By Rhett Burns
The book of Proverbs often perplexes modern readers of the Bible with its earthiness. What’s with all the talk of work and women and words? What does that have to do with the Great Commission and the kingdom of God?
It turns out a lot.
In his book Solomon Says, Mark Horne argues the book of Proverbs is a commentary on Genesis. If we understand the Bible as only concerned with personal salvation, then it won’t make much sense why God gave us Proverbs. But, Horne says, “if you are a practitioner of a religion centered on a story that begins with how God made men and women to relate to him and one another as they take dominion over the world, and move downstream from their garden home, and find gold, and start trading, and have to raise children and eventually build cities that are supposed to further reflect the glory of God, then it will make intuitive sense why the book of Proverbs had to be included as Scripture.”
Genesis tells humanity to take dominion over the world, and Proverbs gives us the principles of wisdom on how to do so. The Great Commission is a new covenant restatement of the Dominion Mandate. We are to bring all peoples to Christ and teach them to obey everything that
He commanded. We are to teach the world the whole counsel of God, Genesis and Proverbs included.
To be sure, the good news that Jesus forgives sinners, washes away their sins, and welcomes them into his kingdom through repentant faith is central and foundational. We do not assume, ignore, or otherwise disregard the glorious necessity of the Gospel.
But what do forgiven sinners do when they come to faith? What does it look like when a group of Christians obey everything Jesus commanded in every sphere of society? After all, we still live on earth, work jobs, get married, have kids, eat food, and produce cultural goods. There is no escaping human culture. Shouldn’t God’s people have a plan for how to build it?
An Institution-Building Church
Last year, Pastor Brian Sauvé put out an all-call on Twitter for Christians to move to Utah to help build an “institution-building church.” That phrase stuck with me, and recently I caught up with Brian to find out just what he means by it, and what Refuge Church is up to.
First, what Sauvé does not mean. He does not envision the church as a top-down central planning division, where all decisions for church families go through the bureaucracy of the church with the church elders controlling lives in a cultish way. Far from it.
Rather, Sauvé envisions a “straightforward Kuyperian sort of Christianity that aims to build up a people who will pursue cultural activity in every domain of human existence Christianly, and we believe that should result in all sorts of different institutions and cultural artifacts.”
So, at Refuge Church, this work begins by “recovering the boring, but potent weapons of our spiritual forefathers in singing the Psalms as a church, and learning how to do that, and preaching the whole counsel of the Word of God applicationally under the Lordship of Christ.”
Right worship, then, is the soil in which all fruitful Christian enterprise grows.
How do we tell, though, if something is fruitful? We look at what it produces.
Turning a Profit
One might object that the fruit we ought to be looking for is the fruit of the Spirit. Agreed. As Sauvé notes, all our cultural work ought to be done Christianly—that is, with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
But if God gives us his world and his Spirit, we ought not to bury our talents in the ground, even if we make it sound über-spiritual by calling the ground our heart. He expects us to turn a profit on what he has given us. That means we need to produce real things in the real world for his glory. We need to produce fruit with staying power.
One might say we need to produce institutions.
The Making of Citizens
Refuge Church, where Sauvé serves as pastor of preaching and liturgy, is a relatively new church and one that has made significant shifts in its brief history. Therefore, the institution-building vision is just taking shape. They are beginning with one of the more pressing domains of culture that local churches need to reclaim, education, by starting a new school, slated to open this fall. In Sauvé’s view, churches should see that robustly Christian schools, not beholden to government funding, are started in their communities.
We need Christian education because the state has become the god of “a secularist power religion that is aiming to own and fetter every area of human life.” For example, money. Through fiat currency, hidden tax with inflation, student and consumer debt, and excessive taxation, the State is building a slavery feudalism where everybody is a tenant on the Crown’s land. Sauvé continues:
“And the way that they succeed in that actually has to start before you ever get to making money and it’s in the making of citizens. It’s an education. So, if we don’t effectively train our children to see that play and to see the sort of discipleship program of the God of state, then we can’t just expect that when they’re 18 we can say, “Oh, now resist that. Now be equipped to build productive households and see the church become a household of productive households that builds durable culture and the culture of the new humanity under the Lordship of Christ.” You just can’t expect that without education.
Networked Local Economies
One of the more interesting ideas Sauvé is pursuing is building the foundations for a connected local economy. By this he means they “list out what skills, trades, resources, and assets are present in our community already, and then how can we join together and build these like thousand network connections to where we’re strengthening the cultural and vocational activity of a Christian in our community who is investing in our community.”
The church, as a hub of Christian cultural activity and community, brings this information together in a white pages format for local Christians and encourages and facilitates intentional economic activity that strengthens the Christian community.
For example, who has dormant land that might let someone else raise cattle on it? Or, what holes do we notice in our local economy? Sauvé imagines a young lady eager to prepare for midwifery, and so a few church families come together to support her training. In just a few years, the go-to midwife in town is a Christian midwife. Or, you connect a 16-year-old young man with a general contractor for an apprenticeship. In time, the best building contractors are Christians.
The connected Christian economy ends up “invading and colonizing the existing local economies,” Sauvé notes. “So, it’s not like a retreat for us. It’s more Boniface than Benedict.”
Again, this does not mean central economic planning by the church elders, and nothing is going through the church budget. “This is where the church becomes the ultimate productive household in the sense that it’s the place where networking, equipping, and force-multiplying investment can be facilitated,” Sauvé says. “It’s just the new humanity being the new humanity.”
Plodding in the Right Direction
Plodding is a cultural value. God warns against wealth gained hastily and commends slow, steady growth. “God’s economy normally operates like yeast, not a microwave,” Sauvé pointed out. Therefore, as we engage in educational and economic activity, as we build institutions and pursue dominion in every domain of human existence, we need to do so with the long view in mind.
“In everything that we’re doing as a church, I highly doubt we will even know if it will succeed for 10 years or more. Some of it, like the school, we won’t know if it is succeeding until we begin to see the fruit of it over a course of years and decades.
But what’s glorious about that is compound interest is also a law that the Lord built into reality, and not just economically. For example, one student educated over 12 years in school. The fruit you might get from that is slow, but it’s fruit. They’re going to go out, create their own household, create human beings, and educate those human beings who are going to go out and create their households and create human beings. And so the compound interest on that one educated child can look like several hundred thousand Christians in 200 or 300 years.
So, plodding doesn’t mean to expect small. It just means to expect the way that we get to big things is through a whole lot of small things over a long time.”
Go put your hand to the dirt. Plow, plod, produce. Go build something for the glory of God and the good of your neighbor. Do it like a Christian, as a Christian. This is what God made you for and redeemed you for.
And when you need a little help on how to go about it, go read Proverbs.
Rhett Burns (@rhett_burns) is an associate pastor and small business entrepreneur living in Greenville, SC with his wife and four kids. He publishes Get Your House In Order, a newsletter about building a household that lasts.
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