In the July 1st issue of The Standard Bearer brother Vernon Graeser of Tucson, Arizona, asked the undersigned for a reply to several questions he raised that have to do with Christian Economics. He suggested that we write a few articles in the SB answering the questions he would like answered. To this request we now reply.
Let me say, first of all, that we appreciate the attention the brother has given to our contributions to the SB. I believe it was Alexander McClaren who said: “It is the oil of appreciation that makes the machinery of social relations run more smoothly.” This maxim has significance also for those who are busy in the field of religious journalism. Brother Graeser may conclude therefore that his complimentary remarks were well taken.
Secondly, however, we believe the brother is mistaken if he concluded that we are an authority on Christian Economics. The articles we wrote that touch on this subject were never intended to be authoritative. Rather, they were merely observations we made relative to the observations of others. The brother writes that he is “studying economics as a sort of hobby.” It is very well possible that he could speak with some authority respecting the matters I referred to in my articles.
In the third place, I would remark that we will have to disappoint the brother in his request that we devote a few articles to answering his questions. Important as the questions he raises and the entire matter of Christian Economics may be, the setup of The Standard Bearer does not allow me the space for such a series. Nor do I think such a series is necessary for the treatment of his questions. We will attempt to give him an answer in this writing, and if the brother receives no satisfaction, he may write me signifying the same and we will be happy to correspond privately until satisfaction is reached.
Now as to the questions the brother raises, let me briefly restate them and then try to answer them in the space allotted me.
He asks: Is the Christian to confine himself to merely spiritual matters or is he also concerned with material matters? Would it be wrong for him to attempt in accordance with God’s will to remove poverty, promote peace, overcome disease, improve education, etc.? Or should he take the attitude, this is not our permanent home? I’m simply passing thru, therefore I need not concern myself with the material things of this life. The brother informs us that we have Christian doctors, educators, hospitals, psychiatrists, even prime ministers. Why not Christian Economists? Is it wrong for Christian doctors to reestablish health, teachers to improve education, philanthropists to donate gifts to the needy? Do they do wrong, do they become materialistic and humanistic when they do this? Is it possible for all these people to do all these works of charity and still place the kingdom of God first?
Our reply to the above questions will be built around the following three propositions:
1. The Christian is by virtue of election, regeneration and justification a citizen of the kingdom of heaven.
2. The Christian is required to live for a time in the midst of this present evil world.
3. The Christian in the world is required to live thetically out of the principle of regeneration and according to the revelation of God’s will in Scripture in each department of life where God calls him.
Concerning each of these propositions we offer a brief explanation.
In the first place, brother Graeser will agree with me, I’m sure, that the Word of God establishes that first proposition, namely, that the Christian is a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. Of this the apostle writes in Phil. 3:20: “For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” The word “conversation” is really “citizenship.” The text means that the child of God is an alien, a foreigner, while he is in this world. His only commonwealth to which he belongs is in heaven. It is exactly because this is so that both he and all that he does in this world marks him as a stranger. He simply does not belong here. He belongs in heaven, and to heaven he must go.
It is also true that because he belongs to heaven, that he is to seek the kingdom of God first. Matt. 6:33 teaches, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Brother Graeser understands and subscribes to this principle when he writes: “Now I do not believe that we are to seek first this present world.” Without going into a thorough exegesis of the above passage, it seems to me that in the light of the context the Lord teaches that negatively we are not to be concerned, anxious, filled with anxiety or care about the mundane things, what we shall eat, what we shall wear, etc., and positively, we are to be controlled by the principle that the kingdom of God is chief and the only real concern of the child of God. This same truth the apostle expresses in Phil. 4:6, “Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” Here also the apostle would have us not at all anxious about worldly things, and positively, to lay all our requests before God Who cares for us. In Col. 3:1 we read, “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.”
These passages will suffice to show that the prime calling and interest of the child of God is to seek the kingdom of God which is heavenly because of his peculiar relation to God and His kingdom of which he has been counted worthy to be citizen on the basis of the merits of Christ Who is his federal Head and Redeemer.
In the second place, however, this does not mean that because the Christian is not of this world that he is not in it. Fact is, that for a time the Christian is required to live in the very midst of this present evil world.
Very interesting and instructive is that which we read in the so-called sacerdotal prayer of Jesus in John 17:14-18. “I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth. Thy word is truth. As Thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.”
From this portion of Scripture it is plain that it is not the intention of the Lord Jesus that His people should be separated from the present world in the physical sense of the word. Brother Graeser is aware, no doubt, that there are sects which believe in world flight. They advocate for their following a physical separation in the most literal sense. In distinction from these we believe not in world flight but in world fight.
These separatists undoubtedly interpret the command of the apostle in II Cor. 6:17, “wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate” in the most literal and physical sense. I am not aware of any passage in Scripture that denies the Christian a place in this world or in any of its departments. These departments or spheres of life are many and they seem to increase in number and size as the world develops in history. The areas in which man lives today are much wider in scope, and much more intricate in their involvements than that of say fifty years ago, and even ten years ago. I have often said that if our grandfathers could come forth from their graves for just a moment to see the world in which we live, they would be so frightened they would retreat to their graves for a hiding place. The children of God today are required to live in the space age. And who knows what the age of tomorrow will be if the Lord tarries? In all these areas and departments of life the Christian lives and moves and has his being. There are the departments of the home, school and church; the departments of politics, industry, science, economics, etc.
This does not mean, however, that because the Christian is to’ live in the world in all its departments, that he has the license to be unequally yoked with unbelievers, that he is to participate with the world in its mad schemes, join its unions, etc. Concerning this the apostle warns in the context of II Cor. 6:17 and again in Rom. 12:2. In the latter passage we read: “And be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.” The word “world” in this text is not “cosmos” but “age.” The world is looked at from the viewpoint of its present evil system. We are therefore not to fashion ourselves according to the scheme of this present evil age, but are to be busy fitting ourselves on the pattern of the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God by the renewing of our minds. In one word, we are to be spiritually different. It means not, that when the world wears laced oxfords we are to wear high buttoned shoes; but it means that when the world perpetrates evil, we are to choose to do the will of God. It means not that when the world wants to build its picture shows that I must cooperate, but it means that I, standing in the midst of the present evil scheme of things testify, as Noah did for 120 years, that the Lord is coming to destroy the evil world and inaugurate a kingdom in which righteousness shall dwell. It means not, that the Christian is some kind of a savory salt that is aimed to preserve the rotten meat of this world, but he is a savory salt in this sense that he is the manifestation of that which is acceptable to God as he lives and has his being in this world.
This leads me to say in the third place that the Christian in the world is required to live thetically out of the principle of regeneration and according to the revelation of God’s will in Scripture in each department of life where God calls him.
He represents the thesis, i.e., he stands for all that is good. The present evil world represents the antithesis, i.e., that which opposes the Christian and the good.
We could illustrate the position of the Christian in the world in the figure of three concentric circles which are drawn with a compass. The point of the compass from which the three circles are drawn represents the regenerated heart of the Christian. The first circle around this point represents the flesh of the Christian. The second circle extending beyond the first represents the world. And the third circle extending beyond the second represents all the departments of life as it is lived in this world. Lines may be drawn from the heart of the circles thru the circles to the circumferences. These represent actions of the Christian which emanate from a regenerated heart, are manifested thru his flesh, in the world, in all of its departments. The life of the thesis which is born of regeneration and regulated by the will of God revealed in Scripture, comes to manifestation in the flesh, in the world in all of its spheres. The converse is also true. All the departments of life which are under the power of sin, as well as the world and our flesh, all oppose the central thesis, and constitute the antithesis.
If brother Graeser applies this figure and the principles set forth in the above propositions, it should not be difficult for him to answer his own questions. Christian doctors, teachers, philanthropists, prime ministers, economists, all are to live the life of regeneration according to the will of God revealed in Scripture wherever God calls them. In which department or departments of life they shall live and move must depend on the calling they receive from God, and be according to His will.