Church, Kingdom & Government part 3

Here is part three of The Church, the Kingdom and Human Government—a three-part essay from Grace Communion Seminary President Gary Deddo (click here for part 1, and here for part 2).

Accounting for the distinctions

The Resurrection of Jesus by Coypel
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

So far in this essay, we’ve noted important distinctions between the church, the kingdom of God and human government. When these distinctions are understood and properly accounted for, avenues are opened for the church to bear appropriate witness in the public square. In taking advantage of that opportunity, the church must keep clearly in mind the following five points:

1. The church in its witness must never give ultimate or unquestioned allegiance to any political or social ideology, or to the absolute rule or reign of any person or human institution. It must not idolize any humanly imagined ideal, and it must not justify evil means to accomplish the ideals promoted by ideological zealots. Instead, the church must carefully discern what limited good government (be it local, regional, national or international) can achieve without causing more harm than good (see Romans 13:1-7). The church must not be seduced by idealistic dreams, especially ones that demand realization at “any cost.” It must not be surprised that in this fallen world there will often not be complete or total solutions to our human problems, nor will there be a perfect solution to a particular problem that has all benefits and no downsides. By worshipping God alone and resisting all idolatries (including the idolization of human ideals and ideologies) the church will remain free to be the church, fulfilling its vocation in worship and witness under the word of God, both living and written.

2. The church must not be distracted and misdirected from its calling of worship and witness by attempting to build the kingdom or to establish in this present evil age a church-ruled government among those who do not yet believe. Instead, the church must stay on message, faithful to its calling to urge people everywhere to put their trust in Jesus, worshipping God alone, and repenting of any efforts to give ultimate loyalty to any other king, kingdom or ideology. The church must proclaim Jesus Christ, who calls for unconditional faith, hope and love for him, and it must proclaim Jesus’ kingdom—his coming rule and reign in a new heavens and new earth. The church, therefore, should promote living here and now, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and in the light of that secure future hope.

3. The church must retain its independence from any secular authority. It must not come under the lordship of any person or human authority. It will give up its life first for the sake of the gospel, as God enables. It will retain its responsibility for its members who out of freedom become incorporated into the body of Christ. No one will be compelled by force to remain part of the church. The church will remain free to exercise proper, compassionate and wise discipline of its members. It will retain its freedom to nurture, teach and train its own leaders according to its own standards under the irreplaceable, unsurpassable and final authority of the word of God. Moreover, the church will retain its freedom to order its own worship and life together. It will resist all governmental encroachment and violation of its God-established calling, not for its own sake, but for the sake of its mission to the world, lived out directly in worship and indirectly in its wider witness.

4. The church must engage in hopeful and truthful evangelism that refuses to use any underhanded, manipulative or deceptive ways of proclaiming the truth of the gospel. It will do so in order that others may receive the grace of God and enter the joy of being transferred from the kingdoms of darkness into the kingdom of the Son. The church must use only those means of proclamation that give people freedom to respond out of their hearts and minds before God. Faith, hope and love for God cannot be externally imposed—they cannot be coerced or bribed. The basis for the church’s proclamation must be the truth of the gospel, which, when needed, will include warnings concerning the consequences of rejecting the gospel (but pointing out as consequences only those things clearly stated in Scripture, rather than using wild, fear-based speculations). The church is dependent upon the often behind-the-scenes ministry of the Holy Spirit to open eyes and soften hearts to prepare people to be open and receptive to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

5. Scripture tells us that as part of being in but not of (conformed to) the world, God’s people are to advocate for the common good. We see this in the examples of Joseph and Daniel who contributed in practical ways to the foreign nations in which they were exiled while maintaining devotion to God. We also see this in the command God gave Israel to seek the welfare of the cities in which they were exiled (Jer. 29:7). Note also that the apostle Paul exhorted Christians, as they “have opportunity,” to “do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal. 6:10). Finally, note what is said in Matt. 5:45; Luke 6:33-35; 1 Pet. 3:11 and Heb. 13:16. An important way the church advocates for the common good today is by declaring through actions and words that all humans, by virtue of being God’s image bearers, have an inalienable right to justice (right relationship). Christians can also assist those who affirm this right but lack an understanding of its true Source.

Being the church in a pluralistic culture

Two corollaries to the fifth point should be noted. First, Christians can honestly and forthrightly promote societies and governments that defend the right of all people to spend their lives seeking truth, goodness and beauty, and the ultimate Source of those values. To seek this God, who is revealed in Jesus Christ, is a task given to all people, as declared by the apostle Paul in a public square in Athens:

From one man [God] made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. (Acts 17:26-27)[1]

When it reaches out with humility, respect and freedom, the church can help people (even those who hold views and moral convictions in conflict with Christianity) to seek and discover truth and life, and the true object of worship. Members of the church do this by first listening and coming to understand, then looking for opportunity to share their own journeys and convictions concerning the faith, hope and love given them by grace through the gospel of Jesus Christ according to Scripture.

The second corollary to the fifth point is that as Christians we should resist attempts to close the public square to honest, respectful and humble interchange, especially when it involves excluding people whose voices are already marginalized. Everyone who values an equal right to justice under the law, and the free exchange of beliefs and ideas (religious or not) should be welcomed in the public square, no matter what the basis or lack of basis they have for their viewpoints.

As Christians, we can, in good conscience, advocate for pluralism in the public square that is descriptive rather than prescriptive. While descriptive pluralism respects all viewpoints, prescriptive pluralism excludes all claims to ultimate truth (seeing them as mere human constructions that are valid only for certain individuals or groups). Descriptive pluralism serves the common good and allows the church to freely and openly fulfill its mission of worship and witness.

As Christians, we believe there is only one way to a right relationship with God—through the grace and truth of the Lord Jesus Christ, who alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life. His name alone indicates the eternal, personal and particular source of salvation. He alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Though we are firm in this belief, we see in the New Testament that God, in his providence, leads persons over time along many pathways to Jesus. Therefore, we should respectfully and patiently allow room for God to draw people to himself, through Jesus, by whatever means he chooses. Until Christ returns, descriptive pluralism in the public square will continue to be a necessary and good way to provide a place where all people, no matter their background or point of view, can have opportunity to encounter the Source of all truth, goodness and beauty.

In a truly pluralistic society, all who value freedom and show respect and humility toward others are welcome in the public square, while ideologues who seek to control, manipulate, threaten or shut down public discourse are resisted. A truly pluralistic society makes room for all to seek what is true and good, and thus contribute what they have to the public square. As Christians, we have good theological reason to promote descriptive pluralism within the public square and to support the governments and institutions that uphold this pluralism. We know that the Triune God is patient and kind, making time and space for us to seek him and know him, and for the church to proclaim salvation in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, so that all might reach repentance and know and worship the living God.

Conclusion

We conclude this essay noting that the church must maintain proper distinctions between the church, the kingdom of God and human government. Doing so is vital to the church staying true to its God-given vocation of worship and witness, and to avoiding being compromised by any attempts to misuse human authority over the church. The church should engage in the public square and also help maintain the public square, one that seeks the common good and provides a place for all to seek what is true and good, ultimately, all the way to its true Source.

Within the public square, the church should seek to provide a faithful witness to the sure hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ without being compromised by false hopes offered by humanistic ideologues and the often less-than-good-and-right (and sometimes evil) means they use to justify and attempt to bring about their idealistic ends. The church should maintain its biblical and theological, Christ-centered worldview of creation, fall, reconciliation and final redemption, and clearly proclaim this good news. In doing so, it must neither underestimate the power and deceitful nature of evil that is still influential in the world, nor pull back from its calling to proclaim the ultimate redemptive power of God in Christ to overcome evil and the ultimate hope of all things made new.

Finally, maintaining the biblical distinctions and proper relations between the church, the kingdom of God and human government enables the church to humbly and patiently embody here and now temporary, partial and provisional signs of the nature, character and sure hope in the coming kingdom of God. Keeping clearly in mind that Christians are to serve as witnesses to Christ and his kingdom as they wait patiently for Jesus’ return will keep the church from using faithless means and underhanded techniques to bring about some sort of idealized church. Instead, through its worship and congregational life, and through its engagement with civic society (the spheres beyond the boundaries of the church) the church will faithfully live out its calling to be the body of Christ on earth as it provides embodied signs (parables) of the kingdom and its King. It will do so in season and out of season, in good times and in times where there is resistance and even persecution.

As it lives out its calling, the church will be a beacon of hope in a lost world—a channel of saving grace to all made ready and willing by the ministry of the Holy Spirit to acknowledge Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior over all of life, over all of history. Come, Lord Jesus!


Endnotes

[1] See also Isa. 55:6, ESV (“Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near”); Acts 15:17, NRSV (Paul speaking about God’s purposes towards the Gentiles proclaimed by Amos, “So that all other peoples may seek the Lord”); Matt. 6:33 (“Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness”) and Rom. 2:4, NRSV (“Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”).


Related resources

  1. For a more extensive essay by Gary Deddo on the topic of the kingdom of God, click here.
  2. For a policy statement from NAE concerning the church’s advocacy in the public square, click here.

Storm reports

We reported  last week on the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in the southeastern United States. Sadly, the death toll has risen to over 40 people. So far as we know, all GCI members in the affected areas are safe, though a few have not been heard from yet (we ask for your prayers about this). Pastor Bill Boney in Wilmington, NC, reports severe flooding in his area. Though his home was not damaged, the roof of a neighbor’s home was ripped off. The Boneys feel very fortunate. We’re thankful to report that our Home Office building in Charlotte, NC, was not damaged.

Track of Hurricane Florence (source)

We recently received a report from GCI Philippines Director Eugene Guzon concerning the aftermath of Super Typhoon Mangkhut (called Ompong in the Philippines). It devastated the northern part of the Philippines (around Baguio City) on September 14-15. Eugene reports that though some members in that area were affected, all are safe. For that we give God thanks.

Track of Typhoon Mangkhut (Omphong) (source)

Heather Smithson

Prayer is requested for Heather Smithson, wife of GCI Canada elder Leigh Smithson. Heather has been diagnosed as having breast cancer. She will be having surgery in the near future. This year has already been a difficult one for her in terms of her health.

Cards may be sent to:

Leigh & Heather Smithson
2 Ireland Crescent
Red Deer AB T4R 3H2
CANADA

TIC Summit

As noted by Greg Williams in his cover letter in this issue, 52 GCI members gathered recently in Columbus, OH, for Together in Christ 2018. This is the second year TIC has been held (it met last year in Atlanta). The purpose of the summit was to address issues related to reconciling people both within and beyond GCI across the boundaries that tend to divide us (things like race, gender, age, ethnicity, socio-economic class, etc.). Those attending represented the wide diversity found within the GCI-USA membership (attendance was by invitation, to achieve the desired diversity and to stay within the limited capacity of meeting venues).

Various voices—young and old; black, brown and white; female and male—spoke into small and large group discussions with a focus on the message of reconciliation in Christ found in 2 Corinthians 5:16-6:2. The discussions were sparked by a group visit to the National Underground Freedom Center in Cincinnati, OH (for reflections on that visit from GCI Pastor Linda Rex, click here).

Posted in a Freedom Center display addressing the scourge of black African slavery in the U.S.

Here is a short video from the summit, beginning with the visit to the Freedom Center, followed by the closing worship service (held at GCI’s congregation in Columbus, one of the TIC hosts).

Carn Catherwood

Over the years, we have prayed for Carn Catherwood, GCI board member and former pastor and administrator. Carn recently sent the following update concerning recent health challenges.

Joyce and Carn Catherwood

For the past four months, I’ve had a spate of serious health issues. But now I can report some very good news. Over three months ago, I was diagnosed with a large tumor in the upper colon. In mid-May my Gastro-Enterologist performed major abdominal surgery to remove it. The procedure required a re-sectioning of my colon. Thankfully, the tumor, though large, turned out to be benign. Because of the complexity of the surgery, I was in the hospital for 11 days.

Barely three weeks later, probably because of the shock caused by the surgery to my system, I had the worst Afib/Heart Flutter episode I’ve ever had (I’ve had them periodically for over 30 years). One night my heart-rate was so rapid and irregular that I fainted—my tail-bone was cracked when I hit the floor. My wife Joyce took me to the ER, and as soon as I sat down on a bed my heart rate plummeted to zero, which meant that I had no pulse and was only a few minutes away from dying. A little Asian nurse did CPR compressions on my chest for several minutes and managed to get my heart started again twice. But as soon as it began to beat, my heart rate shot up again. My Cardiologist ordered an emergency heart ablation which was performed the next day. During an ablation a catheter is used to burn away the tissues of the heart that contain defective nerve pathways that cause the heart circuits to misfire. It’s a procedure with some risk and isn’t always successful. But mine was. Praise God.

After eight days in the ICU, I was released, feeling pretty beat-up and shaky. Slowly, my strength has been coming back. Today, three months later, my heart is beating normally and my Electrophysiologist feels the procedure was a success. There appears to be no lasting damage to my heart and the Cardiologist states it should keep me going “until you’re at least 100” (his words).

I am grateful to God for his love, his amazing grace and his presence during those crazy, very scary moments. To him be all the honor and the glory. My sincerest thanks to all of you for your love and prayers.

Cards may be sent to:

Carn and Joyce Catherwood
3941 Andrew Avenue
Denton, TX  76210-3234

Death of James Jackson

We were saddened to learn of the recent death of James Jackson, GCI member, deacon and former Ambassador College employee.

James F. Jackson

James was born in 1925 in Arkansas. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1944 and served in the Central Pacific, Japan and then during the Korean War where he was wounded in combat and received the Purple Heart. He returned stateside in 1952 and married Esther Glover. In 1958 he was honorably discharged from the military and went to work for Ambassador College in Pasadena, CA. He and his family then moved to Big Sandy, TX, in 1964 and James worked at the newly opened Ambassador College campus. He retired in 1990 after 26 years of service. James also served for 55 years as a deacon in GCI’s Big Sandy, TX, congregation. He helped care for the widows and led the Silver Ambassadors.

That James also actively served the community is evidenced by twice receiving the Big Sandy Senior Citizen of the Year award, and once receiving the Christian Community Service Award. The Texas Highway Department also honored James for his work leading the Big Sandy congregation in picking up litter along local highways.

James is survived by his wife Esther Ann Jackson, a son, two daughters, seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Always a kind and caring gentleman, he exemplified the Marine Corps motto: Semper Fidelis (Always Faithful).

Cards may be sent to:

Esther Jackson
654 N Pearl St.
Big Sandy, TX 75755

Together in Christ: unity in diversity

This week’s “From the President” is by GCI Vice President, Greg Williams.

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

Greg and Susan Williams

GCI is blessed to be a diverse mix of people who are growing in unity. “Unity in diversity” is God’s idea. It is his purpose to make all people groups (with their diverse cultures, ethnicities and races) one family in and through Jesus. For GCI to realize its Healthy Church vision, we must all cherish and make more room for this diversity, while strengthening our unityIt was toward those goals that 52 GCI members from all five GCI-USA regions, gathered recently in Columbus, OH, for Together in Christ (TIC) 2018. The group was a marvelous mix of pastors, ministry leaders, pastoral residents and interns. Voices young and old spoke into the discussions from the vantage point of their life experience and contexts. All the discussions were seasoned with the grace of Christ that has transformed the participants. Below is a picture from the summit (for additional pictures and a video, click here).

My participation at TIC 2018 was largely as an observer and listener. Here are some of the important insights I gleaned:

  • We need to understand that the love of Christ is the fuel that drives us toward understanding people who are not like us, and then brings about genuine harmony in the relationship. I applaud the TIC planning committee for using 2 Corinthians 5:14 and the verses that follow as the guiding text for the summit.
  • We need to embrace the reality that God has called us to be reconcilers. As the apostle Paul notes in 2 Corinthians 5:18, we have been given the ministry of reconciliation, which means joining, by the Spirit, with Jesus in his ongoing ministry. To reconcile means to restore relationship. We do this through acts of love, including listening to understand. We move toward reconciliation by offering olive branches and through other ways of being proactive as peacemakers. Reconciliation typically takes time and many patient encounters. Guess where the needed patience, love and peace come from—that’s right, from the Great Reconciler himself!
  • We need to create a culture of small groups. The summit participants were energized by lively small group dialogue. Notice I said “dialogue”—it was not mere chit-chat or surface conversation. But it wasn’t argument or debate that results in winners and losers. The dialogue in small groups at TIC was authentic exchange grounded in mutual respect with loving support. The summit participants agreed to be agents of change by bringing this type of dialogue home to their local congregations and other groups. A culture of small groups provides safe places where challenging social topics can be addressed in light of the person and presence of Jesus, and within the intimate circle of the church. That is quite a contrast with the contentious, open-ended exchanges often seen in social media.
  • We need to learn from each other. We saw a great example of this following TIC 2017 (held in Atlanta) with the birth of Kaleidoscope in Waltham, MA (Boston area)—a fun workshop environment that celebrated the various people groups in that community, allowing each group to learn about one another (click here for an earlier Update report on that event).

Generations Ministries (the sponsor of TIC) plans to continue TIC summits and related events as GCI continues to promote healthy cross-generational, cross-cultural relationships. The participants at TIC 2018 were asked to consult with their Regional Pastor about pursuing similar summits closer to home. GenMin National Coordinator Jeff Broadnax is already working with GCI Regional Pastor Mike Rasmussen and the leaders in his congregation to make Oklahoma City, OK, the site for TIC 2019. Please keep our planning committee in your prayers, asking God to help GCI continue growing as a faithful witness to the kingdom of God (concerning the nature of that witness, be sure to read the third and concluding part in Gary Deddo’s essay, “The Church, the Kingdom and Human Government”).

We invite you to continue watching the GCI website, Update, and Equipper, for the inclusion of the great variety of faces that make up our church around the world. We truly are a diverse, international communion of grace—unity in diversity. We are GCI!

Together in Christ,
Greg Williams

PS: The next Update will be published on October 10, with Equipper being published on October 3.

Death of Steve Burns

We were saddened to learn of the recent death of retired GCI pastor Steve Burns.

Steve Burns

Steve Wayne Burns of Fort Smith, AR, died Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018 at age 71. Steve is survived by his wife, Silvia; a son, Ryan Burns; a stepson, Juan Bernal; two sisters; a brother; and four grandchildren.

Steve graduated from Ambassador College in 1970. He then served as an elder in west Texas, and later entered vocational ministry and pastored the GCI congregation in Harrisburg, PA.

Due to illnesses, Steve had to retire from employed ministry. He and his wife Silvia then moved to the Fort Smith, AR, area. After two serious falls he was hospitalized on September 10 and died on Sept 13.

Cards may be sent to:

Sylvia Burns
3305 S. 68th Circle
Fort Smith, AR 72903-6136

Queens outreach

GCI’s Queens, NY, congregation (New Life in Christ) held its annual Back-to-School event on September 8. The congregation served over 100 in their local community, distributing specially designed bags of school supplies, serving lunch, and having special face painting and arts-and-crafts activities. The congregation’s Richmond Hill, Queens community is the most diverse community in the most diverse borough of a very diverse city (New York). As noted by the congregation’s pastor, John Newsom,

We are always faced with the challenges of diverse cultures and languages in conducting outreaches. For this outreach, the need was for Spanish and Mandarin and we were blessed to have these skills among our volunteers. Thus, we were able to translate our gospel message in these languages!

Here are pictures of the event: