Many of us despise the United Nations as a secular institution. This reflects a faulty view that has existed in our Western culture for a long time. It is separating the spiritual and secular, separating heaven and earth in our thinking. This is one reason why we have forsaken institutions that have been made for the good of people.
God made one world and his aim is to reign over that world through his principles and presence, bringing it healing and wholeness. This is the view of the Hebrew shema in Deuteronomy 6. “Hear oh Israel, the Lord your God is one Lord.” To the Hebrew person, this meant that God’s rule is to extend to the whole creation, by permeating it through his people. The shema continues by showing that this is to be a rule of neighbour-love, as opposed to the self-worship that destroys the creation.
This is a secular vision. It may really upset some Christians today to hear this, but the vision of the gospel is a secular vision. This is how Isaiah treated it. He saw a transformation of our secular society. The wolf and the lamb lying together represent the institutions of the world serving the weak, rather than devouring for their own interests. Throughout Isaiah we see this vison of the secular world being healed, of nations becoming like Christ, refusing to go to war, caring for the refugee.
We have often thought that the church was set up to be separate from the world, over against the world in opposition to it. Rather than being in the world to transform it, we have looked for a spiritual escape, for the distant heaven. This has produced in us an enmity towards the world, the enmity that the cross was designed to heal, to make us witnesses to the institutions we are supposed to serve. It’s like Israel’s antagonism towards Babylon in their exile. It was a kind of selfish hatred. God called them to serve and transform.
The church wasn’t set up to be a new separate religion from others. When the church was born it didn’t separate from the Jews as a self-serving body. It was in the Jewish world renewing that world. It was in the synagogues and temple and took no steps to separate itself. It was a part of everyone else, serving and dying in the community. It wasn’t until internal politics of the church came that it began to see other institutions as their enemies, rather than their neighbourhood.
The church isn’t a separate spiritual institution, set up on the periphery. It is to be in the village and town in which we all live. It is to share in the secular world, knowing that the secular world is God’s heart and vision. As leaven, it is in the lump of dough. The church is a secular people, part of God’s redeemed secular world. For too long the church has made a distinction between the spiritual and the lay, the heavenly and the material spheres.
We are to permeate the secular world until there is no difference between us, except for our works, the cross at the centre of our heart and actions, and this way the cross can be in the world, as its salt and light. We don’t light a candle and then hide it in a corner. “Coming out of the world” means that we make sure to shine in it. It means we make sure the world doesn’t extinguish our light by its self-centredness. This is what happens to us when we draw away to ourselves. Our light is extinguished by the selfishness.
The church is to be in the world like water flowing through a meadow becoming part of the meadow, bringing refreshment and newness to it. Otherwise the meadow dies and fulfils our negative end-times prophecies. These are self-fulfilling prophecies.
“Making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth… (the church is his) body, the fullness of him who fills all in all (everything).” (Ephesians 1:9-10, 23)
The church is to fill the secular world. It is to unite the secular with the heavenly, until they become one and the whole is renewed. So, serving in the United Nations, upholding it and championing its service to humanity isn’t something to be ashamed of as non-spiritual, as below our holy vision. It is very much a part of our spiritual mission.
And to be humanitarian in our outlook and action, towards all people, isn’t denying our spiritual calling, but is a very good and clear expression of it. If you serve humanity in the United Nations, you are serving God. God loves the church because it is in his creation to be like himself, to serve, to love others and to reconcile and renew the whole.
“And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.” (Colossians 1:20)
“They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain (his government in the world), for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:9)