The idea of “the real world” can be as different as night and day in what Christians mean, and from that, how they act. John Stackhouse, a Baptist theologian, believes something like a kind of realism which accepts the good and bad, along with the limitations in government, and makes the most of it, of course trying to arrive to what’s best, but realizing there will inevitably be shortfalls and issues and new problems will arise. Then there’s the meaning of “the real world” which might come from what’s called a Christian anarchist position, here summarized well by Greg Boyd. It basically takes the position that what happens in worldly government is rather beside the point for the follower of Christ. They should be living with one world in mind, God’s kingdom present in Jesus. So for them, that’s the real world. The rest is a charade, or worse. Destined for God’s judgment.
I see something of both perspectives when I look at scripture. The realism advocated which says Christians can and even should get their hands dirty by getting involved in civil societies, of course doing so with integrity and Christian truth, we can see clearly enough in Daniel, and to some extent, arguably, in the New Testament itself. The other position is clearly seen in the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. What Jesus calls his disciples to, God’s kingdom present in him, certainly political itself in that it is a way of life under his rule.
What might be a determining factor is to read what follows in what unfolds after Christ’s resurrection and ascension and the outpouring of the Spirit. It does seem to emphasize what our witness in the world is to be as the church and as believers. It really doesn’t say anything about Christians serving in government, but rather how Christians are to respond to government. There are instances of people in the New Testament who have faith and serve in government positions.
So at this point I think like life, it’s complex. It is easy to simply withdraw. But it seems to me more Jesus-like to remain in society, but with a different message. After all, if we don’t have a different answer, then what is distinctive about us as Christians? Isn’t what we’re called to live, and if necessary die for, the gospel, the good news of God in Jesus? Regardless of just how we come down on the question of Christians and the state, there should be no question that this is what distinguishes us from the world.
And that will require a different track and wisdom, I think, then what we see from either the Christian left or Christian right in the United States. Both fail in compromising by not holding to the gospel as paramount in every consideration. Miserably. I take neither one of them seriously at all, myself. Both fail because in one way or another, their witness to Christ and the gospel is compromised. That ought to be our first and foremost concern: how will what we do or not do in the world impact our witness to Christ?
Maybe the best position is to leave the answer a bit nebulous, uncertain, but major on what we do know is our calling: to be faithful to Christ and the gospel. We must avoid any position that mixes the cross and the flag together. However we think our responsibilities to the state are to be played out, like paying taxes, and honoring those in authority, we must make it clear to all that Christ’s kingdom is different, not from this world, though down to earth, but in a completely different way. We certainly do good works to help people in need, and solve problems.
Something for our consideration, or at least what I’ve been considering lately. As we ponder what it means as Christians and the church to be a faithful witness in the world. In and through Jesus.