II. THE BELIEVER IS A PILGRIM, BUT A PILGRIM CALLED TO SOCIAL INVOLVEMENT, THAT IS, INVOLVEMENT IN EARTHLY AFFAIRS.
The second truth that must necessarily be established is the truth that every believer is a pilgrim. Probably, no other truth is as widely ignored and denied in practice as is this one. In our ecclesiastical and material ease, we pay lip service at the most to the reality of our pilgrimage. It is natural enough, then, that we take part, even enthusiastic part, in the affairs of our homeland. There are some evils yet in the midst of all our prosperity which we like to see eradicated so that we can really settle down: a war in Vietnam, inflation, racial unrest, smog. If this is the motivation for taking part in any social affair whatever, not only will our activity be a piece of utter worthlessness as far as Christ is concerned but it will also be an activity that opposes Him and His Kingdom, part and parcel of the gigantic, on-going development of Antichrist that culminates in the reality of Revelation 13.
We are pilgrims and as pilgrims, and only as pilgrims, are we to involve ourselves in politics, labor and the rest. This is Scripture everywhere, the New Testament even more strongly than the Old Testament, if that is possible. Peter addresses the believers, in I Peter 2:11, as “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as pilgrims and strangers. . .” The address is especially significant because in this passage Peter directs to the believers their calling with regard to various creation-ordinances. Although they are pilgrims, they have a calling with regard to these earthly affairs. Their calling is to be busy as pilgrims and strangers. So keenly does Paul experience the pilgrim-nature of his life that he longs to be with Christ, to be home, to die (Phil. 1). The believer’s hope is not here but above, not in the present but in the future. The believer’s confession is, “we do not have here an abiding city, but we fervently seek the coming one” (Heb. 13:14). That we are pilgrims may not be watered down to mean merely that we are strangers to sin, to the wicked aspect of this life and earth. As pilgrims, we are not at home in this earthly life, on this present earth. This earth is not our country, our fatherland. Our home towards which we travel, through this earth, is above, in heaven, and will be reached only at death and, perfectly, at the end, when this earth shall be destroyed by tire. Hebrews 11:13 commends the patriarchs for confessing themselves pilgrims, not “in the world” (that is, with regard to. the wickedness on the earth), but “on the earth.” We are “other-worldly,” let the caricaturists chortle as they may. Not this world but the coming world is ours. It belongs to us and we belong to it because of the resurrection of Christ and the power of the resurrection in us. “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20).
It is a tragedy that the Church has let go of this and even sneers at this in our day. Let alone the power of sin in the life of the Church, in the lives of Christian families, in the life of every believer, which all by itself makes this life a continual death and a valley of tears; let alone the “normal” abnormality of sickness, of disease, and of death; this present life, the earthly, witnesses the bloody spectacle of brutal war, little children shot to pieces and scalded with napalm, vicious crime abounding, government often run by politicians that laugh at justice and truth, society seething in the caldron of racial hatred—this is our home, our fatherland, our life? And now we must work in the affairs of this earth to improve them? If this were the case, apart from all else, I for one would absolutely refuse all part in this earth’s activities and in sheer pessimism would let the dead bury their dead.
There are those that make a caricature of this pilgrim-teaching. They portray those who confess their pilgrim-status as the Greek poet, Aristophanes, portrayed Socrates in The Clouds, suspended above the earth in a basket, gazing stupidly into the sky. It is here, as everywhere, easy to reduce an opponent’s argument to absurdity. Of late, the name of John Calvin is appealed to against the idea of our life’s being a pilgrimage. A son of Calvin, it is stated, is one who regards this earthly life as a homeland, to which he gives himself in co-operation with the unbelieving citizens, usually, to improve the fatherland. ‘I wonder often whether they refer to the same Calvin I read.
In the Institutes, Book III, Chapter VI ff., Calvin takes up the subject of “The Life of the Christian Man.” Among others, he makes the following statements: “there is no medium between the two things: the earth must either be worthless in our estimation, or keep us enslaved by an intemperate love of it”; “Who then can deny that it is of the highest importance to us all, I say not, to be admonished by words, but convinced by all possible experience of the miserable condition of our earthly life; since even when convinced we scarcely cease to gaze upon it with vicious, stupid admiration. . .”; “If heaven is our country, what can the earth be but a place of exile? If departure from the world is entrance into life, what is the world but a sepulchre, and what is residence in it but immersion in death?” Calvin goes so far as to say, “I confess, indeed, that a most accurate opinion was formed by those who thought, that the best thing was not to be born, the next best to die early” (Institutes, III, IX, 4). Not, of course, that this is his opinion, for those who have it have no light of God, but it is accurate in expressing the miserableness of this life.
Does not the pilgrim-reality preclude any involvement in earthly, social affairs? This is the question that undoubtedly is most prevalent among us? It does not! And now we come to the very heart of the topic. It is not only the case that involvement in earthly affairs is an inescapable necessity (a man must work, must play some part in the life and order of the polis, must get an education, must participate in “culture”), but this is a calling, a calling to the pilgrim, as pilgrim, from the King, Jesus Christ.
We reject the notion that the pilgrim-reality implies world-flight. Especially to be rejected is the real temptation that lies behind world-flight, namely, the dividing of our total life into two separate compartments, the earthly life over here and the spiritual, eternal life over there. To solve the puzzle of being a citizen of heaven in the middle of the world in this way is a real threat. One impressed with his pilgrim-status can readily do this, sincerely convinced that this is pious. The “real and worthy” part of his life is Sunday and the moments in a day when he prays and meditates on the Bible; hermetically sealed off from this part is the earthly part of everyday activities in society. Strangely, the inevitable result of such thinking is that the man ends up putting much too much stock in this earthly life; he seeks the earth too strongly and has his treasure here. This is not strange after all, although at first glance it seems so Anything and everything that is cut loose from Christ and the Kingdom of Heaven, anything we do or desire independently of Christ and the Kingdom soon asserts itself against Christ and the Kingdom and claims for itself what belongs to Christ. It becomes an idol. The theory of two compartments, made in the name of magnifying the eternal life and minimizing the temporal life, has the very opposite, result.
Our temporal-earthly and eternal-spiritual lives are to be related this way, that the latter permeates, directs and controls the former. When Jesus commanded us to seek first the kingdom of heaven, He meant that we were to aim at the kingdom of heaven as the sole goal. in every sphere and area of our earthly, temporal existence, when we embrace a wife, build a home, stand on an assembly line or vote for President.
Each believer is called to social involvement because the Kingdom, of Heaven has broken forth in this world and is breaking forth. The Kingdom of Heaven is simply the rule of the King, the rule of Christ, by His Spirit and Word. The sphere of the Kingdom is everywhere the King rules, so that what goes on in this world is glorifying to God His Father. Now, the citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven are the regenerated believers. To be such a citizen means more than personal peace in the soul. It means that Christ has made one an officebearer in this world, already in this world. We are kings under Christ, already now in this creation of God. Whatever a believer touches in this world or engages in as a faithful king-servant of the King becomes an extension, a penetrating enlargement and a demonstration of the Kingdom of Heaven. For Christ’s own Kingship? His pressing of all things into the service of God goes on through every believer. To this royal work in and on behalf of the Kingdom of Heaven, every believer is called by his Lord. The Heidelberg Catechism speaks of this in Q. and A. 32: As a partaker of Christ’s anointing, the believer shares in His offices and official labor, including the Kingly. Although the Catechism stresses the battling aspect of the office during the present time, there is also an exercise of the ruling aspect in this life. Lord’s Days 48 and 49 are also noteworthy in this connection. The coming of God’s Kingdom is brought immediately into connection with God’s rule in me. There is a coming of the Kingdom already in this life, and this coming consists of the rule of Christ in the elect, so that they submit to Him and subject all to Him. It is erroneous to limit this submission and subjection to the internal life of the believer. It extends to the whole wide range of God’s creation, wherever the believer goes and whatever he does. The same thou is even more plainly found in Lord’s Day 49. There no abstract consideration of the will of God in general, above me and around me and apart from me, but concrete application to my (the believer’s) doing God’s will in my earthly “station and calling”? so that already now the will of God reigns in His creation (as it should, to the praise of His adorable Name. Amen!) through His people in Christ. Our present official status as kings and our present calling in the land of our pilgrimage are set forth in I Corinthians 101:31: “‘Whether therefore ye eat or drink or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”
This creation is Christ’s creation, because of the cross, and its ordinances are His ordinances. Already now, the Kingdom is established in the creation, be it in principle. And it pleases the King, of sheer grace, to extend His rule through each believer living and working in loving submission to Christ Jesus.
The Kingdom is broader than the Church, not as to citizens or members, but as to sphere. The Church equips the believers to serve the-King in all spheres of life. And this is the relationship between the Church and earthly affairs.
Ill. BRIEFLY, THE INVOLVEMENT ITSELF OF THE PILGRIM
The pilgrim may not have the wrong motives for his involvement in earthly affairs. It may not be his motive that society be redeemed, whether in the form of the nation or the world. The redemption of society as a goal of Christian action has infiltrated the thinking of some—who strongly advocate Christian organizations. Bernard Zylstra, in the essay, “Challenge and Response,” sets forth the purpose of Christian organizations in this way:
“The Challenge therefore which we face today is the reformation of the world in which we live. Our society must be changed in the fundamentals. The Word of the living God must again become the foundation-stone of our civilization.” Again, “This is . . . to save the nation, to redeem mankind.”
In further explanation of the goal of Christian action through Christian organizations in every sphere of life, he writes, “God has sent the Love of His Son into our world so that it may become a better place. The faith of the Christian then must mold society.”
Over against this suggested goal, the fact is that the elect and the cosmos have been redeemed once for all by Christ on the cross. Nor is it Christ’s will to deliver the present civilization or improve it, but to destroy it by fire. The idea of the improvement of society is deadly, although it may seem innocuous and even noble. Christ did not come to improve anything or anyone, but radically to judge and then, with regard to the elect and the cosmos, to create anew, radically to renew. Improvement implies some resident, inherent goodness that needs only to be perfected. The New Testament Scriptures plainly teach a godless society, dominated in every sphere by the wicked. The god of this world is the Devil. Scripture teaches that the world will become worse and worse until the beast from the sea, the Antichrist, rules all in the name of the dragon. Only then, through the destruction of the present world, will Christ, as His own direct, personal work, institute the new creation in which righteousness shall dwell. Much better as the purpose of the pilgrim’s involvement in earthly affairs or ordinances, but in contrast to his previous suggestion, is Mr. Zylstra’s concluding statement: “not to create a paradise on earth but to form a living witness against the power of this world.”
Nor may the pilgrim’s motive for involvement in earthly affairs be the desire, in co-operation with the unbeliever, to fulfill the cultural mandate of Genesis 1 by virtue of common grace. Also this motive is propounded by some. This idea has it that fallen man can still fulfill the cultural mandate by virtue of God’s gift to all men of a “common grace”, and that the believer ought to co-operate with fallen man (the unbeliever) to carry this out. The believer then lives and works in the sphere of earthly affairs, not out of the new life of Christ, not as a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven, not as a pilgrim, but out of this common grace which he shares with all men, as one who “for the time being” is altogether apart from Jesus Christ, and as really an inhabitant and citizen of the Kingdom of this World. Apart from all else, this view of the Christian’s life in this world makes the same error as does world-flight. It divides the believer’s life up into two compartments, the spiritual-ecclesiastical and the earthly-societal. The former he lives as a pilgrim-in-Christ and the latter he lives differently, apart from Christ, out of the principle of a common grace. If there is one most basic truth about the believer’s calling in this world, with regard to all earthly activities, it is that the believer must live out of Christ and Christ alone, out of the power of the regenerating Spirit of Christ and it alone, and for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven and it alone. Fallen man does indeed carry out the cultural mandate, but exclusively for the Devil’s sake, as a rebel-king. It has become clear as crystal in our day that the theory of common grace is appealed to in order to deny specifically Christian efforts in every sphere of creation, to validate unholy alliances with the ungodly, and to break down the antithesis between light and darkness, Christ and Belial, in the believer’s life in the world.
The motive of the believer, strong enough to encourage him to his duty and maintain him through thick and thin, is love for the Lord Jesus Christ and His righteousness, and an abhorrence of the present power of His enemy in the world. It is true, then, that we must recognize the full scope of Christ’s redemptive work, according to John 3:16, “the world.” Christ’s will and right it is to subject the entire creation to His Father. Although this occurs now only in principle, it is right and good that Christ’s scepter hold sway everywhere, in government, in labor, in education, in the arts and sciences, everywhere.
To testify to this and to be instrumental in carrying this out is the responsibility of the individual believer. The individual nature of the calling may not be minimized. The New Testament addresses the individual believer when it calls to the honoring of the ordinances of God in the creation, e.g., in I Peter 2 and I Peter 3.
It is, however, not only proper but also desirable that believers organize to carry out their calling with regard to earthly affairs. When they do, they must remember several things.
1) That the organization does not become a church, zealously carrying out the mission of the church, anecclesiola in ecclesia, not even an arm of the church.
2) That the purpose of the organization is not suddenly changed from Christ and His glorious rule to us and our ambitions, or even our daily bread.
3) That the group may not begin to consider itself a pressure-group among the world’s countless groups, matching or trying to match the world muscle for muscle, number for number, and finally violence for violence.
4) That here too the battle and struggle is spiritual,fought with spiritual weaponry that is incomprehensible and ludicrous to the world, the weapons of the Word and Spirit, the weapons of faith—by which we overcome the world.
5) That the people of God are despised, small and opposed here also. Success is out of the question, although here and there for His glory God casts down a stronghold or two.
Nevertheless, there may be a holy boldness, a recklessness of faith. The victory of the cause of Christ has been achieved, by our Lord. He manifests it through His people. We go from victory to victory. We do so in earthly affairs also, only as we consecrate ourselves to God, keep our eyes upon Christ, and depend upon the Word.
Concerning any organization that believers may form, its principles must be pure and, sound. It must express the goal of seeking the Kingdom. It must reckon with submission, unreservedly, to God’s description in His Word of the earthly ordinances with which the particular organization deals. There may be no association with unbelievers. It must be Reformed in its entirety.
If someone is unenthusiastic because of the unpromising fortunes of such an organization, let him consider that this is irrelevant. Not success but faithfulness to Christ is the sole desire of the believer. Take politics for an example. What could a Reformed political organization do? But, apart from all else, what are we now doing in the political sphere? We vote between Tweedledeedee and Tweedledeedum, as to person and platform, or fail to vote at all. In the voting-booth, we do not pull the lever out of principle; our voting does not stem from the conviction that the person or party stands for the principles of the governing of the State which God sets forth in His Word.
I suggest that we study and discuss the matter, analyze the earthly spheres in which the believer is called to live as a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven, note the present conditions, especially, our present conduct in earthly affairs, and map out a future course.
I also recommend serious consideration of an organization called “Christian Action Foundation”, or C.A.F.* Its constitution is sound, even admirable. Under “Basis”, the constitution has: “(1) The basis of the Foundation is the infallible, inerrant Word of God, the Holy Scripture. (2) In faith the members confess Jesus Christ as only Redeemer and sovereign Lord, in Whom man is called to dedicate the fullness of life to the triune God in loving and obedient service.” Under “Purpose”, it states: “(1) The purpose of the Foundation shall be: (a) To propagate biblical principles in the various spheres of society. (b) To sponsor and engage in Christian communal action in society. (2) The purpose shall furthermore be. realized by such means as: (a) Studying the Word of God in its relevance to such areas of life as marriage, home, family, education, science, art, politics, labor, industry, agriculture, commerce, government, welfare, morality, and press. . .”
*Because C.A.F. has changed its name and purpose, since the time when this speech was given, and because it is in the process of changing its constitution, I no longer maintain this recommendation of “serious consideration.”