I came across this quote from Missionary and Quaker Everett Cattell today, here he questions the faithfulness of those communities that withdraw from “the world.” It is a strong statement, but one that resonates with my own position on the question of the church’s presence in the world and politics (especially the last part about the topee).
From the incarnation we also learn that the Word having become flesh “dwelt among us.” This settles the question of withdrawal from the world. Periodically in the history of the church, the pendulum has swung toward the monastic ideal, whether celibates in an institutionalized holiness, or Quakers building new colonies peopled only by their own kind, or evangelicals staying out of politics, and avoiding public life, all for the purpose of keeping uncontaminated by the world.
Jesus ate with sinners, dealt with sinful women without scandal, made no effort in the daytime to escape the crowds, even touched lepers, and went everywhere doing good. The religion of withdrawal is not for for Christ’s ambassadors. Withdrawn Christians have lost their sense of mission – indeed, one wonders whether they are still Christian! Jesus lived dangerously. So must we. Our contact with people must be such as to naturalize us in their presence. God spoke once through angels and the shepherds were frightened almost to death. But Jesus was born. He spoke their language. Those of use who have labored overseas and spent years trying to merge our foreignness, lose our accent, and identify ourselves within a new culture, know how desperately difficult this is, and therefore, thank God for Jesus Christ, who never had to have his water boiled, nor wear a monstrous topee to spare his head from the sun, or live in a big bungalow with thick walls to break the heat. He completely belonged. And to all his followers comes the same challenge of identification.” (The Christian Mission, 1963: 20-21; The Shrewsbury Lecture)