Church as model society

© copyright 1997, drs Gijs van den Brink


Communal politics

In 1989 Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, two professors at the 'Duke University Divinity School' in Durham, North Carolina , wrote a book ("Resident Aliens") in which they stated that in the Western world, the period of Constantine the Great which began in 313 AD came to an end between 1960 and 1980.

That is no small statement, for it means that, as we approach the year 2000, a tremendous change has taken place in the Western world. With 'the period of Constantine' the authors are speaking of a time when life was officially determined by christian standards. That has come to an end in our days. The Western world has abandoned its christian roots.


Christian politics?


In the 1960 's it was often said, 'the real business of the church is in the world' (Richard Niebuhr). Both liberals and conservatives have the same basic political ideas as far as ethics are concerned. They have a 'constantine' policy, that is both parties see it as the task of the church to support democracy. Christian politics, both liberal and conservative, are involved with christian social activity with a common goal: to use democratic rights in such a way that we will get a better world.

In this way the christians of the Western world create a society where, in the name of justice, faith in a living God is either not important (the liberals) or it is just a private matter (the conservatives). We must therefore be very careful that we do not fall into Pilate's way of looking at things - he permitted Jesus to be killed to ensure peace and justice according to the Roman style in Judea. While the church is so busy trying to change the world, the same church meanwhile has become so powerless, that the world can ignore her completely.

Hauerwas & Willimon are calling out that it is the primary task of christians to be church together, in such a way that the world will be jealous as they see the way that we as christians live and work together. The church of Christ must not be judged according to its function as a supporting body. It has its own special reason for existence. The church is not a chartersociety of the government.


Four essential features


If the church still wants to be important in the Western world in 2000, then there are four characteristics which I believe are of vital importance.

1. A common identity.

A common identity in stead of an individual identity. Within the congregation there must be a band of faithfulness, a relationship which binds the believers as brothers and sisters together. 'If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it'. (1Co 12:26 NIV). All other relationships such as family, work, hobbies, take second place. Jesus said, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother." (Marc 3:33-34 NIV)

2. Sharing

The sharing of material things, as well as spiritual things. In Christ there is no distinction because of nationality, rank or status. That does not fit in with love. See Acts 2:44-45 and 4:32-35. Also Paul says in 1 Tim. 6:17-18 to Timothy to exhort rich people 'not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. (NIV) The spiritual bond and unity are undermined when the social and material bonds and unity are missing.

3. Soberness

"Bless are ye poor, for yours is the kingdom of God." (Luke 6:20). The lifestyle of the church is an expression of the relationship with her Lord Jesus Christ. As a result of that connection we see the following distinguishing features: simplicity, self-sacrificing, absence of an outward presentation and a refusal to bow for the god of the Mammon in any way. Not the intention to get what you can get (out of life, out of creation), but the lordship of Jesus Christ over every aspect of life.

4. Sympathy

The 'body of Christ is a reality 24 hours a day and requires responsibility 24 hours a day. If there is a spiritual fellowship, then this must automatically lead to a social fellowship, a being-there-for-the-other, helping and serving in every area. If we realize that these things are of the utmost importance, is it important to let this faith be accompanied by the works that should accompany it. But how to begin? Let us carefully work out a plan of action.


A practical path


Pray together to be a close fellowship. Important items: * to recognize together the specific calling and task of the group * from the idea 'the church is there for me' to 'I am there for the church' * how to handle sympathy and antipathy * forgiveness * patience * trusting each other * accepting the other as he is * sharing your own weakness with others * the personal secrets of every person.

Formulate together a concrete collective dedication and goal. Work out definite steps according to the collective call of the previous point. Ideas: communities, open-door-houses, common cars, cooperations, exchanging clothing, helping unemployed people to get a job, vacation funds for people with a minimum income, recycling projects etc.

Continually, in all preaching and teaching bring forward appreciation for the small and simple, as Jesus did in His many parables about the Kingdom of God.


The community


Since the 1970's a counter-movement has been growing in our country, and the distinguishing mark is small groups and circles. We see an enormous process of scaling-down, not only in the Netherlands but also in the whole of Western Europe. The christian community is is an essential part of this process. In these communities two things which Hauerwas & Willimon bring forward as signs of hope, are taught and brought into practice.

In the first instance that believing, living and working are not separate areas in life, but fundamentally and in principle they belong together. In the second place that christians must themselves put into practice what they believe and that not just in an individual, isolated way, but together.

Only together with other believers can we get to know the depth of the love of Jesus Christ (Eph. 3:18-19). And through the way in which we as believers live together, will the world realize that Jesus is the Son of God. There is hope for this world, also in the 21st century.