Church Mission and Two-Kingdoms or Whatever Happened to Evangelism?
During April 2009, Presbyterian pastor Tullian Tchividjian released a book entitled Unfashionable. The book was met with strong acclaim from a number of prominent Christians including J.I. Packer, Don Carson, Ravi Zacharias and surprisingly, Michael Horton. Perhaps the books greatest endorsement came from the pen of Tim Keller who wrote the book’s forward. Yet somewhere in the blogosphere, a wise man by the name of Tim Challies had a different take. At one point Tchividijian’s book states, “Churches are designed by God to be instruments of renewal in the world, renewing not only individual lives but also cultural forms and structures, helping to make straight all that is crooked in our world.” In Challies book review he goes so far to call such language “nonbiblical.” Challies further stipulates that his concern, “… is that such theology emphasizes the continuity between the world today and the world after the consummation of history and does so at the expense of the kind of radical discontinuity Scripture teaches.”
Tchividjian’s language is textbook one-kingdom thinking and has major influence on his ecclesiology. If anything Challies review should show that the two-kingdom v. one-kingdom debate is anything but an exercise in highfalutin philosophy. Rather, it has a tremendous effect on ecclesiology. I want to point out how a church that embraces a two-kingdom framework will look different in its fundamental mission from its one-kingdom counterpart.
What’s so Wrong with Evangelism?
Among Jesus’ many profound questions stands one of particular interest. In Luke 14:34 Jesus asks, “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?” He goes on to conclude, “It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” The church in the west finds itself in a most bizarre situation. Has there ever been a society with so many Christians and so little Christianity? Why is western Christianity so bland? I would suggest that a piece of the answer that has gone largely undiscussed in church sociological analysis is that of one-kingdom thinking, which has dominated church thought for the better part of half a century.
This virtual monopoly of one-kingdom thinking has caused the church to focus on activities related to “social justice” and “cultural change.” But this focus has come at a tremendous cost. Rather than preaching a message (the Gospel) that commands a decision either for or against Christ, the church is engaging in activities that are only slightly offensive to unbelievers. Unbelievers are willing to put up with “social justice,” even if they are slightly annoyed with the accompanying Christian jargon because it is not nearly as offensive as a church focused on telling others around them that their final destination is eternal condemnation, apart from the blood of Christ. One-kingdom thinking has in a sense, lessened the offense of he cross. One-kingdom theology demands a sort of stealth accomadationism because it sees Christ and the cultural posture as being tangential.
And so the more that the church becomes wrapped up in cultural renewal, the more it forgets that Jesus intended it to bring a message of offense. The church gets busy with making things more “right” but these activities never seem to get around to proclaiming the offense of the cross. It was Jesus who said:
If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. (John 15:18-21)’
We all know what can bring disdain upon us quicker than being a Tim Tebow fan. It is the same message of old. The message that man is enslaved to sin and bound for an eternal hell apart from repenting and believing in Jesus Christ as the only hope of salvation. It is the proclamation of this message that would dominate the activities of a two-kingdom church.
But What of Cultural Renewal?
Challies does a good job in his review of Tchividjian’s book of pointing out that the idea of Christians participating in cultural renewal and redemption is extra biblical. Indeed there is scant evidence in the New Testament that this is the calling of God’s people. Rather, the unquestioned mission of the church from the pages of scripture is to, “…make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20)” It’s truly a mystery as to how Jesus could leave such an explicit final command and today, church mission statements are nowhere close in proximity to such a calling.
I want to be very clear on one issue here and that is the main mission of Christianity. The New Testament is unquestionably an answer to how man deals with his sin before a holy God. It is concerned primarily and almost entirely with the love of God in sending his son to help his creation escape his own wrath. It is not a book about how the Gospel changes the sphere of common heritage (read: the civil kingdom) around us. In the New Testament we find a message that we are to proclaim in love to those who are perishing. Serious as temporal issues are, they are nowhere near as pressing as the eternal fate of mankind. To make the New Testament or the call of the church about anything other than discipleship and world evangelization is in my estimation, deviant.
But Isn’t This Promoting a Secular/Sacred Divide?
Why yes, of course. One of the biggest one-kingdom myths is that the secular/sacred divide does not exist. It does exist and ought to be embraced. Ultimately I buy into Luther’s eschatological antithesis. This antithesis is perhaps more cogently argued by John Calvin as he described a difference “inferior objects” and “superior objects.” Inferior objects were those things that concerned the earthly temporal reality while superior objects dealt with eternal realities.
The biblical picture is that secular work does not have an ultimate end or permanence. It is equally important as sacred work to the degree in which it contributes to eternal work. But the actual task of various secular vocations is nowhere near being as significant as actual missionary work (either local or abroad). Indeed a Christian shoemaker is at work to advance the cause of missions. But a missionary is not at work to advance the cause of shoemaking. God’s people have one unquestioned aim and that is the advancement of the gospel message and thus all work must revolve around achieving this aim.
In the end, secular vocations (like mine) will not last. At the final consummation, they will be relegated to the scrap heap of history. What will last, is the billions or trillions of people gathered around the throne room worshipping God in their various tongues.
In many ways, this two-kingdom divide should provide comfort to the secular worker. Rather than walking into work and thinking about how they can “redeem” photocopying, the secular worker can simply focus on doing his or her job well and contributing as much money as possible to the cause of missions. It simplifies the over cluttered Christian life quite dramatically.
Uniting Three Elements of a Two-Kingdom Church
As you can see a two-kingdom church would look very different in a practical sense. It would focus its ministries and activities on discipleship and evangelism rather than cultural renewal. It would also see the primary message of the New Testament as being that of how sinful man can be reconciled to a holy God. This vision of the New Testament would feed its desire for evangelism. Further, it would teach the congregants in secular jobs that their work is significant to the degree in which it contributes to the spread of the Gospel message rather than to the degree in which they can “redeem” it. As you can see a two-kingdom church’s mission would coalesce all its activities around spreading the good news of the Gospel.
Indeed, the less that a church sees itself as bringing about some sort of grand renewal or ushering in final redemption through the transformation of existing cultural institutions, the more it will remember its identity as a pilgrim with a message to proclaim. A message of offense at that. If we are able to see the radical discontinuity that Challies talks about, perhaps we would be more concerned about evangelism. And perhaps then and only then, will the church finally regain its saltiness.
 A point I have argued just as vigorously in my series on two-kingdoms.