Behind the “culture wars” lies a foundational biblical premise: that man’s creational calling is to steward the earth for God’s glory (Gen. 1:26–28). Man is God’s deputy in stewarding the entire created order to bring all glory to him. We denote this calling the “cultural mandate.” This means that God’s interests are larger than the church, and that, consequently, man’s calling is wider than the church. The church is God’s agency for propagating the Gospel and discipling the nations and edifying the saints and protecting and perpetuating orthodoxy (1 Tim. 3:15), but it’s not the kingdom of God, which is the reign of God in the earth.[1] The church is only one aspect (though a vital aspect) of that kingdom. Reducing man’s calling to the church is to surrender vast reaches of the world to satanic reign, the kingdom of Satan. This kingdom vies for the same territory as the kingdom of God. This is also why Jesus commanded his disciples to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Mt. 6:10). On earth, not just in the church or family.

If Jesus Christ isn’t Lord everywhere (Acv. 2:22–36), he soon won’t be Lord anywhere. To retreat into the church and erect a firewall against sinful culture with the hope that the church will thereby preserve its holiness won’t protect the church. Satan is rapacious, a roaring lion (1 Pet. 5:8), the first and ultimate boundary-violator (Gen. 3). He will not leave the church in peace just as long as the church leaves the culture in peace. Sin and righteousness are mutually exclusive and fundamentally irreconcilable; each by its nature must root out the other. One will be servant and one will be master (Rom. 6:16). Sin won’t be satisfied with cultural hegemony; it wants to destroy everything godly and pure and holy, and that includes the church and the family and marriages.

This means that any strategy for opposing sin that limits that opposition to only one sphere of life is doomed to failure. Sin is too powerful to resist any opposition but full-fledged evisceration. God is in the sin-evisceration business, not the sin-marginalization business.

Churches that wish to preserve “traditional marriage” but refuse to stand against unsuccessful and unloving — and perverted — definitions of marriage in the culture will soon discover those depraved marriages beating down the church doors. This is as much as to say that cultural transformation by the power of the Gospel is essential to preserve the long-term health of the church, and that a strategy of church renewal alone as the means to cultural renewal is doomed to failure. The course of the church in 20th century Western culture hasn’t been the successful protection of its walls from increasing incursion by social depravity. All to the contrary: as the church abandoned its earlier Reformational paradigm of active cultural engagement,[2] it gradually accommodated itself to the increasing cultural depravity surrounding it. If Christians refuse to confront evils in the culture, we will soon confront them with a vengeance in the church.

And Jesus is not Lord only of the church; he’s Lord of all things. As Lord of all things, he’s progressively trampling down evil in his present, post-resurrection reign (1 Cor. 15:22–25), and even though the days are dark, and we don’t yet see all things subordinated to him (Heb. 2:8c–9), we join with our Lord in stewarding his earth for his glory. This stewardship doesn’t stop (or start) at the four walls of the church or family, and if we want to vanquish the present cultural evil, we had better steward widely indeed.

[1] Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1962), 354.
[2] Doug Frank, Less Than Conquerors (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2009).