“…if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-20)
The text of 2 Corinthians 5:17, “…if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!” was my baptismal text. That was 43 years ago in Leslie Baptist Church. The Church Secretary at the time, Sam Henry, chose the text with no idea of just how apt and appropriate and true it was of me. Sam and his wife Janet are still good friends. Over the years, God has often brought this text back into my life at crucial moments, reminding me how different my life has become and how much I owe the Lord. The following verses about being Christ’s “ambassador” have also grown in importance for me over the decades and have shaped my views of ministry and of chaplaincy.
Like an ambassador, I owe my greatest allegiance to my King. Like an ambassador I serve my King and represent my Kingdom in realms where very different values and beliefs hold sway. Like an ambassador my true citizenship lies in one Kingdom though I am called to responsibilities in others. Like an ambassador I respect the laws, the government, the customs of the kingdoms I live in and serve in. Like an ambassador this requires of me skills in negotiation, tact and diplomacy. Like an ambassador clashes and tensions and differences can arise between my Kingdom and these other kingdoms.
When those clashes arise, I remember a line from a long-ago conference organised by the Theological Students’ Fellowship in the old Bible Training Institute in which the speaker, Donald MacLeod, responded to questions of Christian citizenship and responsibility: “the Christian is bound to disobey when the State commands what God forbids and when the State forbids what God commands.” It was his attempt to balance apparently contradictory texts such as Acts 5:29 (“We must obey God rather than human being”) and Romans 13:5 (“it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience”).
We live in days when the tensions between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world seem to be deepening and multiplying. When we speak of the values of our Kingdom and of the calling of our King we are called intolerant, bigoted, hateful. We live in days that require of us the deepest thinking if we are to speak simply and the greatest courage if we are to speak clearly.
May God anoint us with grace and wisdom.