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The Path of the Church in Our Time

In America today political posturing and fear-mongering is everywhere on all sides of the constructed liberal–conservative spectrum. There is angst everywhere about the direction of Western civilization and how to “save” it, especially among Christians. John Howard Yoder has the right message for all such forms of jumpy edginess about the state of Western culture:

“What then should be the path of the church in our time? We muse first of all confess — if we believe it — that the meaning of history lies not in the acquisition and defence of the culture and freedoms of the West, not in the aggrandizement of material comforts and political sovereignty, but in the calling together ‘for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation,’ a ‘ people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.’ The basic theological issue is not between Bultmann and Barth, not between the sacramental and the prophetic emphases, nor between the Hebraic and Greek mentalities, but between those for whom the church is a reality and those for whom it is the institutional reaction of the good and bad conscience, of the insights, the self-encouragement — in short, of the religion of society.”

– John Howard Yoder, The Royal Priesthood (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 61-62.

It doesn’t get much more right on than that. The true political disagreement today is not between right and left, but between those who do and those who don’t think that the church is “really” a reality in this world which, in Christ, carries the meaning of history.


  1. Darren wrote:


    Wednesday, October 29, 2008 at 11:28 am | Permalink
  2. Evan wrote:

    Does Yoder allow for defense of the “culture and freedoms of the West” [or any other cardinal direction] on some level, even if not on the most basic level?

    Or do you think that he would agree with your closing statement that such concerns are not “true political disagreements”?

    I think they are true and worthy goods; they are just as “real” as any ecclesial reality, too. That the Church “carries the meaning of history” in Christ doesn’t mean, I think we’d both agree, that it IS the meaning of history. Nor does it mean that its privileged role as steward of such meaning precludes culture from also being an important steward of the same.

    What I struggle with in quotes like this is the sort of ecclesiological positivism that can sometimes be read into them. Western conceptions of freedom, for instance, should be defended insofar as they are representative of the freedom of the Spirit of the Lord, and culture has every right, reason, even duty to defend such freedom with or without the Church standing alongside. In that sense, I think that both civilization and Church “carry the meaning of history”. That the church is anointed in its special task of doing so doesn’t make this meaning any more the Church’s than it is culture’s. It is all in Christ and quite alien to us apart from Christ.

    I’m not sure if that’s in agreement or disagreement with what you’ve said above. I believe that the Church “is “really” a reality in this world which, in Christ, carries the meaning of history.” …I don’t think I believe that it is THE reality, however, nor that political disagreement needs to find the identity of the Church amidst culture at stake for it to be “true political disagreement”.

    Wednesday, October 29, 2008 at 12:10 pm | Permalink
  3. Mike Bull wrote:

    Are we not witnessing a situation where the culture has rejected its Christian foundation, presuming that the fruits of the gospel can be maintained without the gospel? Only Christ can save it – through Christians with bended knees and rolled up sleeves.

    From a blog I read:

    “Here’s a timely prediction by R. J. Rushdoony (in 1983!) describing what a remnant of serious-minded, problem-solving Christians (you) face in 2008. “The world is moving toward the greatest economic crisis in history. It is a religious crisis, the product of man’s efforts to play god and to control all things. For humanistic man, freedom is anathema because it runs counter to scientific planning and control. The growing crisis is thus a religious one, and we must see it as God’s judgment on a false and rival order. The crisis must be seen as good news, as evidence that God is at war—that the wages of sin in any sphere is always death, and every tower of Babel that man erects has a common destiny: Disaster and confusion. The Lord is at work; let the people rejoice.”

    Many of you who know Rushdoony also know he used Scripture to show that only a rolled-up-sleeves Christian remnant with eyes always squarely on the target can turn around a cultural crisis of 2008’s magnitude. The goal is to turn chaos into victory which is exactly why AV operates as it does across the full range of ministry. That’s also what our daily articles want to encourage whether through inspired feedback from “veteran” responders or even by “rookies.” Our focus in this sinking culture is not just on pesky (but solvable) problems such as divorce, the economy, government, voting, ethics, etc., but on THE problem of problems; namely, a moribund Church populated by un-informed, poorly lead, often self-centered, humanistically-deceived congregants waiting for a “rapture” or whatever other materialistic escape device might seem tempting.”


    This is a positivism centred on Christ that works for a Christian future through a restored church. However, it may be too late for the old culture, which is still reason to rejoice. God’s judgments always have one eye on the future.

    Wednesday, October 29, 2008 at 9:31 pm | Permalink
  4. Kien wrote:

    Please excuse my ignorance. If true political disagreement is confined to whether “the church is really a reality in this world “, does this mean there is no political disagreement between Harry, James and Ming below? (Or have I completely misunderstood the comment?)

    Harry says: The church is a reality and includes homosexuals and transexuals who proclaim Jesus is Messiah.

    James says: The church is a reality and excludes homosexuals and transexuals who do not acknowledge God’s authority as expressed in the Bible.

    Ming says: The church is a reality and includes the Dalai Lama, who obeys Jesus’ injunction to love our enemies regardless of whether a man named Jesus did in fact call his disciples to love their enemies.

    Wednesday, November 5, 2008 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

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