THE CHALLENGE OF CHRISTIAN UNITY IN THE 21ST CENTURY
by Venerable Dr Ifechukwu U. Ibeme
There are many challenges facing the 21st century Christian and the church. The most daunting of these challenges is that of unity. One area of disunity facing the Church today concerns the consensus of Christians on the place of the believer in the pluralist society. It is tragic that God has us sent into the world but we are not clear or agreed on what the mandate of this Divine Mission TO THE WORLD and IN THE WORLD entails.
- THE FIRST AREA OF DISUNITY IN THE 21ST CENTURY CHURCH IS THE DISUNITY OF DENOMINATIONS
A Christian Church Denomination is a Church or group of Churches that has separate administrative or doctrinal or liturgical communion from other Churches. Denomination have mostly resulted from disagreement, disunity and division but have also resulted from unification of Churches. Denominations are partial witnesses due to selective preferences sometimes not without ulterior motives, presenting their preferences as full true witness for Christ. Denominational traditions, doctrines and theologies are half-truths presuming to be the whole truth; they are often strange magnification of preferred or modified truth (or even outright falsehood) used to oppose and override another biblical truth. Christ and His Apostles prayed (John 17:10, 11, 20-24) and warned (Acts 20:26-34; 1John 2:19; Jude 1:19) against the Church splitting or segregating into denominations. The solution for the problem of denomination is not segregation again from our denominations to start new denominations that would claim to be interdenominational or hibernate to become Churchless Christian recluses, but to seek for the ecumenical dialogue, tolerance, cooperation and reunion as well as balancing up of one another on the basis of comprehensive teaching and harmonious meaning of the Scriptures. This has been done before by the Church in the Apostolic times (Acts 15) and during the fourth century at Nicaea.
Church Denominations are selectively distinct forms (or specially and preferentially organised expressions) of the Gospel of Christ’s Kingdom. They are groups of Churches united by same creed/articles of faith, tradition and administration. In fact, Church denominations arose from agreements and disagreements about preferred differences in forms of Church government and traditional basis for doctrine and practice as well as organisational allegiance. Three main forms of Church governments or administrations adopted by Church denominations and somewhat or partially derivable from the Bible are:
- Monarchical Episcopacy (old constitutional Diocesan Churches and new proprietary Dynastic/Founder Churches).
- Circuitry Presbyterianism (especially Presbyterian/Reformed Churches).
- Congregational Independency (especially Baptist Churches).
There are four main traditions on which teachings and practices in Churches and Denominations are based and by which teachings and practices are authenticated. These include:
- Evangelical Tradition ruled by comprehensive Scriptural Truth. (Seen in Reformed, Presbyterian, Low-Anglican, Puritan, Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal and Charismatic churches.)
- Catholic Tradition ruled by historical heritage and antecedent dogmas. (Seen in Orthodox, Roman and High-Anglican churches.)
- Rational Liberal Tradition ruled by reason, science, philosophy and common trends. (Seen in liberal Reformed, Presbyterian, Broad-Anglican, Lutheran and Methodist churches.)
- Mystical Liberal Tradition ruled by personal revelations, experiences and scruples. (Seen in Pentecostal and Charismatic churches and in Renewal movements within Roman, Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist churches.)
Apart from administrative and traditional differences, many factors have divided Christians not only due to doctrinal and historical standards, but also due to situational, cultural, political or even financial and personality concerns. The human being is compulsively enjoys being both sociable and separate. Divisive or schismatic denominationalism and doctrinal eccentricity are unbiblical and unnecessary evils that have plagued and marred the witness of the One True Universal Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ over the centuries.
Christians have got used to denominationalism today so much so, it has become normal to claim that the “Holy Spirit” now “leads” them to break away and start their own Prophetic or Pentecostal “ministry” and denomination as if they are starting up a new trade, new business, new cause or club or new NGO. Such Prophetic and Pentecostal privately owned denominations usually engage aggressively in personality projection, commercial mass-media productions and fund-appeal tele-programming while purporting to preach Christ as it were. The popularity of such personal ministries in the mass media and their financial success have made some to even believe or teach that denominationalism is a better scheme for fulfilling the Church’s mission than Christ’s One Church intention for which He prayed in John 17. But could denominationalism be possibly a better scheme than unity?
Mature Biblical Christianity rises above denominationalism.
Every denominational or ministry Church is a partial and preferential pattern of Christianity propagated as it suits or as is understood by the founders, leaders and members. The biblical Scriptures constitute a comprehensive revelation of God’s redemption for humanity and whatever is harmoniously revealed therein is the most authentic truth about the Living God. Many denominational and ministry Churches would still maintain their professed teachings, past traditions, present trends, personal tendencies even when they see that these do not fully match the pure and perfect truth comprehensively revealed in the Scriptures. Hardly do you find a denominational or ministry Church that accepts to change their preferred patterns because they have seen that any particular teaching, tradition, trend and tendency of theirs is lopsided or contrary to the balance and comprehensiveness of the truth in the Scriptures. Though it may be imperative in some special situations to make a choice out all the valid options found in the Scriptures but such choices must not overrule other valid options but admit itself to be only an option and not the rule of the comprehensive Scriptural truth.
Denominational Christianity is always partial Christianity and denominational theology is always lopsided theology, so if not balanced with each other and ultimately with the Scriptures these are always certainly fraught with dangers. Whatever advantages we may now rationalise about denominationalism, it is obviously unbiblical and lacks certain checks against errors whereas Church unity is both biblical and has better checks against errors.
From Apostolic times, the Churches were congregations and groups of congregations planted by the Apostles, Apostles’ delegates, Church Fathers, etc in every geographical locality, and not merely GATHERING as disciples in a place but properly SET IN ORDER with leadership structure (Mar 3:14; Act 14:21-23; 1Tim 2:2; Tit 1:5) as house, city, regional, or national Churches united under the leadership of jurisdictional Bishops and Presbyters ordained as successors to the Apostles. These successors ordained by the Apostles were both representatives of the Apostles and teachers of Apostolic Doctrine to their Churches as well as representatives of their Churches to Apostolic College/Councils (Act 15) for guidance and later to the Ecumenical (general/catholic) Councils (from Grk=oikoumene for “inhabited world” or Grk=katholikos for “universal”) held to draw up creeds that sought to ensure doctrinal agreement with the harmonious teaching of the whole Scriptures. There were differences of local, Hellenist or Jewish or mixed traditions as well as wider disciplinary and doctrinal variations or even controversies but all still remained within the same jurisdiction of Church leadership locally and in same communion together as the united, holy, apostolic Church which is both “true” (i.e. “orthodox” NOT Greek Orthodox Church), and “worldwide” (i.e. “catholic” NOT Roman Catholic Church).
From Nicaea in 325 AD, Bishops of all Diocesan Churches in Byzantium (Greek Rome Empire) and Rome (Latin Western Roman Empire) met together as equals at several collegial Ecumenical Councils despite their language differences to apostolically resolve their doctrinal differences. Later, the collegiality of the Ecumenical Councils was overshadowed by powerful Metropolitan Caucuses of both the Latin Pope in the Western capital city of Rome and the Greek Patriarch in the Eastern capital city of Constantinople (now Istanbul). Further struggle for dominance between Rome and Constantinople later caused the first rift in the 11th century. The Greek Easterners claimed they were the true (i.e. orthodox) Church while the Latin Westerners claimed they were the worldwide (i.e. catholic) Church.
The next split in the Western Latin Church under the Pope of Rome was during the 16th century Protestant Reformation. The Reformers protested against Romish unscriptural mythical legends and superstitious doctrines as well as Roman claim of apostolic monopoly and administrative dominance over the Bishops of other national Churches. Notice that while the magisterial Reformers protested for nationalistic doctrinal independence from Rome, the radical separatist reformers protested for individualistic doctrinal independence from their nations. Within the Protestant nations, more radical separatist Reformers (Anabaptist, Congregationalists, etc) also further protested against their already Protestant national Churches and local jurisdictional Bishops. Since the 19th century, efforts of Ecumenical movements and the World Council of Churches have led to laudable union of several old Protestant Denominations in China (1927), Thailand (1934), Japan (1941), and the Philippines (1944) with the most heralded examples being the United Church of Canada (1925), the Church of South India (1947), and the Church of North India (1970). On the other hand, the 20th century resurgence of eccentricity, egocentrism and commercialism has also led to more schisms and mushrooming of many new proprietary denominations.
Our temporal choices and preferences may be ours to make, but God’s eternal truth and judgment are His.
Today, it is impossible to avoid belonging to a denomination without creating a new one. The proper response to DENOMINATIONALISM is ECUMENISM. But what form of Ecumenism? Ecumenism is worldwide unity of the Church for the purpose of cooperating to carry on the saving missionary purpose of God’s Kingdom through Christ, the Incarnate Word, and worldwide unity of the Church in upholding the authority and verity of God’s Word inspired and written in the Holy Scriptures. Ecumenism is not worldwide uniformity of church administration and uniformity of church traditions but for unity in diversity in a pluralistic world. According to Encylopaedia Britannica, the word ecumenism comes from a family of classical Greek words: oikos, meaning a “house,” “family,” “people,” or “nation”; oikoumene, “the whole inhabited world”; and oikoumenikos, “open to or participating in the whole world.” and can be traced from the commands, promises, and prayers of Jesus.
After the Pentecost spontaneous ecumenical revival camp meeting (Act 2), that dragged on till dispersed after Stephen’s death (Acts 7), Ecumenical Councils began to hold in Acts 15 for consensus on missiological matters, resumed at Nicea in 325 AD for consensus on Christological matters. In the 11th century, the Church split into Greek (Orthodox) and Latin (Catholic) along the lines of the Eastern and Western parts of the Roman Empire. During the 16th century the Reformers agreed to cooperate and form national reformation Churches, though there were other smaller separatist groups. In modern times ecumenism for harmonious cooperation and consensus was rekindled in the universities through the World Student Christian Federation in 1895. Ecumenism for worldwide missionary cooperation amongst missionary societies began at the International Missionary Conference held at Edinburgh in 1910. Since the 19th century the Ecumenical movement has lead to union of several old Protestant Denominations but recently, commercialism and individualism have also led to mushrooming of far more many new proprietary denominations.
In the 19th and 20th centuries ecumenism denoted the movement of the renewal, unity, and mission of Christians and churches of different traditions “so that the world may believe” (John 17:21). Ecumenism is a vision, a movement, a theology, and a mode of action. It represents the universality of the people of God, which affects the way Christians think about their faith, the church, and the world. Ecumenism, which is a long process, includes Bible study, dialogue (for peaceful coexistence), common prayer, Eucharistic worship, common witness, diaconal service, and ecclesial unity that draws Christians together, uniting their life and mission and bringing the Body of Christ and the human community closer to the fulfilment of God’s purposes. To be involved in ecumenism means to participate in those ideas, activities, and institutions that express a spiritual reality of shared love, consensus and cooperation in the church and the human community. It involves the work of officially organized ecumenical bodies, the confessing and witnessing of Christians in local places, and the spirituality and actions of those who live together in love and prophetic proclamation.
- THE SECOND AREA OF DISUNITY IN THE 21ST CENTURY CHURCH IS THE DISUNITY OF ETHNOCENTRISM
Ethnocentrism is tribal partisanship that has the parochial belief that our best candidates for any advantage or collaboration are only people of our own tribe. This primitive tribal sentiment could take on hateful and violent dimensions leading to bitter conflict and division that could cripple the Church or the State.
For Christians, this uncivilized tribal spirit must be exorcised not merely in words but in the spirit of our minds. The good of all and equity beyond tribal limits in a cosmopolitan community is the key to harmony without acrimony. Tribal divisions constitute a refusal to say AMEN to Christ valedictory prayer for His worldwide Church.
(10) All that is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine, and I have been glorified in them.
(11) I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by your name, the name that you gave me, so THAT THEY MAY BE ONE, as we are one.
(20) “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their message,
(21) THAT THEY MAY ALL BE ONE. Just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you, MAY THEY ALSO BE ONE in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me.
(22) I have given them the glory that you gave me, so THAT THEY MAY BE ONE, just as we are one.
(23) I am in them, and you are in me. MAY THEY BE COMPLETELY ONE, so that the world may know that you sent me and that you have loved them as you loved me.
(24) Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am and to see my glory, which you gave me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
Ethnic partisanship is rampant in the Church today. You would observe that for instance in America, black founders have black pastors and predominantly black congregations even in white dominated places, likewise white founders have white pastors and predominantly white congregations even in black neighbourhoods. In Nigeria Western founders have western pastors and predominantly western congregations even in the North and Eastern founders have eastern pastors and predominantly eastern congregations even in the West and vice versa. A Northern Christian would tend to antagonise a Western Christian on the basis of non-indigene-ship or “northernisation” policy and vice versa. Christian members of the same denomination are often prone to suspect and scheme against fellow congregation members from tribes other than theirs. Some are champions of this divide and rule evil and hatred as means of prominence and perquisite or animosity and vendetta. This is a shameful deep cut not only into the Church but also into the State as well as marketplace and must be expunged if we claim that humanity has advanced as a civilized race in the 21st century. The Church is the privileged spiritual agency of God’s heavenly Kingdom commissioned with an agenda far greater than parochial and selfish interests.
Tribal conflict within the Church is a disgraceful negation of our redemption into one eternal commonwealth (Eph 2:11-16). If we are saved by the same blood of the same Christ, then the blood of Christ must be thicker than the blood of our ancestral forebears. The Apostles preached that all tribes and people are of one blood. (Act 17:26) and that the wall of enmity and partition between Jews and Gentiles were broken IN CHRIST. God was IN CHRIST, reconciling all humanity to himself (2Cor 5:19) fitting and knitting them into one Messianic Body and one Holy Temple (Eph 2:17-22). Irrespective of our tribal difference all have been saved by the same means into the same hope (Gal 3:26-29; Col 3:10-11).
“Endeavouring to keep the UNITY…There is ONE body and ONE Spirit….ONE hope…ONE Lord, ONE faith, ONE baptism, ONE God….” (Eph 4:3-6).
“For IN Christ Jesus you are ALL sons of God…ALL of you who were baptised INTO Christ ….ALL of you are ONE IN Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:26-28).
Christians must see themselves as sharing in one and same Kingdom mission, above tribal, denomination, political and organisational differences or affiliation. Christians should conscientiously object to being sent by others to hatchet another Christian even when in opposing interest camps. They should rather prefer being sent by others to resolve conflicts and build confidence with one another.
May God open the eyes of His Church to unite to speak and think with one mind in Christ (Php 1:27; 2:2) and manifest the manifold wisdom of God to ethnic territorial principalities and seasonal celestial powers (Eph 3:10).
- THE THIRD AREA OF DISUNITY IN THE 21ST CENTURY CHURCH IS THE DISUNITY IN RESPONSE TO PLURALIST SOCIETY
In the pluralist and secular society, Christians should foster unity in diversity for every good and godly cause whether in the Church or in the community.
Some Christians limit the Kingdom of God to ONLY their preferences and interests, rather than be open to the WHOLE spiritual and royal mission of God to redeem and restrain the whole world. Christians Elders and Leaders must work together in network and concord to courageously champion godly causes together, for the good of every Christian and even non-Christian who stands for equity, humaneness, uprightness, tolerance, and respect for all in the pluralist society. The Apostles give four cardinal societal guides for this:
“Honour all men.
Love the brotherhood.
Honour the king.” (1Pet 2:17).
Christians must be alert to use every opportunity in a godly and circumspect manner (Matt 10:16; Luk 21:15; Eph 5:15-17), to powerfully and visibly shine as the light of the world (Matt 5:14-16) in such a way that wickedness and crookedness cannot overcome (John 1:5; 12:35). After all, the righteous is as bold as a lion (Pro 28:1) and God has not given us the spirit of fear but the spirit of power, love and sound mind (2Tim 1:7).
In His loving goodness, our God though He has His messengers, gives rain and sunshine to all (Mat 5:45); therefore, Christian elites as “sons of God” must offer that leadership or bring that influence which outgrows selfish parochialism, individualism, separatism, vendetta, witch-hunting and bigotry, so they could serve as level-headed and broad-minded bridge-builders in the Church and the society. Christ and His Apostles taught that in the pluralistic society Christians are to enthusiastically mingle as invisible salt (Matt 5:13) and leaven (Matt 13:33) of righteousness, and also serve as visible light and meek peacemakers among ourselves and with all people with all equity (Mat 5:7-9, 14-16; Rom 12:18; Tit 3:1-2; Heb 12:14).
The Church can only salt the earth by getting involved in it without losing her savour. The Church can only leaven the world by mingling with it surreptitiously without losing her leavening power. In addition, the Church can only lighten the world by obvious social action against iniquity and inequity. Because righteousness exalts and gladdens a nation while unrighteousness brings reproach and regrets (Pro 14:34; 29:2), the only way to move any community forward is through purposeful participatory fairness and righteousness that aims to transform patterns of social INTERACTION and the principles of INSTITUTIONAL policy at every level and sphere. Men and brethren, events of our day show that our world is groaning under wicked and dark bondage and is crying out for righteous and true liberty.
(18) For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
(19) For the earnest expectation of the creation waits for the manifestation of the sons of God.
(20) For the creation was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who has subjected the same in hope,
(21) Because the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
(22) For we know that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now.
(23) And not only they, but ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, that is, the redemption of our body.
As sons of God, let us forbear one another in peace and unity (Col 3:12-15) for the good of our generation and posterity.
Christian Elders and Leaders should mobilize Christians for shared understanding of the social input they should make to the development and harmony of the society.
For many, Christian social principles are mere paranoid clichés like “give to Caesar what is his”, “turn the other cheek”, and “come out from amongst them”, with conflicting application. More than these, Christ and His Apostles taught us:
- to be VISIBLY ACTIVE as the light to the world and be INVISIBLY ACTIVE as the salt and leaven to the earth to the extent that the society acknowledges our good contributions and gives glory to God our heavenly Father (Matt 5:13-16; 13:33);
- to LOVE one another and be in unity to the extent that the society notices our unity for well-doing and so admits that Christ is truly the Lord and Saviour (John 13:34-35; and 17:21);
- to be RIGHTEOUS-humane leaders (Mark 10:41-45), resourceful-responsible citizens (Rom 13:1-7), and PEACEMAKERS who relate well toward all people (Rom 12:14-18; Tit 3:1-2; 1Pet 2:13-17);
- to do CHARITABLE deeds, heal the sick, defend and support the weak and the poor (Act 20:33-35); relieve the broken hearted, the wounded and the neglected, and liberate the oppressed and those in spiritual and social bondage (Luke 4:18).
Christians today, especially in Africa have a pretty reasonable understanding of their ecclesiastical and evangelistic duty and ethical identity but have very little grasp of or concern for Christian social transformational duties, rights and missiological opportunities. This is ecclesiology without missiology. Our elites and leaders tend to leave their faith behind when getting involved in the affairs of the pluralistic society. This is sociology without missiology. Even our seminaries teach only personal ethics, mission and evangelism for ecclesiastical purposes and no longer transformational social presence and missiological civil action. The result is that there is no theological cohesion among Christian scholars and denominations between what is seen as spiritual and that which is seen as social. This calls on Christian elders, scholars and leaders to pursue as a matter of urgent concern and common importance, a robust insight into “the theology of Christian social presence”. This goes beyond evangelism for conversion to personal/INDIVIDUAL purity, and moves on to reformation that overcomes evil civil/INSTITUTIONAL policies and principles as well as social/INTERACTIVE practices to replace them with good and biblical alternatives in pluralistic societies. This is full ambassadorial “missiology” for God’s Kingdom.
Christians are the light of the world and should not hide under the bushels of their Churches and secluded lives as Christ taught in Mat 5:14-16. In the pluralistic society, Christian elders and elites should not be self-centred and KITCHEN minded (for only food on their tables) but should be KINGDOM minded (for influence beyond their territories), and therefore strategically participate and cooperate to influence their pluralistic societies as God counselled the Jews in Babylon (Jer 29:4-7).
Whether in business, mass media, public views and debate, parliament, governance, academia, civil service, classroom, courtroom, boardroom, marketplace, athletics, politics, military, offices, family, community and the street, Christians should understand they are one team of diplomats and ambassadors of God’s heavenly Kingdom for bringing God’s love and purpose amongst all peoples, not only within the Church. To do this requires a good grasp and effective application of strategies derived from biblical examples and spiritual wisdom learned from biblical principles. When Christ was sending His disciples into the world, He taught them that the harmlessness of DOVES combined with the wisdom of SERPENTS are imperatives for them as endangered SHEEP to succeed and survive amongst ravenous WOLVES of this world.
(16) Behold, I send you forth as SHEEP in the midst of WOLVES: be therefore wise as SERPENTS, and harmless as DOVES.
These powerful Kingdom ambassadorial or diplomatic principles and strategies for influence in pluralistic or secular society cannot be copied from worldly politicians and businessmen as seems usual in leadership programmes today, but could rather be learned from the experiences and examples of great godly men and women who influenced the gentile world and prevailed amongst the ungodly:
- Abraham in Syria, Canaan and Egypt (faith, hope, prayer altars and water wells, entrepreneurial investment, dialogue, survival and self defence strategies),
- Joseph in Egypt (vision of great future, fear of God, excellence, integrity, team contact, developmental strategies, diplomacy, discretional privileges, lobbying and wisdom),
- Moses in Egypt and the wilderness (defence of the downtrodden, vision, hope, faith, determination, diplomacy, conquest strategy, law and order, nationhood, patriotism),
- Daniel and the Three in Babylon and Persia (prayerfulness, teamwork, excellence, lobbying, tactful wisdom, spiritual insight, courage, trustworthiness, faith, patience, integrity, political participation and godliness),
- Ezra the Scribe (study, document gathering and mass media report influence),
- Nehemiah the Governor (project strategy, burden for the Church’s good, security watchfulness and prayerfulness),
- Esther and Mordecai in Persia (tactful ascendancy, discretional privileges, conscientious objection, burden for the Church’s good, lobbying and legislation for defence of the downtrodden).
- Erastus and Gallio and other eminent men in Corinth (Christian participation in political offices such as the Treasurer of Corinth and the Deputy of Achia and great judicial insight on divinely appointed the purpose and limits of the powers of the State to civil matters without infringing on but to rather protecting freedom of conscience and religion Act 18:7-17; Rom 13:1-7, 16:23; 1Cor 1:14; 2Tim 4:20; 3John 1).
Much more could also be learned about exerting dynamic, effective and strategic influence in a pluralistic world from the patriotic prowess of the Judges (i.e. Generals) of Israel amongst the Canaanite States, from the godly royalty of David, from the entrepreneurial and intellectual royalty of Solomon, and the transformative royalty of Josiah, the Church and State cooperation and conflicts between the Kings and Prophets of Israel, the inner caucus mentoring and sacrificial, exemplary leadership of Jesus, the teamwork, networking and transformational influence of the Apostles, as well as from Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus and Paul, who used the leverage of their good offices, high-wire contact and expertise for the furtherance of the Gospel despite hostilities.
Government or public service is a divine institution under God. The Bible teaches that “the most High rules in the kingdom of men” (Dan 4:17, 25) and that God has ordained rulers to be “the minister of God to you for good” (Rom 13:1-7). Christians are dispersed sojourners in our communities (1Pet 1:1) and so do not merely belong to any place, party or people in this world but ultimately belong to Christ’s heavenly Kingdom. As dispersed lights or stars to this dark world Christians are God’s authorised light agents in every place, party or people not only to convert the hearts and conducts of SOULS through preaching (bring the Kingdom justification WITHIN) but also to transform the governance and cultures of SOCIETIES through strategic participation (bring the Kingdom justice NEAR). Christians need not only presence, prayer, preaching, but also planning, participation, pacesetting, publishing, and production to bring God’s Kingdom on the Earth and to bring souls into the Kingdom.
Christian influencers do not need to belong to same denomination or political party, or ethnic group or country, but should always share the same basic Kingdom agenda for the good of the Church and the society, which good comes with victorious influence of the godly for righteous and tactical royalty nuggetted in Prov. 29. Despite their dispersion into various groupings Christians are one and should avoid rancour on secondary matters that jeopardises the primary programme of God’s Kingdom because of their denominational, political or ethnic affiliations.
A robust concept of Christian Social Presence and participation ought to be not only evangelization for spiritual regeneration or PERSONAL CONVERSION, (gospel witnessing and soul-winning), but also includes strategization for societal reformation or PUBLIC INFLUENCE which include:
◘ social action (relevance activism which is not only spiritual but purposefully prudential, intellectual, technological, cultural, administrative, political, economic, developmental and even environmental);
◘ social interaction (dialogue for toleration and toleration across plurality of groups, ethical example, contextualised inculturation of the Gospel and apologetics);
◘ social status (citizenship rights or liberties and egalitarian opportunities for strategic leadership positions);
◘ social service (hard-work, charitable duty and equity amongst all people); and
◘ social enlightenment (basic literacy for all and general education in all fields of liberal learning and civic/social matters).
These were the social and strategic roles played by temporal leaders like Joseph in Egypt (Gen 40 and 45-50), Obadiah under Ahab and Jezebel (1Kin 18:1-15), Daniel and friends in Babylon (Dan 2:48-49), Esther and Mordecai in Persia (Esth 4-9), Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea in Judea for Jesus (John 7:45-53; 19:38-40) the Pharisees of Jerusalem Senate for Paul (Act 23:6-11) and Crispus, Gallio and Justus in Achaia for the Church (Act 18:7-17). Though this is no longer remembered, but the development of most social principles and state institutions in the free, pluralistic, advanced and industrialized nations of today were born out of Christian missiological principles of humane tolerance and social inclusiveness.
Elite Christian elders, intellectuals and leaders, have the missiological duty to unite so they could brainstorm and network, interact and intercede, in order to serve as concordant think-tank and non-divisive vanguard of true progress for the Church and the whole society. They must offer the Church and the society in-depth and progressive wisdom on common inclusive ways and means to best reap from God’s love and Christ’s reconciliation for all humanity, and thereby move the society and nation forward in harmony and tolerance, in righteousness and excellence, in prosperity and peace.
The Bible teaches us to participate in and pray for the peaceful and progressive governance of wherever we live and work. (Jer 29:4-7; 1Tim 2:1-4). After the world had been embroiled with centuries of gruesome struggles about Church-over-State, State-over-Church and Church-against-Sate, the elite American founding fathers and leaders served such missiological think-thank purpose in their days by delineating the Church from the State in a way that guaranteed religious toleration, plurality and freedom based on “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17); They developed secular State institutions on missiological principles of fundamental freedom, equity, humaneness and democratic self-determination based on “overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:21). It will be regrettable if we fail our generation by not getting involved in our own time. May God help and bless us all.