James Russell Lowell, the American poet, satirist , writer, diplomat and abolitionist was born in 1819 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Anti-slavery when being anti-slavery wasn't cool, in his "Stanzas on Freedom" in 1843, he wrote words which resonate with the history of the world, "they are slaves who dare not be, in the right with two or three," thus echoing the truth that the majority are usually wrong, and the minority usually right.
But the words which apply to the role of the church in the world came from an article entitled, "The Present Crisis." Written in 1845, as a protest against the war with Mexico, the following lines were lifted from the long poem and ended up in church hymnals with the title, "Once to Every Man and Nation:"
Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne;
but that scaffold sways the future and behind the dim unknown;
standeth God within the shadows, keeping watch above his own.
The history of the church in the world is one of persecution, martyrdom and flight from oppressive governments. Around the globe today, most believers still meet in secret, as governments still attempt to suppress those who would follow God instead of man. The church has always in every country, been seen as a threat to reason, to science and to governments' rule over the masses.
Jesus said, "If they have hated me, they will hate you." That sums it up quite nicely. The question becomes then, what is the role of the church in a world which hates the very existence of the church?
No matter what country, what culture, what tribe, believers in God have always been mocked, chased, persecuted, and when dictators can get away with it, believers have been burned, drowned, strangled, hung, shot, eaten by animals and executed by every possible means. That the church has been long hated and much despised around the world simply cannot be denied.
According the Bible, the role of the church in the world, at its most basic is four-fold: to obey God; to teach believers; to preach the gospel; and to continue until Christ returns.
One: To obey God. A story in the New Testament Book of Acts stands out here. When Peter and the other apostles were imprisoned for the crime of preaching the gospel, upon their release, Peter's statement is clear, "We ought to obey God rather than men." Hence the last 5,772 years of history record time after time where a group of believers refused to obey men and governments when those men and governments attempted unjust laws. We call it now, civil disobedience, and it is practiced in most countries, often in face of the threat of imprisonment or death.
Since America was founded upon biblical principles, believers here (for the most part) have been spared the punishment which comes from disobeying the government. Many exceptions abound though, as our society currently attempts what the rest of the countries have already attempted and failed, that is, to rid the world of anyone insane enough to believe the gospel.
One of the problems with believers in America today is that we still think we can avoid persecution. Conservative talk radio is not helping. It promotes the belief among so called conservative Christians that we can peacefully change government. So we attempt peaceful methods to effect a change. Peaceful protests, voting, e-mail blasts and letters to Congress are just a few methods attempted. Everyone knows by now though, writing your Congressman makes about as much sense as drawing a picture of him. History shows that governments are not changed by peaceful methods. But whatever the government, the Bible teaches that believers are to obey God, rather than men, no matter what the cost.
Two: To teach believers. Contrary to modern opinion, the church does not exist in the world to bring unbelievers inside the church and crowd them alongside believers. When that happens, the message is always adulterated, watered down and compromised to make the unbelievers comfortable. When the unbelievers are comfortable in the service of the church, the truth has been watered down, and the gospel that Jesus came to save sinners is out the stained glass window, and a feel good gospel, with bands, and movie stars, food, dating clubs and dancers take center stage. What happens next? Believers leave because the church is no longer a church, it is a social club, with all the rights and privileges thereof. The purpose of the church is for the ministers called by God to teach the flock how to live in an unrighteous world.
Three: To preach the gospel. The preaching of the gospel is the theme of the church. The gospel which we are required to believe is that all men are sinners, that Jesus came into the world to save sinners and that through belief on his name, man can be born again and enjoy God forever.
The "prosperity" gospel, the "God wants you healthy" gospel, the "God loves everybody no matter what" gospel; all have no Biblical place in the church. The preaching of the gospel should lead to believers actually living the gospel. St. Francis of Assissi said it best: "Preach the gospel at all
times. If necessary, use words."
Four: Occupy. Luke chapter 19 tells this story best. Jesus said, "Occupy till I come." Though the occupy theme has been stolen of late and applied in a somewhat hobo jungle manner by paid hobo's, the thought of occupying is a biblical thought. The church's role in the world is to obey God, to teach believers, to preach the gospel, and to continue doing it until the end of the age. Hence, occupy till I come.
The church's role is not to change government, to stop wars, or to make life miserable for the rest of the world. Though all governments need changing, and we all desire an end to war, and maybe the rest of the world would be better off miserable, those are not the roles the church
is to play.
Jesus said, "Upon this rock will I build my church." Not, "upon this rock will I build my government, my kingdom, my society, my culture," but "my church." The church is a separate entity in the world. It is here until the end of the age, and as Jesus said, "The gates of hell shall not prevail against it."