We know what the word ‘co-operate’ means. It describes working together in harmony for the same purpose. This is essential in situations and relationships in society and in the church, whether locally, nationally or globally. The word ‘co-operate’ also translates a major principle in Martin Luther’s later social ethic. So I ask: are we co-operating with God in our lives, families, churches and society? Are there aspects we are neglecting today? Of course, only after being ‘born again’ and trusting in Christ is a person ‘free’ to serve the triune God in love and obedience. They can now co-operate with God.
First, the doctrine of providence is crucial. The living God rules over his creation, sustaining, preserving and providing for all his creatures. In all situations everywhere God carries out his plan, despite the devil’s opposition. There is no chance, coincidence or ‘Plan B’. Nor should we ignore common grace, the teaching that unbelievers have integrity, wisdom, compassion, and a sense of justice in varying degrees. Believers are not necessarily better politicians, economists or medical doctors than unbelievers. In common grace, too, God restrains people from even greater sin or inclines them to pursue justice, sometimes against their own sinful passions.
While believers must function as ‘salt’ (Matt. 5:13-16) in society, it is essential to depend wholly on God rather than their own efforts. Our involvement both in the church and society must be biblically balanced then expressed practically and relevantly.
I now apply two principles to our contemporary situation which Luther later identified, namely, co-operating with God and prayer which characterise the holy living of believers in this world.
The foundational creation order includes marriage, parenthood and the family. Love, security, companionship, procreation within marriage, caring for the elderly and the godly nurturing of children are all included. Here children learn to respect authority and people, and the need to show compassion and be integrated into society.
This creation order is undermined today by increasing levels of infidelity, divorce, gay marriage, and domestic/child abuse; the impact on society is huge, and sometimes on churches. Are we co-operating with God in this area? Do we prepare couples, for example, for marriage and family life, emphasising the need to respect/protect women? Can we better promote quality family life and parenting? Is family life being secularised? Has education become the major priority for our children? Do we measure a child’s worth in terms of ability to study and achieve top grades? An academic research project, The Good Childhood Report 2015, found that many British children are unhappy with instances of self-harm and bullying soaring. English children were found to be among the unhappiest in the world with some not coping with ‘life as a whole’.
Alongside this creation order is the state, including magistrates, government and Queen/President, ‘a splendid gift’ for Luther, which demands our full support (Rom. 13), prayer (1 Tim. 2:1-4) and participation as individuals (Rom. 13). Rather than giving our usual negative responses, can Christians influence and contribute more significantly to the decision-making processes? Co-operating with God in this area was for Luther essential because a Christian should be the most socially conscious of all in that love is in his heart and he is free to serve for God’s glory. This is not politicising the church or compromising its message. It is a call for believers to take more positively what the Bible teaches about supporting authorities God himself established for the purpose of restraining sin, safeguarding liberties, promoting a stable, peaceful society, ensuring justice and safety. If we do not contribute then the devil will continue unhindered his evil work, encouraging anarchy as well as promoting greater indulgence in sin. Rather than complain, believers can co-operate with God by serving/supporting this order even more; some can be involved in the work of ruling and caring for society.
In addition to regular praying, there are situations when more earnest, ‘extra-ordinary’ prayer is required especially in times of war, injustice, apostasy, gross sin and the mass migration of people from Muslim countries in North Africa. Be encouraged. Through prayer, in our helplessness, God can work directly in power to quicken his church, transform families and revolutionise society. Faith looks to the living God to intervene but in the context of dependence on him coupled with our vigorous, prayerful support of the ‘orders’ God has established in society for our good.