Thoughts on Evil: Part 4, “Church & World”

What is the church’s response to evil? How do Christians respond to all we have said about evil? What is our role in relationship to the “world” – that realm we know to be captivated by evil? In a recent address to the Occupy Nashville movement, Dr. Lee Camp of Lipscomb University defined “world.”

“The world,” biblically considered, is not the good material stuff of God’s creation, but that realm which rejects Jesus as Lord, or rejects Jesus’ Way as the way to “salvation.”

The church is called to be “in the world, but not of the world.” This is complicated. The church is part of the world. We are implicated, often-times, in the darkness of the world. How do we live appropriately “in” the world without succumbing to the extremes of withdrawal and “escapism” or becoming “worldly” ourselves?

Consider Jacques Ellul. The following is from his book “The Presence of the Kingdom”

“The fact of living in the world, from which we ought not to escape, is a stumbling block for our faith. It ought to be so, and so it must remain. We have no right to accustom ourselves to this world, nor try to hide ourselves with Christian illusions. Living in the world we are living in the domain of the Prince of this world, of Satan, and all around us we constantly see the action of this Prince, and the result of the state of sin in which we are all placed without exception, because in spite of all our efforts and our piety we share in the sins of the world. We are involved in it because in spite of our faith we are and remain sinners; we are also involved in the sin of humanity through the various ‘orders’ of life created by God, so that when a person of my family, or of my nation, commits a sin, I am responsible before God for this transgression. Only this truth must not remain a merely verbal one.

What does it mean to share in the life of the world like this? First, we must consider not only our sins as individuals, but also our sin which is due to the fact that we are men and women living in the world, and belonging to the world. Henceforth we must give up the idea that we can decrease our sin by our virtues. We must give up believing that we can ‘improve’ the world, that at least we can make man better, even if we cannot make him happy. At the same time, if we take this situation of the Christian seriously, we must refuse to further the disintegration tendency in the world. We must not say to ourselves, ‘We can’t do anything about it!’ To talk like this is to play into the hands of the Prince of this world.

Thus we seem caught between two necessities, which nothing can alter: on the one hand it is impossible for us to make this world less sinful; on the other hand it is impossible for us to accept it as it is. If we refuse either the one or the other, we are actually not accepting the situation in which God has placed us. He has sent us into the world, and just as we are involved in the tension of sin and grace, so also we are involved in the tension between these two contradictory demands. It is a very painful, and very uncomfortable, situation, but it is the only position which can be fruitful for the action of the Christian in the world, and for his life in the world. First, we must accept this tension and live in it. We must accept – in a spirit of repentance – the fact that our life in this world is necessarily ‘scandalous,’ knowing that it cannot be otherwise, and that to imagine that it could be otherwise is hypocrisy. But to know our true situation in the world implies that we really know the problems of the world. To be honest we must not accept this tension of the Christian, or of the Christian life, as an abstract truth. It must be lived, it must be realized, in the most concrete and living way possible. On the other hand, Christians ought to realize that to achieve this is the only real way of helping the world…”

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