A Word for Wednesday by Jonathan Tame
2nd March 2016
Most of us have heard of ‘Messy Church’, but what about ‘Salty Church’? The Sermon on the Mount starts with Matthew’s masterful account of how the calling of Israel, expressed through the Law and the Prophets, is carried forward into the ministry of the Church. Jesus then likens the Church to salt and light: ‘you are the salt of the earth… you are the light of the world’ (Matt 5:13-16). The full meaning of the passage in vv.11-20 is easily lost, however, because of the extra-biblical paragraph headings. If you read it as one discourse, the gist of the argument goes like this:
As followers of Jesus, expect to be persecuted as the prophets were – because you stand in continuity with them. This means you are like salt, which must do its work faithfully, and also like a cluster of lights – which are highly visible because of your good deeds. These deeds will be inspired by the Law, which Jesus does not annul but instead affirms and fulfils. Indeed the greatest people in the kingdom are those who practice and teach the law – but not as the Pharisees, rather in ways that Jesus describes in the rest of the chapter.
To make the responsibility quite clear, Jesus said that if his disciples are not being salty, they are not much use to anyone! Salt had three main purposes: it was used to slow down decay and preserve fresh meat or fish; it would bring out or enhance the flavour of the food, and lastly, it could also reduce infection in a wound. These three roles of preservative, flavour enhancer and antiseptic can be interpreted as a social agenda that involves preventing the bad, promoting the good and bringing healing.
For salt to work, it had to be applied directly on to the object it was acting on. A salty church means rolling up the sleeves in active involvement with the surrounding culture. This has echoes of Jeremiah 29:4-7, where the Jewish exiles were instructed to seek the welfare of the (pagan) city. We should not retreat from social engagement (akin to the salt remaining in the salt cellar) but be active participants – even leaders – in the ‘secular’ institutions of society, seeking wherever we have influence or responsibility to steer those institutions closer to God’s will and ways.
But what is the agenda for that kind of engagement? Jesus said a prophetic, kingdom manifesto comes from the Law and the Prophets – but how does that apply today? The Jubilee Centre, together with the Relationships Foundation and the Relational Thinking Network, has been translating the framework and principles of biblical law into a relational agenda for 21st Century social reform, which can be applied to businesses, schools, hospitals, public policy and international development. Many resources are available freely on our websites.
Being a salty church is a Monday to Saturday ministry. Salty disciples seek to affirm whatever reflects the goodness of Creation or godly values; they strive to deter dishonesty or corruption at work, and they will try to step into the gap of damaged relationships to bring reconciliation and healing.
A salty church is a messy one too, and we will certainly make mistakes! But what greater thing is there to live for? “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)