Redeeming Society?

Question
I have some questions regarding some Calvinistic tendencies I see on the internet. Is a Christian supposed to work for a better society based on Christian values? If so, there seems to be a contradiction with the gospel because the world is mainly a world of the unredeemed. As a teacher, my job can't be focused on changing the world or making people better persons and so on. This is the humanistic and Arminian approach -- it trusts human qualities and potentials to make changes in a world that is already lost. My work is God's work and I do things according to the values of the Bible, and my only trust is in God and my only values the values of the gospel in all the situations. If one places values on this earth, regardless of political leanings, one is already mixed with the sin, power and ambitions of this world.
Answer
Calvinists actually hold quite a number of different views regarding the gospel's influence on society. Some do not find it important to make a special effort to influence society, while others think this is very important. Those who think influencing society is important are for the most part more in line with John Calvin's own thinking. Remember that Calvin himself lived in a world that did not recognize a separation between church and state, and he himself lived in a city (Geneva, Switzerland) where the city council ran many aspects of the church. Because society had such great influence on the church in his day, failing to influence society positively meant letting the world negatively influence the church.

The basic idea that Christians should influence society flows from the doctrine of the kingdom of God. The Calvinistic doctrine is that this world may be fallen, but it is still God's world. When Christ came he inaugurated the kingdom of God, which we see manifested in the world as the church, and he is now ruling over this kingdom. Further, the Calvinistic idea of the gospel is not just that God is saving sinners, but also that God is saving creation. He is restoring the world to a perfect order, much like the one he created and enjoyed before man's sin cast it into futility. Of course, the main thrust and means of spreading the gospel is the salvation of people. Nevertheless, the great hope of the gospel includes the restoration of all creation (e.g. Rom. 8:19-22; Eph. 1:10; Col. 1:15-20; 2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1-4). In influencing society, many Calvinists see themselves are conquering soldiers in God's army. They are reclaiming what rightly belongs to God and his people, but has been usurped by sinful man.

Another reason Calvinists believe it is important to influence society is that the Bible often emphasizes the imporance of civil justice. In the Bible, God judged many societies, including ancient Israel, for failing to defend the civil rights of people such as orphans, widows, sojourners, and the poor. He also judged those nations who acted wickedly in idolatrous worship, and those who treated other nations poorly. The New Testament also affirms this kind of thinking when it says that civil authorities are ministers of God for good (Rom. 13:1ff.), and when it encourages Christians to pray in order to influence the actions of their civil leaders (1 Tim. 2:1-4).

Yet another reason Calvinists believe in influencing society is that it facilitates the spread of the gospel. When society allows the possession of Bibles and evangelism, and when its art and social mores teach biblical values and concepts, the gospel is more readily accessible to its citizens. Still another reason is that Calvinists believe in doing everything for the glory of God, and God is more glorified by societies which acknowledge and obey him than he is by socieities which rebel against him.

Now, this does not mean that changing society is a higher goal than saving souls, or that everyone is called to be active in politics and societal change. It also does not mean that we must affect these changes through our own human ability. Rather, the idea is that God's goals, and indeed his blessings for his people, include making the world a better place for his people, and a more glorifying place for himself. Because these are included in God's goals, he enables and strengthens Christians to participate in advancing his kingdom in these areas. The thinking is not so much that the world will be a better place through the humanistic efforts of fallen men, but that God will make the world a better place for his people.

A major way that Christians affect the world for the better is the very way you have described your own life and job. By teaching in a godly manner, and by your Christian presence in the fallen world, you influence the world and your society in positive ways for God. As you adobt the values of the gospel in all situations, and as these situations involve the world and its socities, you help advance the kingdom of God, and you influence others positively for Christ -- including influencing them to act and think like his loyal subjects. With regard to political parties, elections, nationalism, etc., insofar as the gospel molds your political opinions and actions, you as a Christian are exerting influence on society and politics. Of course, our highest loyalties must be to Christ, but this does not mean that we cannot have lesser loyalties to our countries. In fact, Paul's instruction that we obey civil authorities is in many ways an instruction that we demonstrate loyalty to our civil governments by obeying their laws (Rom. 13:1-7).

Not all Calvinists think this way about their involvements with society, but the views I have presented here are notuncommon. Neither are they on either extreme of the spectrum of views.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Creative Delivery Systems at Third Millennium Ministries.