Recently, I began reading a fascinating book by Dr. Nabeel T. Jabbour, entitled The Crescent Through the Eyes of the Cross. Though I've only finished the first few chapters, I'm already hooked. Dr. Jabbour is an Arab Christian, who grew up in the Middle East and now resides in Colorado, and in this book he offers the western Christian a chance to see Christianity and the West through the eyes of an Arab Muslim.
I am finding Dr. Jabbour's unique perspective insightful, and I'm sure it will be helpful to me as I have opportunity to minister to Muslims in the future. The real gems in this book, however, come from Dr. Jabbour's remarkable observations on the American Church itself. Specifically, I cheered Dr. Jabbour's careful examination of the distinction between "Christendom" and the kingdom of God:
"There has been an evolution in our "Christian" history. In the beginning, those who believed in Christ were known as followers of the Way. In time, they were called Christians. In the fourth century, the emporer Constantine institutionalized Christianity, and it evolved into "Christendom." The church entered into a "holy matrimony" with the state."
"In contrast to Christendom, the kingdom of God has to do with the invisible rule of God, the expansion of the gospel irrespective of who rules the land and living with Christlike attitudes and behavior..."
"...The kingdom of God has to do with the eternal rule of God. For Christians, our primary citizenship is the kingdom of God, not Christendom or Western culture."
- Excerpts taken from "The Crescent Through the Eyes of the Cross," page 51
The misson of the Church and of every Christian is to build the kingdom of God by seeking the lost and living out the Gospel. As Jesus said in Mark 5:16:
Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
Instead of pursuing this kingdom, too often Christians seek to build Christendom, which is Dr. Jabbour's term to describe the West's affinity for the Judeo-Christian ethic and general promotion of a Christian worldview within society. This is cultural Christianity, and it should never be confused with the kingdom of God.
Christians in the West (particularly the United States) often champion and defend Christendom rather than supporting the spread of the kingdom of God through the message of the Gospel. Ironically, Christians may win the battle of promoting Christendom by electing conservative politicians and pro-family judges, outlawing sinful behaviors and obtaining governmental protections for religious practices – yet in the end gain nothing for the kingdom of God. Our victories for Christendom will never - by themselves - advance the kingdom of God. For that, Christians must be prepared to preach and live out the Gospel.
Dr. Jabbour observes that the kingdom of God often flourishes in places like China, where Christendom is weak or nonexistant and persecution is common. Conversely, in most Western countries where Christendom is strong, the kingdom of God is stagnant or even shrinking. Could it be that our cultural support for Christendom is an impediment to the growth of the kingdom of God???
Instead of working to bolster Christendom, Christians should work to recruit and train new citizens for God's eternal kingdom. Along the way, we may take steps to support Christendom within society, but only so long as Christendom's existence furthers the Gospel, which as Dr. Jabbour points out, isn't necessarily the case.
In the final analysis, God's kingdom cannot be found in this world (at least not until Christ returns to establish it Himself), so neither should we form personal allegiences nor establish ministerial objectives that seek to substitute earthly achievements for God's spiritual purposes. As Jesus said in John 18:36:
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”
We are not Americans who practice Christianity. We are Christians who happen to live in America (or wherever we may reside), but our true home is in Heaven. With that in mind, we should make it our goal to devote ourselves to the mission Christ handed us - without becoming distracted by the affairs of this world.
Perhaps Paul said it best in his instructions to Timothy concerning the discharging of his pastoral duties:
Suffer hardship with me, as a good Christian soldier. No Christian soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier. - 2Tim 2:3-4