The subject as above expressed may at first sight seem somewhat ambiguous, yet the subject thus stated expresses a popular conception and it is of that popular conception that this article treats.
Strictly speaking we would not speak of a social calling of the church for she as instituted is limited to the task of ministering the Word of God to her members and by that Word she labors to bring to manifestation herself as the body of Christ inculcating the principle by which this life is controlled.
So that in respect to the broad social sphere the church as institute has no other duty than to observe the laws and ordinances relating to its property, incorporation and assembly.
However, in times such as ours we again hear the remark and suggestion that the church has a very high and holy calling toward our tottering civilization, that if anyone, then the church of all agencies has a remedy for the ills of civilization and it is her calling to apply herself with all her God-given cures and energies.
To be sure, there are several variations to this general theme or motto or challenge. There is, e.g. the charge that the church’s power of influence for good is only a pretense, a haughty assumption that is refuted by all of her checkered history.
There is also the claim that the church, as Christ her Founder purposed her, should have saved the world from its ills, but she has never taken the task upon herself with humble seriousness, witness the priestcraft, persecution, obscurantism, obstructionism of her history.
Or, again, there is the claim that the church though being continually more pressed to the background has always been a .great constructive force in civilization. That our deliverance from the corrupt life of Greece and Rome and that the exaltation of home, motherhood, and morals in the Christian era is due to the leavening influence of Christianity.
However, in distinction from the foregoing we have from the lips of Christ Himself this thesis: Ye are the salt of the earth.
This succinct statement, when properly understood transcends all the above human opinions and means no less than that the church does solve, is solving the social problem, does possess the remedy of social ills. We should try to grasp the deep implications of this word of Christ. And the attempt to grasp this must indeed be an act of faith, for without faith we are sure to dismiss this word with an “oh yes, of course, but. . .”
So, by this nonchalant dismissal, we again give ourselves over to the futile seeking of utopias, social panaceas, anxiously weighing the chances between a communistic dictatorship and a fascistic dictatorship perhaps, but alway and again on the plane of all that is earthy, carnal, perishing, and we will fail of finding rest of heart and mind in that better heavenly kingdom that is even now among us.
For nothing less than the ultimate restoration of all things lies in that word of Christ: Ye are the salt of the earth!
By this word the church of Christ is pictured to us as that element, that factor in God’s creation that makes His creation still palatable, savory, pleasing and delightful to Him. The church is a new, heavenly creation formed by God in the midst of the sin-cursed, passing, vanishing dispensation and through the church the works of His hand will reach their goal and purpose.
Now the church is that by nature of the word that serves as a mold whereby she is shaped and the indwelling Christ who causes her to grow in that form or mold. By that word she has received of God the infallible revelation of a faultless social structure. Of this Scripture gives abundant testimony.
Think of that New Jerusalem where nothing defiles or causes pain or grief. Think of Isa. 11:9: “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain for—note the cause—the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord.” Think of the model king (in the last analysis, Christ) for Israel as pictured in Deut. 17:14ff. who must read in the book of the law all the days of his life. But beside this eternal revelation the church has also the living Christ within her who empowers her to become conformed to that written model.
Now the question may arise however, whether this revelation is indeed applicable to the world in its present form and dispensation.
And the answer is “yes and no.”
The prescription for a perfect social structure is indeed applicable today in the world. The many proverbs of the wise king regarding wise dominion, social equity, prosperity and peace, are of course true today.
It is true today that if the law of God in its fullness could be applied it would mean the restoration of the social structure. This is evident from the fact that even a superficial observance of God’s law reveals itself in outward peace and harmony. Because the heathen did not like to retain God in their mind He gave them up to the awful social deterioration of Romans chapter 1.
But I said above that the law of God in all its fullness must be applied. And this means not only an external conformity but also a spiritual affinity with that law, but above these it means that the righteous law-giver also demands restitution for all past transgressions and disruption of His creation and ordinances. And by that token the answer must turn to an emphatic No! Scriptures prescription for a perfect social order is not workable in this present world order.
Apart from the fact that according to God’s council this world will continue its downward way until its climax in a cataclysm that makes way for a new world, it also lies in its internal spiritual constitution that it can never be restored unless the entire race could take refuge to Christ and His fullness, which is a thought to which Scripture gives no support.
In a word: in this world there is no grace and consequently no receptivity for the law of God, and where men do not like to retain God (and His law, of course) in mind He gives them up to the fruits of their sin.
But the church is the salt of the earth!
Let us dare to confess it in its full implications.
In the church God has given the promise of the solution of the social problem. Yea, in the church that solution is realized.
At first reflection this strong boast ill accords with the pathetic figure of the church with her smallness, weakness, vagueness, ignorance, dissension, strife, carnality.
Indeed, no sons of the living church will dare nor care to deny this apparent contradiction. Of all institutions there is perhaps none where the contrast between the lofty claims of the apparent reality is more embarrassing and humiliating.
Yet the great claim which we take over from the lips of Christ is not based on sight or tangible proof but is an article of faith. We believe an holy church; we believe in an Almighty Savior, who redeems body and soul; we believe that by faith we overcome the world.
Now it is by this essential being and life of the church that her social calling is determined. In principle all the distorted relationships as affected by sin have been restored by grace, and this principle the people of God are called to realize in life.
And so we come to our practical, concrete Christian calling.
Usually in discussing these things our mind first turns to our calling as citizens of our nation.
In the political sphere it is undoubtedly our calling to be concerned and to participate actively in government, for government is an institution of God and as such of legitimate interest to the Christian. Perhaps some of us have gifts to administer an office in the affairs of state. For it surely cannot be held that the general corruption in this sphere, and the grave danger of contamination for an office-holder can justify is to shun it and to abandon it to evil practitioners.
Perhaps, however, some have only the gifts necessary for casting an intelligent vote or recording our disapproval to policies or persons.
However, in Scripture the emphasis falls rather on that part of our social calling which is limited to our immediate surroundings.
It is in the more intimate relations of life that Scripture pictures our new walk in holiness. There are the relations of husband and wife, parent and child, brother and sister, master and servant, pastor and flock.
In these relations it is that the love of God restores all things.
In principle the relation of husband and wife is restored and controlled by the word of Christ so that it becomes increasingly stabile and harmonious, yea, a reflection of the relation of Christ and His church.
So the relation of parent and child is controlled by the law and love of God until the implications and extent of that authority becomes increasingly plain and effective. In the light of God’s law authority becomes less of arbitrary imposition and caprice, and continually more evident that parental authority is derived from God, that commands or prohibitions are not the expression of parental caprice but an expression of the will of God through the parent for the physical, mental, spiritual development of the image of God in him, and as such His commands have the sanction of God Himself and are corroborated by His testimony of His Spirit in the heart through nature and Scripture.
So the relation of master and servant is sanctified, causing the servant to fill his position not with eye service as . a man-pleaser but conscious that it is his God-ordained place in a God-ordained civilization and world-order; and the master will treat his servant in the consciousness that it is a God-ordained relation wherein he as a faithful steward can obtain labor- power for his sanctified enterprise, meanwhile providing a means for the servant to gain the necessities of life.
Of course, our first reaction is to say that these things are easier said than done. Yet how reasonable this demand is even by the most crude standards of justice!
Is it not most unreasonable to shrug our shoulders and say “Well, you try it once and see how far you get.”
Is it reasonable to spend the greater span of our life destroying society or civilization and then refusing to give equal time to its restoration. Has a capitalist who has spent forty years in profiteering and accumulating millions, so unbalancing the social structure, a reasonable right to dismiss his task by saying, That is easier said than done? Is it not reason that he should spend another forty years in equally intense effort to restore the ills. (In fact, of course, he will be held to that to all eternity).
And so it is with all social relations. Perhaps a man and wife have so long played havoc with the holy bond of matrimony that it seems impossible to ever remove the envy, jealousy, estrangement and to again become a reflection of the life of heaven. But God demands it.
Perhaps an employer has become so entangled in his methods of greed and his enterprise has grown up so lopsided, that he finds it well-nigh impossible ever to adjust his business to the rights of his employees. Yet God demands it.
Offhand I may not know what is a fair wage for my faithful servant, much less for yours. But love, spiritual love is able to move mountains and will supply the answer.
I do not know offhand when to foreclose a mortgage or to declare bankruptcy, but if the law of God is seriously consulted in love, the action will be one of perfect social righteousness.
The parent may not know how and when to relinquish strict supervision over his growing son, nor when to say yes or no, but spiritual love in the light of God’s perfect revelation will yield an act of perfect social adjustment. And indeed throughout the remedy is as rich and effective as the social relations are various and intricate. Here the perfect society appears only in principle. Here it is a matter of faith in Him who established it.
As yet it is for us impeded and delayed by a world and a dispensation that lies under the curse.
But He who has said “Ye are the salt of the earth” has also the power to realize His Word.
Today He is the King of perfect righteousness and that righteousness includes the right and power to cause this dispensation to pass away by a last great wonder of grace, and then He shall manifest a new world restored in righteousness where the righteous shall dwell.