@caleb97! Thanks for reply. I’ll begin by expanding my thoughts, and then I’d be really curious to hear about your own experience!
I mentioned part of the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5) and the High Priestly Prayer (Jn. 17) because this is where, off the top of my head, I see Jesus directly addressing His disciples about Kingdom engagement in this world. Three particular concepts stand out to me:
- ‘blessed are the peacemakers’ (Mt. 5:9)
- ‘You are the salt of the earth/light of the world…let your light shine before others’ (Mt. 5:13-16)
- In the world, but not of the world (Jn. 17:14-17)
I recognise that I cannot do each one of these concepts justice in such a short space, but I will try to summarise. And then y’all can let me know if my exegesis is off base!
What I see in both of these passages is Jesus recognising that the Kingdom is being established right in the middle of hostile territory. (See Augustine’s ‘Two Cities’ narrative). That is, the Kingdom of God exists and is expanding amidst the kingdom of the world. Therefore, how do we live our lives in this reality? Do we withdraw and create our own alternative communities and fight to keep them untainted by the world around us? (sort of like Old Testament Israel) Or do we engage (as much as we are able) with the systems and communities which surround us? And how much do we do so?
When I hear Jesus commend peace-making, I hear Him commending to us an active role in the striving for shalom in our communities and the spreading of the Kingdom.
When I hear Him say that we [Christians] are the salt of the earth, I hear Him telling us that we are to bring a certain Kingdom-flavour to all of our interactions, whether with other Christians or with those outside of our church communities. If we lose those interactions, (that is, if we lose our saltiness) then what good are we? Again, Jesus: ‘It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.’ (5:13)
Similarly with the light metaphor… our light is not to be hidden (which I believe we are in danger of if we withdraw and insulate ourselves too much); instead we are to ‘let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.’ (5:16) How can our light shine before them if we are not near to them?
Finally, just before His arrest and crucifixion, Jesus prayed, ‘My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.’ (Jn 17:15) That is, ‘My prayer is not that they, who do not belong to the world (17:16), withdraw from the world, but that they remain in the world, and that you, Father, protect them from the one who rules this world.’ Jesus wanted them (and us) to remain engaged with the world and scatter the seed of the Gospel into its soil.
Now, what this actually looks like is very different depending on the culture and place in history you inhabit! As I live in a representative democracy in the western world, I see voting as one way of engagement. I don’t always vote in every race, but I do try to stay informed on local and national issues of governance so that I can at least have an informed vote/abstention. However, that will look differently for some of my friends across the world who live under more blatantly corrupt regimes that we do in the west!
With all that said, I have huge respect for the Amish/Mennonite communities, but I am unfamiliar with the theological thinking behind that particular way of life. I would love to know what your ear hears when you read those two passages.