Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Mercy Ministry and the Two Kingdoms, Part Three: The State

Though it is difficult to argue with the conclusions already reached that fallen creatures stand in need of mercy and that believers ought to play a role in alleviating people’s burdens, this does not really answer the question concerning the extent of the local church’s involvement in ministries of mercy. Many Christians and church leaders assume that the mere presentation of the need for mercy, coupled with some scattered proof-texts like those already cited, gives us all we need to develop a model for mercy ministry. But as I have been arguing, some qualifications are in order.

One of these concerns the divine institution of the State.

Due to man's fall and the massive upheaval and restructuring of the world and how he relates to it, the kingdom of man is now distinct from the kingdom of God, and the State is now distinct from the Church (the establishment of the State is hinted at in Genesis 4:15, in which the existence of the common grace city serves to reassure Cain that he would be protected by a divinely sponsored administration of justice after his killing of Abel. The State’s role is described explicitly in Romans 13:1ff).

The State, therefore, exists alongside the Church as a divinely ordained institution that administers the blessings of God to humanity. Their respective jurisdictions are distinct, of course, as are the blessings they provide, but the fact remains that they both serve to protect the interests of their subjects.

How does this apply to mercy ministries? One way is that it reminds us that the Church is not the only vehicle that God has created for the alleviation of mankind’s burdens. To place the entire responsibility for societal reform upon the shoulders of the Church, therefore, is not only asking too much, it is ignoring the existence and function of common grace city.

Furthermore, when churches such as Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City state that their vision is “to bring about personal changes, social healing, and cultural renewal through a movement of churches and ministries that change New York City and through it, the world,” one may reasonably inquire whether this is an example of the Church biting off more than she can—or was ever intended to—chew.