When I hear those two words together, 'disrupting' and 'society', I think of protestors, hippies, rebels, or cultural mavericks. I don’t think of the church.
If you’ve ever surveyed religious and non-religious folks about what they think of the church, you may or may not be surprised by the responses you will receive. Those responses will range from practical to theoretical and from the negative to the positive: irrelevant, boring, pointless, out of touch, guardians of the status quo, purveyors of tradition, religious, judgmental, warm, familiar, and welcoming.
Follow that question up with another question: What does the church do? And you will receive answers like this: sing songs, preach sermons, put on performances, raise money (sometimes for themselves sometimes for others), and build buildings.
Hardly the ingredients necessary to disrupt society. However, if we turn to Acts 17:6 we find a peculiar text:
Turning the world upside down? What? The church? A more understandable translation of that phrase would be “disrupting society.” Can you name a church that you could define as a group that disrupts society? Probably not. In fact, we have so domesticated the church and normalized conservative and Christianity as synonyms, that we might look down on a church that disrupts society in ways that don’t align with particular political parties. Or if you have married together the liberal party and Jesus, then you may assume the only churches disrupting society are like the ultraconservative, nut jobs at Westboro Baptist, and that good Christianity will keep its reserved slot on Sundays to itself. Yet, this disruption of society must have been such an outcome of living the Christian life, that later Paul has to tell the church when possible live at peace with all (Romans 12:18).
In other words, disruption is so innate to living the way of the Kingdom, that peace is something we have to work for. It’s almost like disruption was just a natural outcome, and making peace was something they had to actively and intentionally do. I wonder if one of the reasons we don't think of the church as an alternative society that disrupts cultural norms blindly accepted and perpetuated by dominant society is because we assign the church to the “religious and spiritual” realm. There is a lot of historical reasons for why we do this, but that’s another conversation.
Within the 1st century church and in many parts of the world, the church is not a religious institution, but a people living the life of the kingdom, a life that is not regulated to the religious or spiritual realm but a life that affects every sector of society. For instance, in Acts 19 the way of the Kingdom disrupted the dominant economic and business system of Ephesus. In Acts 17 we have the story of the “Unknown God”, which Paul posits to be Jesus, among the city’s Greek pantheon of God’s. This was not simply a religious disruption. The Greek and Roman gods were over sectors of society. This specific incident takes place in the “Areopagus” which was the place of philosophy, law, and politics, thus the present statues of their gods were less about the spiritual life and more about the political order. In fact, did you know, when a message from Cesar came to a new place, it would begin something like this, “The beginning of the good news of Cesar, the Son of God”. So when Mark launches his gospel with the phrase, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” he is not making a doctrinal statement, but a political statement about an alternative society with a different king calling his people to live differently in all realms of their life - economic, social, political, educational, relational, etc. When enough people begin to live this way it begins to contradict and mess with the status quo, and this, by its very nature, disrupts society.
I wonder what our churches would look like if we quit regulating them to an institution, and imagined them as an alternative society within the larger society?
What if we quit trading political favors for the legislation or morality?
What if we started to believe that allegiance to the Kingdom of God often contradicts strong American patriotism?
What if we confessed and then repented of the fact that our idea of church and Christianity look less like the Kingdom of God and more like a specific political party dressed up in religious jargon?
What if we opened up our hearts to the idea that we are no less committed to idols than those in the ancient world, ours just often go by the names of Sports, Consumerism, and Individualism rather than Marduk, Baal, or Asherah?
What if we rebelled against the new American holiday, Black Friday, and actually spent Friday content with what we have as we spend more time playing together and loving each other?
What if this Christmas we decided not to bow to the god of excess and instead look for ways to be generous to those in need? The list could go on, but a church with this vision would, by its very nature disrupt society!