The Church's Prophetic Witness in a Publish-Christian World Trade
Thinking about cultural engagement is not necessarily new to the Church. In his treatise The City of God, Augustine outlined how the “City of God” (which is reflected in the Church) lives in and deals with the “City of Man” (Rome).
Fast forward to 1951 and H. Richard Niebuhr wrote the classic primer, which lists five models of how Christians think about and deal with culture. And then, over the past decade, James Davison Hunter and Tim Keller have outlined a list of ways Christians involve (and even try to change) culture.
In this post, I don't want to clarify the complexity of the Church's commitment to culture. However, my goal is – at least – to help believers think about our existence and thus our commitment as extraterrestrials and travelers in a pagan and post-Christian country.
I would like to make four observations of how John the Baptist was a prophetic testimony to the (first) coming of Christ and how the Church can also be a prophetic testimony to the (second) coming of Christ.
Before I perform my four observations, however, I would like to define the prophetic testimony. As a people of the already but not yet kingdom, a prophetic witness tries to embody and evangelize the truth that the king has come and is coming again to do everything anew.
Here are the four ways we can do this based on John the Baptist.
First, maintain a prophetic existence.
John the Baptist lived in the desert, wore out-of-date clothes and was eating unusually. Interestingly, he didn't have to do any of these things. He did this out of a prophetic existence. As a result, his prophetic residence indicated a future liberation; His prophetic style and diet suggested living a simple life.
Because of our prophetic existence, as believers we must remember that this world is not our permanent home. that we look forward to a home that is yet to come (Heb. 13). That is why we live in the here and now as ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5), strangers and exiles (1 Peter 2) in a foreign country. Our lifestyle indicates a coming (new) world.
If this world does not look at home or does not feel at home, we do not attack, criticize, disparage or avenge ourselves. We love, pray and intervene for the world – as we call out "Maranatha!"
Second, you preach a prophetic message.
John the Baptist had a simple message: “Repent because the kingdom of heaven is near” (Mt 3: 1). The main difference between his prophetic message of repentance and ours is that it comes before the service, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Today the Church has the same message with much more precision, strength, and authority – given the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ. We too are sending a message to the world that they must "REPRATE". They have to change their hearts, thoughts and directions and put them on Christ by claiming faithfulness to him.
If they change direction, they must admit and confess their sin (rebellion and betrayal) against the king. You must ask him for forgiveness because you make him the center of your life and wait patiently for him to come back (Acts 1:11; Rev. 21).
In short: "Repent, because the King has come and comes again" is the prophetic message that we have for the world – that we bring into the world.
Third, practice a prophetic voice.
John the Baptist blamed religious leaders (Pharisees and Sadducees) for their poor orthodoxy and orthopraxia. Don't miss this distinction. John the Baptist proclaimed a prophetic message to the people, but exercised a prophetic voice to the Pharisees (and Sadducees).
On the one hand, he called on people to repent because the king would come; On the other hand, he reprimanded people who should have turned around because the king came.
The Church must learn to practice a prophetic voice. A prophetic voice is anchored in the authority of God's Word, which means that it does not affect a secular culture or a people who do not claim faithfulness to King Jesus. However, many believers (and church leaders) want to practice a prophetic voice to unbelievers in the areas of entertainment, sports, politics, etc.
Rather than asking unbelievers to behave like unbelievers, Christians should use a prophetic voice to those who share a common authority. In other words, Christians who practice a prophetic voice would call on believers (and especially leaders) who have deviated from the gospel, theologically or practically. (Incidentally, a prophetic voice should not be used for Christians who have different secondary or tertiary theological beliefs.)
Fourth, you are performing a prophetic duty.
John the Baptist had a duty: to prepare the way of the Lord. In other words, he existed to make much of the coming king by preparing people's hearts to receive him when he came. Everything he did and who he was centered on this sacred prophetic duty.
Our prophetic duty can be summed up today in a quote from Peter's first letter:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for their possessions, so that you can proclaim the praise of those who have called you out of the darkness into their wonderful light. You used to not be a people, now you are God's people… (1 Peter 2: 9-10)
Throughout its history, the Church has demonstrated this prophetic duty to live as a people of God in a pagan world. Walter Wink remarked:
… The victory of the Church over demonic power embodied in the Roman imperial system was not achieved by grasping the levers of power: it was won when the victims knelt in the Colosseum and prayed for the emperor in the name of Jesus. (1)
There are countless other quotes and excerpts from church history that I could include here about the church, which fulfills its prophetic duty to live for the king and thus reflect on the kingdom of God.
Suffice it to say that when the Church fulfills its prophetic duty to reflect the King and his Kingdom in all areas of life, it becomes the most missionary in the world.
Given the kind of prophetic testimony we should have, we may want to rethink how to involve the world's cultural entertainers and politicians who promise to "recover" or "restore" something that could make Christians more culturally enjoyable.
Where I am sitting today, I believe that Jesus cares more about a divine church than the church that lives in a Christian nation. Our goal is not to find our home here, but to reflect on our coming home when our king overthrows the new city of Jerusalem. And honestly, we've actually seen that the Church has had success in history if she lives in a pagan country like this.
(1) Quoted from “Lesslie Newbigin: Missionary Theologian”, page 46.