What can the incarnation teach us about Christian cultural witness and economic action?
When God became a man, He showed us the power of embodied truth. But that divine act wasn’t just meant to rescue us from a fallen world; it was meant to model what transformation actually looks like in the here and now.
As Rev. Robert Sirico recently noted in his reflections on Christmas, the incarnation reminds us “how seriously God takes the material world which he made, and how redemption, in the Christian understanding, is accomplished precisely through and within this material world.”
Over at Gentle Reformation, J.K. Wall connects some additional dots, arguing that many of our social and economic institutions point to that same pattern. In many ways, Wall notes, “Apple borrows from Augustine,” putting right ideas into the right form, making them beautiful, usable, and transformational.
Jesus, however, did not merely live out His divine-human incarnation as an individual. He also started an organization — the church. According to Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper, this organization embodies and displays to the world the eternal, invisible reality of Christ.
“The [mystical] body of Christ presents itself in the world in the visible church,” Kuyper wrote in his book Pro Rege. He added, “just as the heart speaks in human language, so also must the Spirit bear witness in the Word that the church brings to the world.”
So, as Kuyper argues elsewhere, if we are followers of Christ, we will participate in the organization Christ created. Being a Christian isn’t merely about believing timeless truths, nor is it merely about embodying those truths as individuals.
To build the bridge further, connecting individuals to institutions, Wall points to the broader scope of the church’s cultural and civilizational impact:
Likewise…if we are followers of Christ, we will form organizations that incarnate divine truth into their form and action.
That’s what Christians have done for centuries, forming hospitals, universities, schools, philanthropic organizations. Each of these institutions embodied at least one of Christ’s commands—heal the sick, get wisdom, train up a child, give to the poor—in collective action.
There’s no reason this Christian entrepreneurship shouldn’t continue today—forming corporations or institutions of all kinds that collectively act out Christ’s commands.
Incorporation is, in fact, incarnation.
Given our callings as Christ followers, we are called to put right ideas into right form, and not just in common-good, common-grace sorts of ways.
Within and throughout all those efforts, we also have the opportunity to bring divine and redemptive truth across the economic order, planting seeds of life and freedom in the words we say, the principles we uphold, the contributions we bring, and the exchange in which we participate.
Our ideas and forms come from ways that are higher than our ways, and our witness isn’t limited to either the tangible or the transcendent. The Spirit speaks, we listen, and we love.
We “labor faithfully,” Wall concludes, “knowing that Christ the King is working through such institutions to sustain life on earth, to provide for the needs of all people and, ultimately, to build His church.”
Image: The Scottish Market Place, Sir David Wilkie (1818)