Christ and Culture Part 2

Feb 12 22:00 2003 Aleck Cartwright Print This Article

...cont. from Christ and Culture Part 14. Christ and Culture is in Paradox This view differs from the ... option by ... that while both Christ and culture claim our loyalty, the tension

...cont. from Christ and Culture Part 1

4. Christ and Culture is in Paradox
This view differs from the preceding option by maintaining that while both Christ and culture claim our loyalty,Guest Posting the tension between them cannot be reconciled by any lasting synthesis.
Luther maintained that sin is universal and inside a Christian all of His earthly life, thereby making it impossible to attempt any kind of utopian society on earth. I agree that though God has dealt with our sinful nature in Christ, we are susceptible to sinful desires (sins not unto death, because our sin nature has been removed and replaced with Christ in us) and as such will never have heaven on earth.

Christ in us has fulfilled the law of God on which our societies are based in order to ensure justice and law and order. The law is in play over our physical bodies and behaviour in society, which Christ affirms. We live by the grace of God without the law and find that we naturally fulfil the law of God and affirm the law of the land. Christ has become to us an "eternal law" that fulfils the "temporal law" of God.

These two are held in tension, we still have to account for our actions, but by God's grace we have forgiveness of sins and a new nature at work within us. The temporal law is in place not to make the ungodly righteous, but as a means of limiting the far-reaching effects of sin in this world. As a church we uphold the law, not through self-effort but in our natural adherence to Godly principles through the natural inclination to submit ourselves to Godly authority (Romans 2:12-14).

As Christians we are simultaneously subject to both the nature of Christ in us and the reality of an unrenewed and sinful mind,expressed through a physical and limited body. In the world we are subject to temporal law, and yet in Christ we are subject to the grace of God for our salvation. Jesus Christ is the fulfilment of the temporal law in us as believers.

The Christian life is a paradox, and keeping the two realms distinct has far-reaching effects. Since we are saved by grace and not our own works, we have no grades of holiness, or any need to separate ourselves from culture. This ultimately means that any vocation provided it is a true vocation, a station in life instituted by God, can be pursued for the glory of God. So we are in fact set free to serve.

All things are permissible to the believer, but we do those things that are beneficial. This means that although we are not under the law which is temporal and cannot save any man. The temporal law does lead man to repentance and thereby curbs the extent of sin's consequences in the world as a moral guide. So those who are in Christ live by grace and find that they fulfil the law of God.

So whether we live by Christ or by the law we find that we all keep the law, the one by the law written on their hearts, the other by obeying the letter of the law. So "all who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law" (Romans 2:12).

So this freedom of a Christian is balanced with a respect for temporal law and secular government (Romans 13:1-7). This really does create a paradox, we who are no longer under law submit ourselves to it and should not return harm for harm (Romans 13:8-9), but in time of war we may rightly be ordered to take up arms against an oppressor in order to limit a greater evil.

Also if a leader is wrong in commanding us to do something that is against God, we are not bound to obey him over God. "For it is no one's duty to do wrong, we must obey God rather than man" (Acts 5:29).
We need to be realistic about man's inclination to sin, as unbelievers who will suffer death as a result of their sin as well as for believers who will suffer the chastisement of God. For there is a sin unto death and a sin not unto death (1 John 5:16,17).

There is no place for separatism or self-righteousness either, we are encouraged in any noble service to culture. An argument could then be made that if we are justified by grace and not works, why should we then not sin all the more? The purposes of the law is to be a curb for sin, a mirror or plumbline for sin and also as a guide or tutor to lead us to Christ. The last purpose, as a guide is more optimistic than the other two, in that it affirms the universality of sin, but maintains that culture can be converted in line with God's temporal law. Where those things in culture that have been perverted can be reformed and redeemed to some extent.

While this sounds good, such earthbound hopes tend to undermine the belief of eternal life and the ultimate destination of mankind in an afterlife. Transformation of culture may be seen as the whole reason for the existence of the church. The social gospel may quickly replace the salvation gospel instead of being held in tension, as they should be. Although as Christians we are under grace it might be tempting to rely on the law for social reform, exchanging the word for the sword.

Also, in rejecting certain aspects of culture, we are not rejecting culture in total, as even our act of rejecting culture is a part of culture. As Christians we do reject certain aspects of mainstream culture, but not culture in totality. If we were to reject culture in totality, why would God not have taken us into heaven the moment we were saved? The fact is that discipleship occurs not by taking choices and culture away from us, but placing us directly in it to be counter-cultural.

This does not mean that we are opposed to culture but it does mean that we are against any form of cultural idolatry, those aspects of culture that do not point to Christ as Lord of all. When the New Testament talks of the world it speaks of those aspects of culture that are self-glorifying and self-serving, claiming autonomy apart from God.

Thus the real question is not whether we should accept or reject culture in it's totality but what is the correct principle for discrimination. We cannot be self-righteous monastics and neither can we be in rebellion from state institutions and divinely appointed offices and leaders. Ultimately we can argue for reform if the temporal law seeks to override Godly principles as in a dictatorial government, such as Zimbabwe or Iraq.

When the law of God written on our hearts is held in tension with the temporal law laid down in the land, we find that we do have a paradox, we who are not held under the law, actually commit ourselves to do those things which uphold the law. As Christ is in us we do naturally what is required of us, not because of a rulebook, but out of a desire to love God and our neighbour.

In our desire to uphold justice and law in our nations, social action by the church body is usually resisted as a contamination of Church and State, word with sword. The temporal law laid down by the state should be upheld by the church as the moral force in society. Where the state makes decisions that are contrary to God, moral law should still be upheld regardless of the state consequences. In this way the body of Christ is both under the law and above it, though whether under or above the law it's Lordship is still God.
Where the church cannot have direct action, it can through it's members have indirect influence. This influence can be exercised through the chosen vocations of it's members. Christ lives in us to express Himself through us to the glory of God. In this way the separation of sacred and secular is closed while Christ and culture, church and state are held in healthy tension. (continued in Christ and Culture 3)

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Aleck Cartwright
Aleck Cartwright

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Aleck is a Zimbabwean missionary who has travelled all over the world, sharing God's love and heart for the world.

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