Charles Colson and the Culture Commission

Many pastors and church leaders are confused about the present culture wars. They either embrace them uncritically, adopting the views, and even the rhetoric, of people they hold in esteem, or they sit them out, saying (in effect) that the Great Commission trumps all Christian involvement with such culture issues. But these two extremes are not the only options.

Charles Colson, who seems to understand this matter very clearly, suggested several months ago that we are called to obey both the Great Commission and the culture commission. Christians, Colson rightly argues, are called upon to bring the gospel of saving grace to their neighbors, because of love for Christ and their neighbor. But they are also called upon to be engaged as agents of common grace in the culture commission. Colson argues that the culture commission includes things like “sustaining and renewing creation, defending the created institutions of family and society, critiquing false worldviews, etc.”

I agree with Colson. However, I think a large mistake in category is often made at this precise point. The church is to be a family, or community, that exists to bring the gospel to the world, thus it must baptize and incorporate those who embrace her message into this growing society of Christ followers. The Great Commission, in point of fact, is not given to us as individuals but to us as members of the whole church. The culture commission, however, was given to the whole human race in creation (Genesis 1:28). The human race, thus mankind, is to take dominion over the whole created order. To not do this is to invite social and creational chaos for all. Christians are to be part of this dominion effort as Christians, but they will first do this as those created by God for the stewardship of all the created order. This is why our culture arguments must be made to people who do not yet believe the gospel, which requires a different kind of argument to make our case at times. I would also argue that this is why Christians will not be found on the same side of every issue within the culture or involved in the same political party. (Christian political parties have almost universally been a mistake, at least in my view!) There is no inherent scandal in the reality that Christians do not have "one" answer for all culture issues. Christians will work with non-Christians in many important ways to promote the culture commission but no unbeliever should ever be called upon to support the church in its unique call to fulfill the Great Commission by making disciples of all the nations.

Think about voting for elected officials for a moment. Pastors should not tell people how to vote or endorse particular candidates. But pastors should take clear moral stands when truth demands it. In a democracy it seems evident that voting should be encouraged since we all have an opportunity to be involved in the culture commission in this particular way.

Christians, like all other people, marry, bear children, and care for the earth in various ways. Christians also influence local and national decisions by helping form governments and by selecting those who lead them. And Christians write books, produce graphic art and design buildings and cities. Sin has interrupted the perfection of this created order but it has not removed our responsibility to it. We were made in God’s image as “co-creators” who are called to shape and develop things.

Colson says, “Every part of creation came form God’s hand, every part will someday be redeemed. This means caring about all of life—redeeming people and redeeming culture. We are instructed, after all, to think biblically, taking “captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

I thank God for Chuck Colson’s impact upon the Christian Church in America. He has helped us all think more clearly about the Christian’s role in the culture commission. I am very weary of the attacks made upon Chuck Colson by the radical fringe, both right and left. I do not always agree with Colson, but I am thankful he has labored for change in both thought and action for several decades. He has done a world of good. Yes, I believe his reaction to postmodernity is simplistic. I also think he sometimes embraces moral positions with a bit too much modernistic certainty. But no matter how you look at these issues he is a man who has been a real champion for getting Christians back into the culture commission and out of their longstanding ghettos of dispensational indifference to culture.

Colson concluded an August 2004 Christianity Today editorial (“Reclaiming Occupied Territory”) on this subject by writing: “Each of us must work out our role in the common grace in our own lives, glorifying God by helping restore his creation—by bringing the majesty of God and his righteousness to bear against the crumbling structures of a fallen society.”

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