16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 1 Cor 5:16-21
I recently heard a preacher say that many of the things Christians have lost are the fault of the Christians. The context of the statement led it to be understood as partly a reference to moral decline in America. (I say partly because the statement could, and likely should, also reference moral decline within the church, or even theological decline within the church, but that really isn’t the point of today’s post … some other time.) In some lights, the statement is unarguably true – if you have lost something that you once had, and had the power to maintain, then it is likely your fault that it’s gone; at least a little bit. The question is then what to do about it.
My interest is such statements typically lies narrowly along political outcomes, not necessarily the greater moral order of society. When Christians in a democracy (that’s quite a few of us – at least the ones free enough to be reading this right now) look out at declining moral order, how do we respond?
In various times and places Christians have lent their political power to legislated solutions for moral decline. I’m thinking here of such instances as the Temperance movement, that hoped the outlawing of alcohol would lead to a better society (it didn’t), or perhaps the Moral Majority of the ’80s, which sought to fight against the moral decay of the day. The latter certainly had a bigger influence on the current constitution of the “Christian right” than the former.
I think the Moral Majority had some merit insofar as it tried to pull down the barrier between parts of Christendom and political activism. It is not good for the Christian to view politics and religion is disconnected. No, if Christ has changed your life, then He has changed it in earnest and doubtless affected every part. Where I part ways with the Moral Majority (or the Temperance folks for that matter) is the functional nature of the Christian in affecting the nation for good. We are ambassadors.
Ambassadors represent their nation (or kingdom, in our case) while stationed abroad in the territory of some other sovereign. This is exactly how Paul uses the term in 2 Cor 5:20 above – “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” Now, our “appeal” is not to be “good” but to be reconciled. Further, we have a limitless supply of visas and naturalization forms – if you want to come over to our nation (kingdom) you are more than welcome.
It is not however the role of the ambassador to enforce by power the legal order found in his sovereign nation. That is a military function. Yes, I know, we are also called “soldiers” in 2 Timothy. Yet I am reminded of the Lord’s response to Pilate – “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). So too with us. The kingdom to which we belong is not here. Attempts to make this place look like our home through legislative fiat are destined to fail – but attempts to make this place look like our home through reconciliation of the people do offer hope.
Naturally one has to be careful in pushing the ambassador allegory too far. We don’t have diplomatic immunity. Christians across the globe find themselves in serious danger while behaving in a manner that is in no way illegal in our home (e.g., meeting together to sing songs and pray). Further, the notion of being “deported” has a rather macabre feel … though it is perhaps accurate to think of being expelled as ambassadors in such a way.
Also, unlike most ambassadors, we actually are technically citizens of our host country as well. We get a vote (at least in America we do). So how do we manage the in between? How do we participate in the governance of our host nation while acting as ambassadors for our sovereign?
I suggest that the answer lies in focusing our earthly citizenship (with its influences) on our earthly fellows. By that I mean that we should use the power of government to restrain men from harming one another – not to restrain men from offending God. We should restrain men from “stealing, killing, and destroying” with regards to their neighbors – but not much more.
Efforts to legislate a society that is moral toward God are destined to fail. They may fail outright, or they may fail to produce anything meaningful. It is only faith in Him and reconciliation that matter in our book, not ritual observance of the law. More importantly, efforts to legislate a society that is moral toward God appear to have only made our ambassadorial function harder, not easier. The “sinners and rebels” think themselves free, though bound in chains – and see us as attempting to bind them in chains, rather than set them free.
The policy implications of this are rather far reaching and stand in stark contrast to much of the “good” that the government attempts to do here. But I think the turning point for the country is not found first in the policy debate, but the mindset of the people. When the people, or more-to-the-point Christians, see democratic government through the eyes of the citizen-ambassador, we will begin to move back toward liberty.