Society is not my project, my neighbor is. I need not bear illusions about the nature of society, or the evils present in it. I only have to fight to be a signpost to others that true kindness is possible, true love is possible, and the gospel can be lived out.
The welfare of my neighbor depends on me, and we are judged according not to the heights of religious righteousness, but according to our treatment of the least. We should not expect that if healthcare legislation passes that our society will be fixed, but we have an obligation to desire the welfare, bodily and otherwise for those who do not have these things in their reach.
We cannot fall prey to the idea that some legislation will suffice so that Christians can focus on other things. Christians in this country we know as the United States especially have forgotten what it means to not trust in the government to provide what the Church’s work is. Unfortunately many of my fellow citizens feel that Church is where we sing songs or worship, and hospitals are where we heal the sick. Call me a mediaevalist nut job, but I think the two belong together. Many community churches in the evangelical tradition now pride themselves in having a cafe, or some sort of lounge area. This just goes to show what we value in our Church life is far from helping the poor as part of our worship.
What might the Church be like if there were full time staff members who were doctors and clinicians?
My fellow citizens I think tend to assume that whatever America does for social benefits or the lack thereof is good enough for them. Our go-getter attitude in this “land of opportunity” has made it so that many irate people would like to decline all sorts of health reform, and at the same time funnel money both their personal funds and those of the church into new venues for entertaining rather than helping.
Christians must defend the defenseless even when they are counted among their ranks, rightly they should be so. The Church is at the disposal of the socially outcast, the economically weak, the political outcasts and the victims of injustice. When concern for the mistreatment of the weak, the distressed, the bankrupt, the orphaned and the jobless not only with sympathy but with action falls in the hands of those outside the Church, it is a sign of the Church’s infidelity to her call.
Legislation is not enough.
Even if some sort of bill passes, the Church should seek to exceed the witness of the state, because such is her calling. Of course Christians need concern for the general order of society and should rightly seek to advocate for the defense of the weak, the ending of unjust wars and the proper mediation of justice to crime of all sorts especially white collar crimes such as corruption. However, should a society come to worship these base vices as virtue the Church must do as she always does when faced with empires outside her control, make converts who will truthfully worship the God of Israel in all facets of life. This is the proper order for Christianity as a majority or governing body.
Even when power is placed in the hands of the Church to make decisions, our primary goal is to make faithful converts, not excuse ourselves from truthful worship because of our allegiance to the state, or excuse ourselves from power altogether simply because there was a time when the church had none. As much as I respect John Howard Yoder, the church as a power structure is simply a historical reality, and we should seek to rightly Christify this order, rather than call it into question without an alternative.
Of course the Church when mixed too closely with power becomes abusive, and we all stand to learn that lesson, we also stand to learn the lesson that no nation is our friend. Render to Caesar whatever he demands, but do not render him your worship, which belongs to God. Honor the emperor, Fear God. Have no care for those who can destroy the body, but fear the One who can destroy both body and soul in Gehennna. The right order of our honor calls emperors and rulers into faithful recognition of the One Whom we worship.
Learning from past mistakes this honor means, calling on these emperors and leaders not to Christianize the social order, but allow the Church the room to make faithful converts. Too often the upheavals of pagan orders has led to neo-pagan orders in which old gods go by new names and nominal participation in church life is acceptable. We have to continue to call this into question and pursue the right worship of God, in His Spirit. The right administration of the Church as a power broker calls for her to state prophetically her vision of peace and justice, but the enforcing of these things must happen in the Church not in society as a whole. The Church is the locus of salvation, and we rightly call society into agreement with natural law, but our primary emphasis must remain the Church and her image-bearing inconic witness about the kingdom we believe in.