Being Christians of Influence

Being Christians of Influence

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Tower Chimes – May 2024

I’d like to ask two related questions:

  1. To what degree do you think Christians should be attempting to influence and shape society?
  2. In what manner should Christians be attempting to influence and shape society?

I have a non-Methodist clergy colleague, someone I consider a friend and an effective pastor, who sincerely believes that the United States should not be a democracy but a theocracy. Theocracy means “rule by God.” It is government by divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided. The legal system is based on religious codes and decrees. In most cases, there’s an ultimate human leader who is usually a religious leader, and who rules on behalf of a deity. There is no separation of church and state in a true theocracy because only the country’s prevailing religion is allowed. If I’m correctly interpreting my colleague’s assertion, he believes that the solution to the ills of society is to make Christianity the foundation of the U.S. government and then to subject all U.S. citizens to a Christian-based system of law. He would probably say that in such a ‘Christian nation,’ everyone is equal, but Christians are just “more equal” (a la George Orwell’s book Animal Farm). From my colleague’s perspective, Christians should do more than just be an influence on society; rather, we should be doing everything we can to fully shape our culture such that we’re creating an American society in our own ‘Christian’ image.

From what I can tell, he’s not alone in this perspective. It seems there are countless Americans today who believe that Christians have a responsibility to literally infiltrate specific segments of society for the purpose of gaining positions of authority so that they can enforce a particular brand of Christian behavior, belief, and practice. It’s called the 7 Mountain Mandate. The seven mountains, or spheres of influence, are education, religion, family, business, government/military, arts/entertainment, and media. These spheres are seen as the primary means by which a society’s thoughts and behaviors are formed. Those who adhere to the 7 Mountain Mandate desire to “occupy” or “invade” these spheres of influence in order to “transform” or “take back” society.

It should be of no surprise that Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:19-20 (“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you”), also known as the Great Commission, is used to support this evangelistic approach. While it’s beyond the scope of this article to fully address the problems with the 7 Mountain Mandate—and I believe it to be ultimately unbiblical—I will point out two ways in which I believe it fails to reflect the spirit of Jesus’ command. First, Jesus made it very clear that the Kingdom of God is not of this world (John 18:36). He never instructed his followers to forcefully bring the Kingdom upon this world. He never insinuated that society should be made to be a type of Kingdom through human agency. And second, when the Lord charged them to “make disciples of all nations,” he clearly had individual persons in mind as the intended recipients of their disciple-making, not entire human systems. Only individual persons can be baptized. Only individual persons can commit to obeying Jesus. The 7 Mountain Mandate, and other, similar approaches to evangelism, seeks to forcefully turn society into the Kingdom of God.

When we pray “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we’re not asking God to bring the Kingdom upon this world. Again, Jesus made it clear that the Kingdom and this world/society are two separate realities. What we are asking is that God would work to fulfill his will and purpose in our world. Thinking Jesus was going to usher in the Kingdom was the misunderstanding his Disciples had. But Jesus wasn’t about bringing his Kingdom upon the earth; he was about transforming persons with God’s grace and filling them with his Spirit so that they might be reflections of Kingdom values and truths. I absolutely believe we’re called to order our lives so that we and others are coming to faith in Christ and growing in faith in Christ. I also believe that as Christ-followers we can influence community life. But keep in mind that, by definition, influence differs from strong-arming or being forceful or mandating. We’ve not been called to invade, occupy, or take back society. Rather, our call is to share the love and grace of God so that the Holy Spirit can “invade,” “occupy,” or “take back” persons with the saving presence of Jesus Christ.

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