Emphasis on the kingdom, reign or rule of God ebbs and flows in Christian history.
For example, Walter Rauschenbusch lamented in 1917 that the “individualistic theology” of his day “carefully wrapped in several napkins and forgot” the kingdom of God.
A growing number of Christians now emphasize the pursuit of the common good through social justice and public witness as central to the Christian calling, in contrast to a theology focused primarily on individual faith that provides the “blessed assurance” of “the sweet by and by.”
This shift in emphasis is helpful, needed. Yet, terms such as the kingdom of God and social justice can become “church words” that are often used but seldom explained.
The meaning and implications are assumed to be obvious. As a result, this emphasis can become disconnected from everyday life.
To have a meaningful impact, the kingdom of God must be explained in such a way that the average person knows that he or she has a significant role to play and understands how to incarnate its principles and practices in his or her work.
In reflecting on some of my sermons and Bible studies, I’ve noted a regrettable gap.
I regularly proclaimed the kingdom of God and its principles (nonviolence, creation care, the “haves” helping the “have nots” and so forth).
However, I did not consistently offer concrete ways to embody this kingdom in day-to-day life.
By contrast, Jesus’ proclamation of good news was always united with tangible manifestations of this message–enjoying table fellowship with “sinners and tax collectors” (Mark 2:13-17), healing the sick and diseased (Luke 4:40), offering practical teachings about life in the kingdom (Matthew 20:20-34), speaking on behalf of those without a voice (Matthew 23) and so forth.
Labor Day offers a fitting time for such reflection because connecting the principles and practices of God’s kingdom to our daily labors is essential for the good news to not become disconnected from our lives.
Beyond the biblical witnesses, many examples could be cited, but two come readily to my mind–the Puritans from whom we received the Protestant ethic and Walter Rauschenbusch, who expounded the social gospel.
The Puritans, rejecting a sacred-secular dichotomy, closely connected their faith to their daily activities.
This emphasis on embodying the Bible’s teachings in every aspect of one’s life provided a helpful model for Christians in their day.
As historian Samuel Eliot Morison noted, “Puritanism appealed to merchants because it taught that a man could serve God as well in business or a profession as by taking holy orders, and that all ‘callings’ were equally honorable in his sight.”
If Christian proclamation lacks the same appeal for laborers today, it is worth considering if it results from neglecting this Puritan emphasis.
Rauschenbusch also maintained this close connection. While evident throughout his several books, this union is most clearly seen in his “Prayers of the Social Awakening,” as Bill Pitts noted leading up to Labor Day 2013.
These prayers–offered on behalf of “children who work,” “women who toil,” “workingmen,” “artists and musicians,” “lawyers and legislators” and many other professions–reveal a close connection in his thought between the proclamation of the kingdom of God and its manifestations in daily life.
For example, in a morning prayer, he asks that “Christ’s spirit of duty and service ennoble all we do,” that we will know “our work is useful work and a blessing to all,” and that there will be “nothing in this day’s work of which we shall be ashamed.”
This union of proclamation and practice remains vital for Christians today who are concerned with social justice and the common good.
The message of God’s kingdom must be embodied, not just proclaimed in sanctuaries and other public forums, if it is to be effective.
To adapt James 2:14,17, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone proclaims the kingdom of God but has no deeds? Words by themselves, if not accompanied by action, are dead.”
Hopefully those of us who have the opportunity on Monday to rest from our labors will take time to listen to and learn from those who have provided tangible guidance about how God’s just and peaceable kingdom can impact our daily lives.
Zach Dawes is the managing editor for EthicsDaily.com.