What is the Role of the Church in Society? (part 2)

In part 1 of What is the Role of the Church in Society I quoted King, Schaeffer and the Manhattan Declaration.  I also referenced the Old and New Testament, in particular the gospel of Luke. In this piece, I want to return to Luke-Acts, which is the basis for what I believe informs Dr. King’s statement about the early church, not only being willing to suffer for their beliefs but being identified as “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” In other words, the Church is suppose to be counter-cultural.

The mission

In the gospel according to Luke the first three chapters, as mentioned in part 1, shows that Israel is under duress. She is under the control of the Roman Empire. It is under the dictates of Roman and it’s acts of sovereign control (taxation) that the Son of God appears on the scene.

We find out in Luke’s account of the temptation that the kingdoms of the world are under Satan’s purview. Satan tells Jesus that the kingdoms of the earth are under his authority (Greek exousia) and he (satan) can give them to whomever he pleases. The only condition is worshipful obedience (Greek proskuneo) given to Satan. Jesus quotes scripture saying that worshipful obedience belongs to God alone. After Jesus rebuffs Satan by reminding him that worshipful obedience people do not put God to the test, Satan leaves for a time. This is the backdrop for the temple scene and the proclamation of Jesus’ mission.

A full exegesis of Luke 4:18 is not possible here but when you examine Luke 4:18a you realize that Jesus’ mission is preaching good news to the poor. What is the good news and who are the poor? I believe the answers to those questions are in 4:18b. The poor are those who are “taken prisoner or captive” to whom freedom or liberty will be proclaimed.  The poor are the blind whose sight will be restored. [The poor are the broken hearted who need to be healed.][1] The poor are also “the oppressed or bruised” to be set at liberty or released.

A closer look shows that the word often translated “released, set free or set at liberty” which occurs twice in this verse also means forgiveness (Greek: afesis). This word occurs ten times in Luke-Acts, five in Luke and five in Acts. In every occurrence afesis concerns forgiveness of sins and salvation (see Luke 1:77; 3:3; 24:47; Acts 2:38; 5:31; 10:43; 13:38; 26:18). The only exception is Luke 4:18 which I believe Luke wants his readers to understand afesis to mean that true release, freedom or liberty comes from forgiveness. Or simply put forgiveness is freedom. Afesis is release from the guilt of sin not the consequences.

If you compare Acts 26:18 with Luke 4:18 it is made clear that Jesus’ mission was tied to the forgiveness of sins and release from the power of Satan which we know from the temptation includes Satan’s control of all earthly kingdoms. In other words, the gospel has not only salvific but political implications.

Paul, on trial before King Agrippa, recounts his encounter with Jesus and his commissioning by the LORD; “I am sending you to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’” (Acts 26:18 NIV) The mission of Jesus has been transferred to the Church as represented by Paul. The opening of their eyes is parallel to restoring sight to the blind. The turning of people from the dominion of Satan to God so they may receive forgiveness (afesis) of sins is parallel to being freed from oppression or released from prison. In Luke’s gospel salvation and forgiveness has a political reality. In the temptation Satan tells Jesus that he (Satan) has authority (exousia) over earthly kingdoms. In Acts 26:18 the word translated “dominion” is the same word for authority (exousia).  The Church’s job is to move people from the dominion and authority of Satan’s earthly kingdom to the authority and dominion of God. Where earthly kingdoms hold people in bondage and captivity, the dominion or power of God brings the forgiveness and remission of sins freeing the captive, giving sight to the blind and forgiving (releasing) the oppressed.

Understanding the mission of Jesus and the church from the perspective of a spiritual release for the dominion of Satan to the Kingdom of God gives new insight to why the political leaders of Jesus’ time where disturbed by his preaching and the ministry of the disciples. The shift of allegiance from an earthly kingdom and rule to a heaven Kingdom and king makes the church what Dr. King called an “outside agitator” or a “disturber of the peace.”  Acts 17:6 says that the disciples where turning “the world upside down” (KJV) or literally “inciting a revolt.”

The church is called to wreck havoc in the dominion of Satan, which includes the political arena. Some might say that this is politically incorrect or extreme but the scriptures would tell us that because of God’s extreme love for us He sent His son to die for us (John 3:16).  Dr. King echoed this sentiment when he said, “[w]as not Jesus an extremist for love: ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.’ Was not Amos an extremist for justice: ‘Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.’ Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: ‘I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.’ Was not Martin Luther an extremist: ‘Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.’ And John Bunyan: ‘I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.’ And Abraham Lincoln: ‘This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.’ And Thomas Jefferson: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that an men are created equal …’ So, the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremist for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment.” The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”

Calling men and women out of darkness into the light can only be down by those who know the extreme urgency of Christ’s mission to set the captives free!

[1] Several translations do not include the clause about “healing the broken hearted.” The clause is not present in the older manuscripts thus it is believed to be an addition by scribes to bring it into complete agreement Isaiah 61:1.

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