We recently received one of the learning tools I had written about early, The Foundations of Western Civilization from TheGreatCourses.com. It is taught by Professor Noble of Notre Dame, and we are really enjoying it. My wife says it hits on a lot of the memory pegs we have been having the kids memorize in our classical home school curriculum and so they may provide more information and interest for them as well. I am not going to force these lectures on the kids, the younger ones at any rate, but I do want to have them watch some of them to gauge their reaction and if they are capable of following it.
The lectures have inspired a few corollary thoughts in me this week. I had never really thought about how or why civilizations arose, but it had to do with the formations of cities, usually in river basins. In time these cities built walls, and rivalries eventually developed between other city-states (i.e Ur, Uruk, etc in Mesopotamia). Rivalries within the cities also developed, which lead to the development of politics, laws, etc., which had not existed before this time.
I was thinking of this in relation to the church as I sat in a planning meeting for VBS (Vacation Bible School) at my church. I had a fairly intense visual picture as the church as a city and civilization, working together for God’s purposes. Those that serve the church come together as if members of a city. They grow closer together through service, and as they grow, so also does the need organization and governance. A question occurred to me: those who only come to church on Sundays and do not serve, are they part of the city? Are they a part of the Christian “civilization” and “citizens”? Jesus said in Matthew 20: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Continuing with the city-state metaphor, perhaps people don’t get involved in church service because they see rivalries and politics? It certainly can be a problem. Indeed, sometimes (maybe more often than not) the church does look like a collection of opposing city-states, battle lines drawn on every street corner. Are these “cities” obeying God’s law though, or following their own impulses and reason?
Anyway, I would not rather judge whether those that don’t serve (and are “citizens”) are saved or not. Those that don’t serve do not get to participate in God’s civilization. As Goheen emphasizes in “A Light to the Nations,” God’s purpose for calling Abraham, and blessing his descendants, and giving Israel the law and setting them apart, was to create a counterculture to the selfish sinful culture and nations of the time. The church is a continuance of that Light, that counterculture, and if we are not serving the church, God’s city, we are missing the point of God’s mission: building a civilization as God intended, before the fall of Adam.