The Local Church and Cultural Transformation

 John M. Frame

[This article was published in Nine Marks Journal (Nov. -Dec., 2007), both print and web versions. The web version is available at here. The article is used here with permission.]

The task of the church is The Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20), to make disciples, teaching them “to observe all that I have commanded you.” By God’s grace, we train believers in obedience. That obedience inevitably transforms culture, as it has done now for nearly 2000 years. Christians have made huge contributions to learning, the arts and literature, the treatment of women, the abolition of anti-biblical slavery, the care of the poor, the sick, the widows and orphans. Sin, of course, has impeded our mission; but the grace of God working through his people has accomplished amazing things.

Now some have argued that cultural transformation is the work of Christian individuals, but not of the local church. They argue that the latter should be limited to the area of the “spiritual,” the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments. But the spiritual/secular distinction is not biblical. The gospel as proclaimed by John (Matt. 3:2), Jesus (Matt. 4:17), Philip (Acts 8:12), and Paul (Acts 19:8, 20:25, 28:23, 28:31) announces the coming of the kingdom of God, a new order of righteousness, peace, and joy (Rom. 14:17). In the kingdom, we do all things (not just “spiritual”) to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31), all things in the name of the Lord Jesus (Col. 3:17). It is plain that care for the poor, orphans, and widows is part of that.

Is a failing school system, then, for example, the responsibility of the local church? Education is part of our kingdom responsibility (Deut. 6:6-9, Tit. 2:12), part of the gospel of the kingdom. This may mean encouraging believers to educate their children at home, or in Christian schools. It may mean advocating a new commitment to excellence in the public schools. It is better that schools not be administered directly by the church: that is not necessary and it can be a distraction. But where there is no alternative, yes, the church may start a school, bringing to its children (and even to children of non-Christian parents) the riches of human knowledge within a kingdom-centered worldview. There are legitimate questions as to how best to handle such matters in different localities. But the question is not, whether the church has a responsibility, but how should it undertake that responsibility. The gospel of the kingdom is comprehensive—good news for every aspect of human life.


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