"The Stepchildren [anabaptists] believed that the Church of Christ is by definition an element in society, not society as such. Their opponents, the Reformers as well as the Catholics, were unwilling to go along with this; they continued to look upon the Church as coextensive with society."
Are we to represent the Gospel in our society or impose the Gospel on our society?
It is an important question. If my premise is correct, then our attempts to impose religion on others will always have unwelcome consequences. “Might makes right” is not the way God ordained to further His agenda during the age of grace.
Was the Spanish conquest in the Western Hemisphere justifiable? Their expansionist vision of God and country was rooted in a theological falsehood: that the true church of God and the true kingdom of God on earth were essentially the same thing: the Roman Catholic Church. So, growing the church equated with conquering lands and people groups, baptizing them and enforcing submission to the religion of their new masters. Even after centuries of disastrous, superstition-laden crusades, they felt justified. They had made virtually no adjustments to their theology or their tactics.
We abhor the oppression and savagery of present day movements like ISIS. Unfortunately, what they do and why they do it is not terribly novel. People imposing themselves on other people (often in the name of God) is standard fare in history books.
The distinctions that we draw about these frameworks and methods are not as much about their nature as about degree: how far were they willing to go to impose their vision of right, God and country on the rest of the world?
"My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting,…" (John 18:36)
Juxtapose the perennial tension of any political and/or religious agenda with the constant, pre-defined role of God’s true subjects. Jesus declared to Pontius Pilate that His servants didn’t fight, because His kingdom was not of this world.
They still don’t… because it still isn’t.
However threatened or provoked, God’s people do not fight like the world fights. We do not fight fire with fire. Fighting like the world fights does not advance our cause. Fighting like the world fights discredits us, especially when the other side’s kingdom is “apparently” overtaking our side’s kingdom. If we fight like they do and lose, it looks like their god was bigger than our god.
But the One, True God looks a whole lot bigger than all other gods when we play by His rules. We live His love and speak His message of salvation. We pray and wait for the Holy Spirit to do His part. People are converted to Christ and, thus, drawn to each other… which becomes a seminal moment for “church”.
Church was never intended to be “coextensive with society”.