the Church on the Hill
by D. Eric Williams
Pastor, Cottonwood Community Church
The jihad is the only systemic cultural ideology that’s effective, that’s growing, that’s attractive, that's glorious - that basically says to young people, “Look, you're on the outs, nobody cares about you, but look what we can do. We can change the world.” Anthropologist Scott Atran, “Looking for the roots of terrorism,” Nature Magazine (online edition).
It happened thirty years ago but I remember it clearly. The speaker was expounding the words of Jesus in Luke 17:21 (For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you). As he talked about the world changing nature of God's reign in the life of his people, I leaned forward and turned to look down the row toward my younger brother. He had done the same thing at the same moment, looking my direction. We were too far apart to exchange words but as we faced each other, we simultaneously, gave a “thumbs up” gesture. This was a message we were excited about.
The teaching that day didn't propose anything particularly new. We had been hearing about the present reality of Christ’s kingdom for years. The difference that Sunday was that we heard solid biblical support for the idea of cultural renewal through kingdom living. In other words, the teacher told us we could change the world by living for Jesus. He told us God still blesses his people for obedience. He told us Jesus expects us to lay our life down for the sake of the Gospel. He told us true Christianity requires courage - courage to die to self and live a life of sacrificial service, bending every effort to bring our life and sphere of influence under the lordship of Jesus Christ. It was a life changing message, the sort of thing to ignited fire in the hearts of young men.
For a while it seemed the biblical gospel of Christ's victory would sweep the Church. I realize now, it was actually accepted by a limited number of Christians. Moreover, some who initially seemed committed grew impatient and wandered away, seeking immediate excitement in emotional, existential “Christianity.” Many had been raised in dispensational churches and were conditioned to expect an abbreviated time frame for the “Church age.” They thought the world would change overnight and where disappointed when it didn't. Thus, as the doctrine of dominion became more clear (Jeremiah 29:4-7) and as people understood the kingdom would be accomplished over thousands of years, many Christians returned to a former belief in an any moment rapture. After all, it was more exciting, it seemed, and it removed the uncomfortable burden of cultural responsibility altogether.
I confess; in my youth I believed the kingdom of God would be realized in my lifetime. But as I continued to study the Bible, I came to understand that Christ's present reign (Matthew 28:18-20) unfolds gradually as his people learn to live under his authority and pass on to the next generation what they have learned. Just as most great cathedrals required a century or more to build, the kingdom of God is established as each generation builds upon the work of those who have gone before. I came to understand that my job is to place one stone - and place it well - so my progeny may build upon it. I came to understand that my part in the Grand Adventure may be small, but it is crucial. Indeed, it is world changing.
Brothers and sisters, we, not the followers of Mohammed, have a world upending message. We proclaim the true Gospel - the Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ. It is a message of sacrificial love, not violence. Make no mistake; in Christ, it is we who are called to change the world.