Early on, Stalin built a village in Poland called Nowa Huta, or “New Town,” to demonstrate the promise of communism. He could not change the entire country at once, he said, but he could construct one new town with a shiny steel factory, spacious apartments, plentiful parks, and broad streets as a token of what would follow. Later, Nowa Huta became one of the hotbeds of Solidarity, demonstrating instead the failure of communism to make just one town work.
What if Christians used that same approach in secular society and succeeded? “In the world of Christians are a colony of the true home,” said Bonhoeffer. Perhaps Christians should work harder toward establishing colonies of the kingdom that point to our true home. All too often the church holds up a mirror reflecting back the society around it, rather than a window revealing a different way.
If the world despises a notorious sinner, the church will love her. If the world cuts off aid to the poor and the suffering, the church will offer food and healing. If the world oppresses, the church will raise up the oppressed. If the world shames a social outcast, the church will proclaim God’s reconciling love. If the world seeks profit and self-fulfillment, the church seeks sacrifice and service. If the world demands retribution, the church dispenses grace. If the world splinters into factions, the church joins together in unity. If the world destroys its enemies, the church loves them. That, at least, is the vision of the church in the New Testament:
a colony of heaven in a hostile world.
Like the dissidents in Communist countries, Christians live by a different set of rules. We are a “peculiar” people, wrote Bonhoeffer, which he defined as extraordinary, unusual, that which is not a matter of course. Jesus was not crucified for being a good citizen, for being just a little nicer than everyone else. The powers of his day correctly saw him and his followers as subversives because they took orders from a higher power than Rome or Jerusalem.
What wold a subversive church look like in the modern United States?
~ Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace? (262-263)