The gospel as a manifesto? retraced

ac·tiv·ism

–noun

1. the doctrine or practice of vigorous action or involvement as a means of achieving political or other goals, sometimes by demonstrations, protests, etc.

Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1)
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.

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Christians, as God’s Covenant People, are not, were never meant to be, socio-politically oriented as liberators, or as agents of a distinct cultural mandate. Liberation and cultural patronage are the activities and purview of the common realm, of the Seculum. Because entrance into and continued membership in the Covenant Kingdom of God is not based upon a persons economic, intellectual, or cultural situatedness, it’s confessionally oriented. And on account of that, politics and cultural pursuits don’t fall within the paradigm of pilgrimage, the journey of God’s people through this present evil age. The People of God exist in a different covenantal orientation then the common man that he co-habitats with in the creation, the one in grace the other still ruled exclusively by law, united only in their natural occupation as image bearers. Michael Horton highlights this when he writes,

Intrinsic to humanness, particularly the imago, is a covenantal office or commission into which every person is born;…This is to say that “law”in particular, the divine covenant-lawis natural, a verbum internum (internal word) that rings in yet is not identical to the conscience. The covenant of creation renders every person a dignified and therefore accountable image-bearer of God.

Even the fall did not eradicate the original revelation of God’s righteous law to the conscience; indeed, to this day this covenant law is in force: “Now we know that whatever the law says,” whether written on the conscience or on tablets, “it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world held accountable to God” (Rom. 3:19). The law brings hope of relief, but only the knowledge of breach. (v.20) The gospel, by contrast, is entirely foreign to the human person in this natural state. It comes as a free decision on God’s part in view of the fall and can be known only by a verbum externum (external word), an astounding announcement proclaimed that brings hope and confidence in our understanding before God (vv. 21-26). (Lord and Servant: A Covenant Christology, pg 94)

And the gap only widens as the two disparate groups, one covenant keepers through Christ and the other covenant breakers through Adam, move eschatologically forward. The Church’s sword is blunted, affecting a spiritual nature rather than a civil one, into the cudgel of church discipline and excommunication and the magistrate is empowered by God to dispense justice to the godly and ungodly without partiality, relying not on revelation but on creation; a division is established between the Sacred and the Secular. Thus, if the kingdom of heaven is truly in a state of already/not yet, still lacking in earthly permanence, a dual citizenship must then be part of the nature of the Christian in the present age. The Christian is one who lives concurrently under the authority of the divine and the magistrate, being beholden to both, to the one functioning as one created in the image of God and affirming the solidarity of the human race and to the former as one in covenant with God who has redeemed and reconciled him to himself through the work of the cross. And activism, if left solely to the pursuit of the betterment of man is perfectly acceptable, but it is when the Gospel is cannibalized in order to justify the relevance of the Church and her Gospel to the culture that it sojourns in that activism becomes syncretism.



There is nothing inherently Christian about activism, yet that does not disqualify Christians from being activists. The essential element, though, which defends against the Gospel from being used as a resource for political action and manifesto, is motivation. The minute that we seek to act in the public arena because we are Christians with the express intent of spreading the Good News of The Gospel by transforming the culture or baptizing vocation, we have confused the two kingdoms and abandoned our role as pilgrims; intent on bringing heaven down now through the “sweat of our brow and the strength of our back”. We must recall that Christendom is a failed project; it resulted either in attempted genocide and or the forceful acquisition of land and their people under the auspices of manifest destiny while wearing the guise of converting the savages, which is neither ethically, morally, or theologically defensible. So, when the Gospel is placed within the shell of activism, what is distinctly Christian begins to be transformed into something more culturally recognizable, while what is secular (see culture) is made the concern of that which is sacred, twisting the message to fit the appetites of the audience. Activism in the Church flattens out any distinction between the two kingdoms to eventually politicize and moralize Christianity, leaving it as a rationalistic methodology that speaks the hollow rhetoric of religious connotation; always looking for the meaning the words affect rather than the meaning the words represent, the sign becomes greater than that which is signified. It devours Christianity to leave it stripped of a gospel, of a savior, while nonetheless attempting to maintain the illusion of  transcendence. But in the end it will become a race that we cannot win, a faith we cannot have, in a messiah who shall never return.

As well, when the the Church becomes primarily a shelter, a refuge, for the less fortunate of society, it has jettisoned the otherworldliness of the Gospel for the historical Jesus of liberal theology. And though I’m certainly not suggesting that they all actively set out to subvert the message of the cross, the result is that they functionally deny it by harnessing the resources of the Church for social activism rather than the care of the congregation and the evangelization of the community because they interpret the transcendent through their navel. But then again, this is why the social Gospel is so appealing, it offers the kingdom now with no cost, being already in line with the natural tendencies of man rather than declaring the Gospel over and against the natural inclinations of mankind; offering not what is attractive and desired but what is irreducibly necessary.

The meta-narrative becomes lost in a Kantian induced postmodern miasma where nothing is true yet all receive affirmation and validation, the ultimate concern being to justify a Dionysian hedonism as the normative ethic, because man, when given the choice, will always choose himself rather then God. Yet the conscience (the natural law) stands in the way of that, with the Gospel offering absolution and an end to the accusations of the Law, but man would rather choose narcissism. But I don’t mean a narcissism in the classical sense, but one that collectively expresses man’s inherent love of himself and will to power, one that sets man not only above the rest of creation but above God himself as the source of that which is good and right in the world, in which the breaking of the covenant in Eden is seen as liberation from the oppression of “primitive myths” to finally be human. For them the Gospel, if it is good news at all, must be dealt with solely on the mortal plane, conflating any vertical activity into the horizontal as mere myth intended to justify militant social activism, moral/ethical improvement and to explain the common phenomena of the conscience.

In the end, the passivity of the Christian Pilgrimage is simply at odds with the activist inclinations and sympathies of the natural man. Man naturally wants to do to cause or affect change. But that is to practice dominion, to homestead, and it is certainly not the image of a pilgrim sojourning for a time in the midst of his journey.

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