Christ is Lord
The Apostle John wrote to a church suffering persecution. He comforted those in distress with the simple but fundamental principle: Christ is Lord. John wrote to the churches:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth (Rev. 1:4,5).
Christ is Lord over His Church. Christ is Lord over the nations. The Kingdom of God, ruled by Christ the mediator, extends to all things including all that is sacred and all that is secular.
Secular and Sacred
Evangelical Christians have grown wary of the word secular. Chastened by the modernist ideology of secularism, Christians have become used to denying the existence of a secular realm. Even Reformed theologians, influenced by a robust view of Christâ€™s Lordship, have been known to deny the existence of the secular. This month we will try to understand the secular/sacred distinction from a biblical perspective.
A Tale of Two Ages
To understand the reign of Christ over all things it is necessary to understand the two-age construction of redemptive history. Old Covenant saints understood that history was governed by Godâ€™s providence and was moving toward a Divinely ordained end. The great drama of redemption is being played out upon the stage of human history. From Israelâ€™s patriarchs to her prophets, Godâ€™ people felt the weighty burden of an age that was passing away. They grasped the terrible power of death and the daily struggle against injustice. They looked beyond the struggles of their age and hoped in a Messianic age-to-when the righteous judgment of God would usher in the Day of the Lord and the end of all rebellion (Isaiah 13:9-11; Joel 2:32; Mal. 4:2).
John the Baptist, the last and the greatest of the Old Covenant prophets, was privileged to herald the coming of the Kingdom of God declaring, â€œRepent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matt. 3:2).â€ John warned:
Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fireâ€ (Matthew 3:10-12).
The Baptizer declared â€œapocalypse nowâ€ believing that the day of the Lord would consummate history, mete out justice, and usher in the Messianic age-to-come.
A Trans-Historical Intrusion
Jesus left little doubt that the Kingdom had come and that it was at work through His ministry. The New Testament provides dramatic accounts of Jesus casting out demons and waging an aggressive war against the principalities and powers of the dark kingdom. The message is clear: Jesus Christ, heir of Davidâ€™s throne, has bound Satan and is looting his usurped kingdom (Matt. 12:29; Rev. 20:1-3).
Christ established the age to come by His life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Still history continues. Sin and rebellion abounds. Rather than consummating history, Christâ€™s death, burial, and glorious resurrection created a trans-historical intrusion of the age-to-come into the midst of this present evil age. Worlds have collided and ages have been confounded. The author of Hebrews 2:8,9 presents the tension:
Now in putting everything in subjection to Him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.
But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
The author of Hebrews is highlighting the tension between our â€œalready and the not yetâ€ experience of Christâ€™s Kingdom.
Biblical eschatology, with its already/not yet dimension, demands that Christianity be an inherently dualistic faith. This dualism is not material but eschatological. The believer is always both saint and sinner (Lutherâ€™s famous dictum simul iusta et peccator). In this life the believer enjoys dual citizenship within both the kingdoms of this world and the Kingdom of God. Historically situated in this-age the Christian transcends history through his mystical union with Christ. In Christ we thus dwell in the-age-to-come.
In light of these dualistic tendencies, we return to our discussion of things secular and sacred. The secular, rooted in the Latin saeculum meaning age, refers to all that the believer enjoys, suffers, and tolerates of this present age that is passing away. The sacred refers to that which is set apart, consecrated, or holy. While it is clear that Christ is Lord over both sides of the dualism, it is an error to secularize the sacred or to make sacred the secular.
In light of the two-age, already/not-yet nature of history we must avoid two errors. The first is the error of trying to perfect this age (or our experience of it) prior to Christ second coming. This is the error of the over-realized eschatology. This Gnostic tendency seeks to separate the wheat from the tares before the harvest (whether the field is considered as the world/nation/culture, the church, or the individual believer). Here the biblical distinction between secular (this-age) and sacred (the age-to-come) is overwhelmed. All of life becomes â€œworshipâ€ and things earthly are confounded with things heavenly. Such schemes often end in violence justified in the name of God.
The other error is that of the under-realized eschatology. Here the error is to undervalue the visible church of Christ as a colony of heaven and her means of grace as the power of the age to come (Hebrews 6:4,5). Undervaluing the power of grace to transform and ultimately perfect nature, the under-realized eschatology fails to challenge the believer, the church, and the culture to glorify Christ as King. Here the sacred is lost in a sea of secularism.
Christ is Lord
Opposed to both extremes is the recognition that Christ has been raised up to reign over all things in this age (the nations) and the age-to-come (the Church) and that every knee must bow not only in the realm of the sacred but also in the realm of the secular. Christ reigns over His sacred realm, the Holy Church, administering the gifts of the age-to-come through His Word and sacraments while reigning over His secular realm, the nations, with a rod of iron, preserving stability in this age that is passing away.
As Christians we can pray â€œThy Kingdom comeâ€ but can never draw heaven down to earth. It is tempting to try to resolve the paradox of dual citizenship but impossible. Our earthly lives are filled with much joy but our joy is always mixed with heartache. We love much that is soon lost and we cling too much that is fading. Our pilgrimage includes a great deal of lament but it is a lament mixed with hope. Life is beautiful but it is a tragic beauty. Therefore, as a pilgrim people, we must walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7) and know that â€œat present, we do not see everything in subjection to Him. But we see Him who for a while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone (Heb. 2:8,9).â€
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