The Forgotten Commission
Regis NicollRegis Nicoll's weblog
- 2006 Nov 03
Ask most any Christian what directives Jesus left His followers, and most likely you will receive the textbook answer:the Great Commandment--to love God and fellow man; and the Great Commission--to make disciples. However, ask about the Cultural Commission and you are sure to be met with a blank stare.
Interesting. Because the Cultural Commission is a divine mandate pre-dating the Great Commission by a least several millennia. In the opening account of Genesis, God creates Adam and Eve instructing them to care for His creation by filling, subduing, multiplying, naming, and ruling. This is God's inaugural commission for man to partner with Him in the oversight and management for all He has made. To help man discharge this holy partnership, God also inaugurated three institutions; the family, the government, and the Church; each separate, but vitally important to each other and for the welfare of the created order.
A while back Chuck Colson urged a group of pastors to support the Federal Marriage Amendment by calling attention to the Church's duty to the Cultural Commission. The pastors' response was, "But won't engaging the culture this way interfere with fulfilling the Great Commission? Isn't our job to win people to Christ?" Agreeing that the Church is to be an agent of saving grace, Mr. Colson pointed out that it is also to be an agent of common grace: sustaining and renewing creation, defending the divinely established institutions, and challenging worldviews and political agendas that undermine the created order.
Addressing the object of our responsibility, Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper once remarked, "There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: Mine!" As a product of God's creative act, everything in the cosmos is under Divine ownership and endowed with the quality of sacredness. That makes our faithful guardianship over creation an expression of love for the Creator and, thereby, an observance of the Great Commandment. But how should we go about caring for what is His and engaging a culture that is increasingly at odds with the created order?
As followers of the Way, we take our cue from Jesus. Jesus openly confronted the culture of His day, giving voice to those who had no voice; women, children, the diseased, and socially outcast. As the Advocate for all of humanity, Jesus took care of "least of these" and urged His followers to do likewise.
For 2000 years hence, Christ's advocacy has continued in the personal ministry of His followers, and on a grander scale, in the great social movements of history; abolition, women's suffrage, civil rights, and labor laws--movements led by Christians burdened to prick the conscience of nations that had wandered from their Judeo-Christian moorings.
In 19th century England, in the wake of John Wesley's evangelical campaign, two Christian leaders emerged; William Wilberforce and Lord Shaftesbury who both worked tirelessly within the political arena for child labor laws, safety laws, and minimum-wage laws. Wilberforce also called upon biblical principles to rouse the church and nation against the abomination of slavery. It was largely by the efforts of Wilberforce that by 1833, after twenty years of cultural engagement, slavery was abolished in the British Empire; a movement that would soon cross over to the Atlantic.
One of those who took up the cause of abolition in the new world was former slave Isabella Van Wagenen (known as Sojourner Truth) who also campaigned for suffrage and women's rights because of her avid Christian convictions. Ms. Wagenen's moral authority came not only from her first hand experience of exploitation, but from her appeal to Divine moral standards that burn in the conscience of all men.
In the 20th century Martin Luther King, Jr. rallied a nation for civil rights based on the biblically-informed distinction between just and unjust law. As King said "A just law squares with the moral law of the law of God. An unjust law...is out of harmony with the moral law." Dr King understood that "giving to Caesar" means giving what is due him; and the bounds of what is due him are established by a transcendent, not civil authority.
In Eastern Europe, the fall of communism began in Poland when Lech Walesa fought against the powers of the Kremlin for worker's rights, free trade unions, and a non-communist government. Regarding his Catholicism as a source of strength and inspiration during that movement, Walesa credits religious faith with preventing violence at the time. Without religious guidance, Walesa says, "It would have been a bloody revolution."
The positive impact that these individuals had on human rights continues today because of the moral strength of their causes--strength that derives, not from human convention, but from a transcendent moral law. Each of these movers and shakers worked to restore justice and renew culture by bringing the influence of the City of God to bear on the City of Man.
Today the challenges of the church are no less and continue on many fronts. In the area of human rights there are the atrocities of sex trafficking, prison rape, religious persecution, and political genocide. The swelling clamor for same-sex "marriage" and the blight of no fault divorce are both working to undermine the institution of marriage and with it, the stability of the family.
The right to life, scarred by the epidemic of abortion, is under continuous barrage by vocal advocates of human cloning, stem cell research, and euthanasia. In the area of environmental stewardship, there is the continued need for responsible use and renewal of the earths resources. And all the while, we face the ever-present challenge of ministering to those afflicted with hunger, poverty, and diseases like AIDS.
The Cultural Commission calls us to be co-laborers in restoring a world that, as theologian Cornelius Plantinga would say, is "not the way it's supposed to be." Although the despairing conditions of the ambient culture can tempt us into full retreat, our divine-given mandate is something that can only be accomplished beyond the fortress walls of the church. As full partners we are to be "in the world," engaging the culture with the real solutions that only Christianity offers for the real problems of life.
We are blessed to live in country in which our voice and influence can extend beyond personal ministry and into the public square through the democratic process. And that is an important reminder for us in this election year.
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