If families are the primary inculcators of virtue and values, and we live in a fallen world, how is that fallen families become cells of virtuous and righteous behavior? How is it that fallen human beings become eikons of God? The answer is the Church.
The purpose of the Church is not “ministries” and worship services. The purpose of the Church is the transformation of people into citizens of the Kingdom of God; into eikons bearing the image of the creator. The Church accomplishes this by being an effective “plausibility structure.” Plausibility structures are communities we look to for confirmation of the veracity of our perspectives and behaviors.
From beginning to end, the scripture teaches that human societies are corrupted with human illusions that lead us away from God and being eikons of God. The work of God in the world is disillusionment. God disillusions us from the deception that is around us and opens us up to the reality of who God is and what God is doing in the world. God’s first and foremost tool in this disillusionment is the Church.
The Church is to be a plausibility structure that points to a reality that is coming but has not yet fully unfolded. The way Christians behave toward one another is the example to the world, imperfect as it is, of what God intends. Through grace and sacrificial love (not power and compulsion) the church shows the love of God in the world, bending the hearts and wills of people to a relationship with God. The work of the Spirit through the opening of the Word, the practice of the sacraments, and participation in community (i.e., plausibility structure) transforms people into restored eikons of God. These restored eikons, who are dispersed throughout the community, bring their values and righteousness into every crack and crevice of human society. This includes first and foremost the family. But it also directly impacts the economic aspects of society; the innate human activity of having dominion over the world. A society populated with people who have internalized virtuous and righteous behavior (and raise there young with those values), who honor subsidiarity, and who put their values to work in a democratic society with free markets, have the greatest potential for amplifying individual freedom, healthy community, prosperity, and justice.
Scot McKnight writes the following (emphases are the McKnight's):
The central creed in life for Judaism, which Jesus slightly amended, was this:
Hear of Israel, the Lord our God. The Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.
To which Jesus added:
And the second is this Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.
What Jesus is calling for in the Jesus Creed, for us to love God and others, is the purpose of the gospel. God restores us so we will become loving. Loving God with heart, soul, and mind is fairly easy to grasp, but what might it mean for us to love God “with all our strength’? This expression, I am suggesting, opens up the opportunity for us to consider the mission of the gospel.
The word “strength,” moedeka in Hebrew, means more than physical strength and more than just our body. It is not intended to describe weightlifters or the crisp cuts of the young. Instead, “strength” refers to our “externalities,” to our “resources,” to what we do in the physical world that can be seen, touched, smelled, and tasted. When we read “with all your strength,” instead of thinking of fitness shows on TV we should think of everything we see and touch and taste in the world.
In other words, to love God “with all your strength” means that we are to love God with everything we do, everything we say, with everything we touch, with everything we smell, with everything we eat or choose not to eat, with everything we buy and don’t buy, with everything we own, with everything we make, with every cultural establishment, with every social institution and with every global structure …. and on and on.
And, because it concerns how we love the whole created order, the gospel is a holistic work of God. The gospel unleashes a cycle of grace that is extended to the entire created order. If God embraces the entire created order in his plan, then we too are invited to join him. (1)
Imagine what the world would look like if a community of people who loved God with all their “strength” were on display in every aspect of human existence, feeding their values into the dynamic and empowering systems of democracy and free markets, exponentially magnifying the impact of their decisions throughout the world. But also imagine what the world would look like where a community of people driven by selfishness fed their values into the system with the same magnifying power.
That brings us to an important differentiation that needs to be made between two frequently confuse terms: Selfish and self-interest.
(1) Scot McKnight, Embracing Grace: A Gospel for the Rest of Us, Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2005. 75-76.
(Note: I stole the word "eikons" form reading Scot McKnight's Jesus Creed blog. However, after having own "Embracing Grace" for about four months I finally go around to reading it. I was stunned at the similarities in what he wrote with significant portions of what I have been writing in this series. The book is great and I highly recommend it!)