All too often, the Church is rendered impotent due to the habitual drift of organized religion toward societal institutional identity. In every society, God has established seven great culture-making institutions-government, commerce, medicine, the family, academia, entertainment/sport, and law. These seven institutions not only generate the culture of any people group or nation but are themselves the conglomerate of how the various “tribes” or ethnic groupings within a people or nation express their culture-in other words, these are both the motors of culture and the vehicles for expressing culture. Because of the decaying presence of sin in every people group, these institutions are often mere shadows, broken fragments of what God intends them to be. Renewal can come to particular instances of these institutions as individuals and groups begin to follow Jesus Christ and apply Kingdom values and practices to their spheres of influence but the decaying cycle of sin in any given people group requires major, societ- wide renewal in order to protect these vehicles from not only eroding but morphing into tools which accelerate wickedness.
Entertainment/sport as an institution of culture has often, in its eroded state, become a vehicle for accelerated societal evil. When entertainment falls into eroticism (as it often does) and when sport falls into violence (which it often does), the good gift of sport and entertainment goes from a vehicle for cultural expression to the glory of God to an instrument causing accelerated societal decay. Each and every one of the seven institutions of society has a corresponding broken expression with equally wicked and destructive demarcations. Commerce falls to greed, government falls to power at the expense of the marginal, families become places of abuse and neglect….The reality is, because of sin, we have rarely seen expressions of whole and transformative institutions. We need renewal as many of the institutions of our time have or are beginning to enter into the unsalvageable stages of erosion. The de-evolution of the entertainment industry into eroticism is well documented but we also see irreversible damage to the notion of the family, to medicine, and certainly to commerce. Corruption, a culture of death, acceptance of broken sexual paradigms are all the cumulative effects of a lack of much needed renewal.
Renewal is not merely the bridled restraint of such expressions of decay. It is true that the Church has a preservative nature in culture. The presence of the Church in the World slows the ramped downward spiral of society and the grotesque end stages of unbridled wickedness. The Scripture’s use of preservative imagery, however, is often misused. Preservatives do not bring new life, they merely prevent the decay of death from entirely ruining the food they preserve. Only the blowing winds of God’s grace on a people through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in a unique, corporate way can actually bring new life. Without this unique act of God, the best we can hope for is a slowing of the inevitable and at worst, when the preserving Church fails, the active judgment of God on a people-perhaps even their eradication. Renewal is the unique resurrecting work of God through the corporate application of the Spirit’s power in bringing repentance and the subsequent Kingdom transformation of people groups in application to the culture-making institutions of their society. Renewal is not mere mass conversion nor is it mere revival in the Church, though it may initially begin there, renewal is the macro-transformation of nations, peoples, tribes, and tongues expressed in their culture.
The Church often fails not only to preserve the culture but also fails to be able to receive renewal from God because it trends toward drifting in its identity. The Church world-wide, when left un-checked, confuses itself as an institution of society. We are to be “in the world, but not of the world,” says Jesus. Applied societally, the Church is to participate and lead in every one of the seven institutions but not succumb to the temptation to be those institutions or to circumvent these institutions. Sadly, we see the Church all too often failing to lead and transform these institutions but instead seeking to become or replace them. How often have we seen the Church attempt to be a place of commercial enterprise with her ministers and evangelists peddling programs, conferences, products and the like? How often have we seen well meaning Christian leaders attempting to use the Church as a vehicle for political manipulation and power? How often have we seen the Church give up its ministry of prayer, evangelism, and the study of the Word of God for entertainment and programs of sport? To sit in many prayer circles in today’s Church, one would think we are a hospital as we pray for strokes, heart attacks, cancers, and sicknesses at the expense of lost neighbors, broken families and injustices around the world of every kind! The Church is not a hospital, though we are charged with caring for the broken hearted and the sick. The Church is not the judicial system, though we are charged with loving the prisoner and visiting them in their hours of desperation. The Church is not the academy but we are charged with bringing every thought captive to the Lordship of Christ and worshipping God with our whole mind. The Church is not the family but we are a new family under God charged with caring for widows and orphans.
We are all of these things and none of them at the same time for we are something much greater. A loftier, controlling identity shadows any particular missional charge, for we are the Bride of Jesus Christ, not merely the sum total of our functions. As such, our primary passion should be to connect with Christ and to allow the regenerative flow of the Spirit fill us for His glory. In the world, the Church’s passion should be to be the receptacle of the transforming power of God that can alone bring renewal to our society. How sad that we drift away and settle for our secondary functions instead of our primary identity like a man who confuses his employment for his true identity. The Church is to be just and the place for championing justice without being the hall of justice. The Church is to be a place where the needs of the widow, orphan, sick and lame are addressed without becoming a hospital or place of respite care…The Church is to have no greater preoccupation than that of the person of Jesus Christ and being the receptacle of His renewing power.
The Church is to be in each and every institution, shaping and defining the trajectory of those institutions. There is no place in society where the Church should not be seeking to bring renewal. The high courts of justice, the culture-making centers of music and film, the great halls of academia, the research labs of science and medicine-it is all Christ’s. We are not guests here, this is Christ’s world and He is in the process of reclaiming what is His through us. When the Church abandons entire institutions, the society should expect to erode into debauchery. When the Church leaves the university, we should expect godlessness to reign in the dorms, bars, and offices of faculty. When the Church leaves the world of politics, we should expect unjust laws. When the Church leaves the medical field, we should expect immoral research and practices. Jesus will not break if we expose him to the real world but to listen to retreatists, one has to wonder if they have a cheap plaster Jesus picked up at some tourist shop of faith. The real Jesus can withstand the challenges of brokenness and sin in all these places-He is more durable than we think!
We are to be in the world, acting as the preservative element that prevents it from eroding into darkness and despair. However, we cannot content ourselves with mere incremental advancements of God’s Kingdom. We long for it to break through in its fullness, for another ‘Great Awakening,” for mass repentance that gives way to new life! We are to be waiting and calling on God for the unique work of renewal, of revival and awakening-the work that only God can send from Heaven. The work of renewal, the breath of God on our land, is the only hope in escaping His wrath and seeing our society live again. When the breath of God comes, it brings new life. This new life in society looks like medical breakthrough, a passion for research and learning, just laws, resources for those in need, whole and joy-filled families, redeemed leisure and competition, breathtaking art, dance, film, music-all to the glory of God! May it be so in our time Lord Jesus.