In a parable about stewardship in Luke 19, Jesus tells His hearers to "occupy until I come." The New American Standard translates the verse this way: "Do business until I come." The verse prior to the parable gives the context: "While they were listening to these things, Jesus went on to tell a parable, because He was near Jerusalem, and they [His listeners] supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately" (Luke 19:11). Since this parable immediately follows the story of Zaccheus’ conversion, we have no reason to assume that Jesus is speaking to a different audience. In this parable, Jesus actually speaks of three groups of people: (1) faithful and productive stewards, (2) unfaithful and unproductive stewards, and (3) His enemies. The rewards doled out to the first group and the punishment given to the third seem to be fair enough to our 21st century sensibilities, but the parable is really directed at the second group—the most populated of the three—the unfaithful and unproductive stewards.
If we were really honest with ourselves, we would be quick to admit that we do in fact belong to the second group. Each of us have been given talents and abilities that are seldom used to their maximum effectiveness. Far too often, we are more than willing to stand in the shadows and allow our gifts to go unnoticed. And when this happens on an individual level with alarming regularity, we should not be too surprised when it begins to happen to the church as a whole. The Church in America has an astounding physical presence—a church can be found on nearly every corner in every town—yet the shadows loom large enough so that even these buildings can remain hidden to the culture. Rather than being the central point of contact in the community, the church has become just another building on the landscape—visible yet invisible.
As the church has become more and more invisible, the federal government has become more and more visible. This shouldn’t come as a revelation to most readers because as Robert Nisbet has pointed out:
Politics and religion are and will always be adversaries; this, be it noted, by virtue of what they have in common as much as by what separates them… Only in the mass followings of the Caesars and Napoleons of history are we able to find phenomena comparable to the mass followings of Jesus and Mohammed. But what makes them analogous also makes them adverse. When religion is powerful, as it was in the Middle Ages, the political tie is weak, raddled, and confused. But when the political tie becomes powerful, as in the modern totalitarian state, the role of religion is diminished—in large measure as the result of calculated political repression but also as the result of the sheer lure of the political-ideological "church." 
Nisbet echoes Robert Winthrop, who 150 years earlier said this:
All societies of men must be governed in some way or other. The less they may have of stringent State Government, the more they must have of individual self-government. The less they rely on public law or physical force, the more they must rely on private moral restraint. Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled, either by a power within them, or by a power without them; either by the Word of God, or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible, or by the bayonet. It may do for other countries and other governments to talk about the State supporting religion. Here, under our own free institutions, it is Religion which must support the State. 
What both Nisbet and Winthrop are saying is that when men are self-ruled under God’s law—that is, when the church is properly doing its job—the civil government is all but unnecessary. But when men are lawless and refuse to be self-governed and demand freedoms that do not rightfully belong to them—that is, when the church isn’t doing its job—they will find a tyrannical dictator for themselves who will promise to give them everything they want. It is this second state, the unhappy one, in which America in the year 2009 finds itself.
It is one thing to say that America is in the state that it’s in because the church hasn’t been doing its job, but it’s completely another to propose a solution to begin turning the tide back again. Not only is the American church asleep at its post, it is completely oblivious and apathetic in the few short hours that it is awake on Sunday mornings. And, as Mark Steyn points out, this is exactly what must happen for tyrants to flourish: "Big government depends, in large part, on going around the country stirring up apathy — creating the sense that problems are so big, so complex, so intractable that even attempting to think about them for yourself gives you such a splitting headache it’s easier to shrug and accept as given the proposition that only government can deal with them." 
Steyn’s phrase "stirring up apathy" is as brilliant as it is oxymoronic, but this is exactly what government does. It seems rather counter intuitive to think of creating apathy by calling attention to it, but the government has been doing this for a long time and has gotten quite good at it. By "stirring up apathy" the government creates job security for itself by pretending to clean up each and every mess that it has made. It was big government that got us into this mess, and now we are expected to believe that only big government can get us out? Stirring up apathy indeed.
But what does this mean for the rest of us, those of us in the second group of Jesus’ parable? I would submit that we are in the midst of an unprecedented opportunity for second group Christians to begin coming out of the shadows and exercising their talents and abilities. Jesus said to "occupy" or "do business," and that is exactly what we should be doing: taking care of business. There are two major themes in President Obama’s current dismantling of the American system: debt and health care. It should have occurred to some of us by now that the Bible has much to say about both of these areas; both are mandates given to the church and should be taken seriously. The Bible tells us that the borrower is slave to the lender and that debt is surefire way to create a cycle of dependency, making slavery a habit. The Bible also speaks about ministering to the sick and the hungry, alleviating pain where possible and filling stomachs when necessary. These mandates were not given to the government, but the modern-day "Church of the Dark Shadows" has allowed government to walk right in and take its God-given mission field away. This is unacceptable, not to mention unbiblical, and the church can expect to stay right where it is, invisibly attempting to reach the world for Christ, until it gets back to its basic mission of being a father to the fatherless and a husband to the widow.
Imagine—it’s easy if you try—a world where every church member is out of debt and every child that dreams of becoming a doctor will work in the medical clinic that his own church operates. Imagine—it’s not hard to do—a world where second group Christians are being encouraged and provided with nearly limitless opportunity to exercise their gifts and abilities in a church that serves as the community center; a church that provides education, restoration, rehabilitation, and sanctification to a community of lost and hurting people, people who have gambled everything on the government and lost. Imagine—I wonder if you can—a world where the church doesn’t need, rely on, or fear the government, because it has each other and, most importantly, it has Jesus and that is enough. In fact, it is more than enough because there’s always some to share. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. The real dreamer is the one who—like John Lennon—puts his hope and faith in man, rather than the God Who called us to these tasks in the first place.
Mark Steyn ends his article with these words:
Of course we’re "vulnerable": By definition, we always are. But to demand a government organized on the principle of preemptively "taking care" of potential "vulnerabilities" is to make all of us, in the long run, far more vulnerable. A society of children cannot survive, no matter how all-embracing the government nanny… Once big government’s in place, it’s very hard to go back. 
He’s right, of course, but one must ask: "Hard to go back to WHAT?" Steyn and the rest of the conservatives must begin looking a little deeper than simply getting rid of "big government." Big government is bad, we agree, but what do you replace it with? The sweat, grit, and bootstrap determination of the individualistic American making his own way in life is a great story for Hollywood, but doesn’t fit the bill for the real world. What we need are focused occupiers, doing the business of the church who have no need of the welfare and the financial slavery that big government is peddling. They may be able to make us pay for it, but they can’t make us use it.
1 Robert Nisbet, History of the Idea of Progress (New York: Basic Books, 1980), 356-357.
2 Robert Charles Winthrop, "Either by the Bible or the Bayonet," as quoted in William J. Federer, America’s God and Country (St. Louis, MO: Amerisearch, 2000), 701, 702. Emphasis added.
3 Mark Steyn, "Retreat into Apathy," National Review Online, June 13, 2009. Online here »
Article posted June 18, 2009