This past week, some leaders forcefully reminded me of their viewpoint on transforming culture. They were kind enough to share their conclusions with some supporting ideas from Scripture. They were kind about it except that their conclusions were finalized with “this is the way to do it, and all other ways stink.”
Their conclusion says, “Get people saved. Disciple them to live and love like Christians. Then, as they are salt and light in their cultures, they will change that culture.” One group discounts any form of spiritual power that includes miracles, signs, and wonders with this conclusion as their end point. Another group discounts any spiritual warfare or intercession that claims to have territorial authority with this conclusion as their end point. Still another group discounts any mention of apostles and prophets or influence and impact on culture other than this conclusion as an end point.
Of course, a moment’s analysis clearly reveals that “salt and light” is defined by their own conclusion: that is, they define Jesus’ references to these metaphors with their own framework, quote Jesus’ words, then conclude that Jesus could only have meant what they concluded these words meant.
The King’s Platform
Jesus was laying down His kingdom platform in the Sermon on the Mount and Sermon on the Plain, lines of thoughts that appear in other teachings with other metaphors to illustrate His kingdom strategy and a “how things work in the kingdom” revelation. In all, we can take these revelations in a context called “kingdom clash” that contrasts the spirit of the world and the purposes of the Father. Within this context, Jesus provides the paradoxes of kingdom outcomes we call The Be-attitudes, outcomes so opposite those of this world that “how things work in the kingdom” must be revealed because it can never be discovered.
If you have worldview or doctrinal viewpoint that defines Ecclesia without kingdom, and you wish to apply individual disciplines to leadership dynamics, you can define “salt and light” into a strategy for transformation that ignores the rest of what Jesus tells us about His strategy for “taking over the world.” You can end up with a “let’s all be good, say good, and be good” and “good things” will happen. A wholly juvenile approach that assumes Jesus set a child in front of them to teach them to act like kingdom and kindergarten share the same leadership dynamics.
Jesus could speak with His disciples only at the level of their ability to understand. They still didn’t understand. He just kept right on speaking. However, He did clarify that they were going to remember what He said and understand it better once He was gone. They apostles were going to provide kingdom leadership, and that leadership was certainly not going to look like the “salt and light” concepts these leaders shared with me. They were going to spark riots! They were going to stand before kings! They were going to shake the earth – literally! They were going to defeat demons that held territories by establishing the kingdom in ways that would transform cultures! They were not going to limit their strategic leadership to getting some people saved so they could all live, speak, and act nice as a means of salting and lighting the cultures.
Consider that Jesus was speaking to Israel. Israel was God’s strategy to instill salt and light into the whole world – God has always had a dominion mandate – and they were to function as a remnant people. Now, Jesus is addressing that remnant people chosen to represent the kingdom. He is revealing how His kingdom platform differs from their cultural expectations, expressions, and exercises. He is clarifying how He will influence and impact Israel and the whole world. In the context of his presentation, He addresses their present condition as God’s representative remnant. He reminds them that being a remnant representative means persecution because they follow Him. “Be happy about that!” He says. “A great reward awaits you in heaven. Remember that all the ancient prophets [who represented Me] were persecuted in this way.”
Then, “You are the salt of the earth.” And, “you are the light of the world.” The thought behind these metaphors is that Israel, as the representative remnant, influences and impacts the whole world. Salt doesn’t represent when it has lost its flavor. Light doesn’t represent when it is hidden. “So you need to let your good deeds shine before all, so that everyone will praise the Father in heaven. This is a message to a nation, a representative remnant, a chosen people, a cultural model. Applicable to individuals? Of course, but the message is the King speaking to His kingdom people. Their representation should reveal His expectations, not theirs. Their behavior should represent His expressions and exercises, not their’s. He was putting something in them so He could release something through them. Then, He clarifies what He’s talking about: “if you aren’t doing any better than what the religious law teachers are teaching you and the Pharisees are doing, you aren’t gonna represent My kingdom!”
“Salt and light” metaphors speak of God’s strategy to regain dominion of all through a kingdom people who represent Him in the earth. That can certainly be individualized, but it is more than that. When we fit that into an accumulating believers mentality, we tend toward a view that numbers will produce the change. Jesus tends toward something else all together different with a corporate, kingdom in contrast to a systematic cultural delusion controlling the cultures of nations. Making everybody a Jew was never God’s way of establishing kingdom, accumulating Jews wouldn’t fulfill His kingdom strategy, in other words. The behavior that dominated their culture at the time of Jesus wasn’t going to be the behavior that characterized His kingdom.
To follow through on a strategy of “salt and light” assumes this accumulation, we would now be looking at numbers as a marker for success when that has never been God’s measurement of success in any generation. Jesus’ strategy is leadership. He establishes kingdom, and kingdom is a leadership strategy. That is, the amount of people in the kingdom doesn’t measure its influence and impact. Its character does. Its leadership influence and impact does. Its spiritual authority and power measure its representation of heaven on earth. While that certainly occurs individually and family by family, the aggregate that kingdom displays in Ecclesia function isn’t measured in numbers. There is not “you will become so numerous in your influence that you are ‘salt and light;’ rather, “you will become a better representation of Me and My behavior as a culture.”
We have a few variations on this theme of accumulating believers, but they all carry a common misconception about the strategy of kingdom. Jesus says that His representative culture will be persecuted and falsely accused because of its message and behavior, not because of its population percentage. Jesus measures the kingdom behavior of the religious teachers and leaders as deficient and demands a new standard of kingdom and righteousness.
No doubt a momentum of numbers shifts the balance of spiritual power but only if that momentum is the fed by leaders at every level, personal leadership, family and cultural leadership. That is, the dynamic of kingdom that measures influence and impact isn’t “example” or “achievement” but leadership.
Thinking “salt and light” as exposure or exceptionalism doesn’t meet the criteria of Jesus’ definition of kingdom. It is, in fact, not about kingdom at all, and Jesus is specifically discussing kingdom.
The question of leadership focuses upon influence and impact. In the kingdom of heaven that influence and impact is primarily spiritual. That is, the leadership isn’t political or civil in the sense of marching armies and political parties. The leadership is not economic primarily in that God’s people have all the money or the monetary power. The leadership isn’t religious either because the kingdom isn’t a religious representation. The leadership is spiritual.
Note that even in the Old Testament, Israel had numbers but remain slaves; they were, in fact, enslaved because they were so numerous. Not until leadership with spiritual power and authority arrived in the person of Moses did the influence and impact of Israel change. Even then, the influence and impact didn’t change culture. Out numbering the opponent has never been God’s way of winning else people would put their faith in numbers.
God wants everybody but He never starts with everybody. He never waits for everybody either.
Spiritual leadership comes from spiritual source and produces natural behavior. It is the strength and authority of a righteous remnant that influences and impacts culture more than the accumulation of believers. The true momentum of kingdom comes when the leaders of the kingdom produce personal, family and cultural leaders with spiritual power and authority who can influence and impact their local, regional, and national cultures.