Most of us who have enjoyed Bible studies know the richness of digging into the Scriptures directly with each other. But we rarely do it together. Do we believe that the gospel really has the power to create not only saved individuals but also a saved culture?
I don’t mean a new neighborhood or nation; I mean a new humanity “from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation” as redeemed saints. Before we answer, we need to realize that it’s going to cost all of us something, even things we value highly. It will involve difficult questions that may never receive adequate theoretical answers, requiring more explicit practice, such as: to what extent does our catholicity—that is, our location “in Christ” together—eliminate and to what extent does it incorporate the specific characteristics of our diverse cultural, ethnic, socioeconomic, and generational mix?
We can find resources for our religious therapy online, but we cannot become part of the communion of saints apart from God’s sovereign act of gathering us together with his flock as recipients of grace. There is a circulation of gifts set in motion by God’s grace through preaching and sacrament; and as we receive God’s gifts from the Father, in the Son, by the Spirit, we become part of the exchange of gifts in the communion of saints—people I would never have chosen for my own family, but whom God chose for me.
As gifts came down from God, a new order was established, and the result was an energetic diaconal ministry, as well as the ordinary vocations of individual believers in their secular callings as parents, coworkers, and neighbors.
My colleague Rod Rosenbladt served as a pastor during the Vietnam War, when believers held various positions on this conflict. In the parking lot one day, he noticed two parishioners—a veteran and an anti-war protester—arguing to the point of fisticuffs. He called them into the church service.
Sitting on opposite sides of the sanctuary, they heard the pastor greet them in Christ’s name. As they heard the law, they were visibly moved—even more so, as they participated in the corporate confession of sin and heard Christ’s absolution through the lips of the minister. After the sermon, they not only came to the rail for Communion, but they knelt there together with their arms around each other, sobbing, as they held out their empty hands for the bread.
There is an important place for the world’s politics. The issues are not unimportant: health care, education, military action, foreign policy, and the economy. God calls us to love and serve our neighbors by caring for the common good in our secular callings, and politics is a part of that.
Nevertheless, on the Lord’s Day, we are made citizens of another kingdom. There are no flags marking national boundaries, no banners signaling a particular ethnic, socio-economic, generational, or gender identity. There is only a cross with a pulpit, table, and font, where we gather as one people, “called out of darkness into his marvelous light.”