“The Idea of a Christian Society,” by Andrew J. Schatkin
In our modern, secular society, based on material wealth and goods acquisition, the Christian dogma and faith has to some extent lost its societal connection. In short, for many, if not most, Christianity at best is little understood or not understood at all. It may be said that the Christian worldview has lost its meaning and attraction for many and is in societal disconnection and dysfunctionality. For England’s greatest poet after Shakespeare, John Milton, the author of the only epic poem in English, Paradise Lost, the rebellion of Lucifer, the fall of man into sin, and mankind’s redemption through the Christ-cross event were the essential and seminal historical events. Thus, there is at the present time some confusion as to what may be said to constitute the idea and ideal of a Christian society.
This is not only because of the forces of secularism and media and political propaganda, but also the position of certain conservative Protestant denominations as well as the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Church; they believe that certain aspects of sexuality constitute the sole Christian ethical worldview. There are a group of Christian believers in our society that identify Christian behavior and truth with opposition to abortion and active homosexual behavior. The opposition to abortion is founded essentially in the commandment not to kill. The opposition to active homosexual behavior is founded in the number of biblical passage including Genesis 19, the narrative of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; the prohibition in Leviticus 18:19 on this practice; and in the letters of Paul, particularly Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 1.
It is to be noted that not all Christians and churches maintain this position and most certainly I do not endorse as a Christian any hostility or discrimination to those who favor abortion on the basis of women’s rights; I also do not favor discrimination against homosexuals. What I seek to make clear here that for a large number of Christians, these issues are the only issues or understandings of Christian behavior. I myself follow the biblical and the church tradition on these matters. I say this much: that to mistake these sole issues as the whole and entire faith I think is a mistake and a mistake in thinking. As a Christian society, should it ever come to pass, it would include some sort of family structure in the context of heterosexual marriage. Thus the command and words of Jesus that a man leave his father and mother to marry.
Second, and more importantly, the Christian worldview includes a great and pressing concern for the poor, disadvantaged and underclass, as reflected in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25). It is also reflected in the story of the Rich Young Man, where Jesus said that in order to follow him, he must let go of all of his material goods and the young man went away sorrowing as he unable to do this. This particular encounter in the Gospels is best and better understood as meaning that if we are to follow Christ, we must give up whatever may impede us in that respect, whether material goods or intellectual pride. Never forget that Jesus pronounced in the Beatitudes that the poor and poor in spirit are blessed.
Having said this, I think the second prong of a fully-developed Christian society would include some sort of utopian or socialistic communal living, giving and sharing as is reflected in the earliest Christian communities, as described in the book of Acts. Thus in Acts 4:32 to 5:11; Acts 11:27-30; 2 Cor 8:9; and James 2:14. I note further Jesus’s significant identification and concern for the poor. For example in Luke 4:16-10, Jesus announces he has been sent to preach good news to the poor. Jesus was criticized for associating with the outcasts and the poor (Matt 11:19 and Luke 7:34). Jesus especially indicated the poor were especially blessed by God in Matt 25:31-46. Jesus speaks of judgment on those who pay no attention to the suffering of those in distress, whether unclothed, lacking food, or in prison and unvisited. Unfortunately, in the United States, at least Christianity has long been associated with the capitalist system. This is an error since Christianity has no connection with any political or economic system. In the past, Christianity was connected with the monarchy, whether in the United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden, or Denmark. It has been proven that established churches result in less apprehension of the Christian message.
As I stated, Christianity has no particular connection with any political or economic system whether socialism, capitalism, monarchy or even democracy. I do think that the idea of a Christian society, should the idea ever come to pass and be implemented, would tend to have some sort of commonality and shared giving rather than the competitive greed-based system that underlies capitalism.
What, then, can be said about an ideal Christian society, should it ever come to pass? I tend to think it would include both the traditional family structure and some sort of, for want of a better word, “socialism” based on community sharing and giving. Perhaps we need a third political party to include both of these perspectives. Perhaps we need a new society where all may share equally in the goods the world has to offer, whether educational chances, medical care, or employment.
I add a final thought to offer guidance on this matter. Jesus himself took on poverty in taking on human form coming down to us from the majesty of eternal glory. He led a life of poverty with few or none material possessions. His example teaches and informs us that in his life of suffering and poverty he points the way to the form of what a Christian society might be.