Protestant forefathers (Calvin) taught that the "individual believer has a vocation to serve God in the world - in every sphere of human existence."
He taught that Jesus Christ was the Redeemer of every part of creation, including culture. The believer is to be the extension of Christ's kingdom, not just in the four walls of the church on Sunday, but in the streets, offices , and marketplaces of the world, every day of his or her life. The Christian is called to be God's agent of transformation and reformation in neighborhood, professional organization and civic institution.
The believer of the 21st century must break out of the preaching, praying, and Psalm-singing spiritual ghetto of societal irrelevancy that the Church has become.
We must recover the mandate to be salt and light. This is not the same as "taking over." It is the power of influence through a life laid down for others. The answer is not political activism, dominionism, triumphalism, or heavy-handed Bible thumping and lecturing the uninterested. Cultural coercion is not the answer for cultural decay. Aggressive, conservative, religious moralism is, and always has been, the enemy of the revelation of Jesus Christ - a counterfeit gospel. The manifestation of the life of Christ and Christ's kingdom, heart by heart, life by life, individual to individual, is the crying need of the hour.
The world is not waiting for a better-funded and more persuasively presented idea - it groans for the manifestation of the sons of God.
Dr. Stephen Crosby is one of the founding pastors of Christian Life Center, now called Life Church. He and wife Rita live in Spokane. E-mail him at email@example.com or www.stevecrosby.org. Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write a column may contact Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312, or firstname.lastname@example.org .