Originally published at JennyEBurr Writes on December 2, 2020.
Today I am welcoming Don Hutchinson, the author of Church and Society: First-Century Citizenship Lessons For Twenty-First-Century Christians to JennyEBurr Writes.
Below is an excerpt from Don Hutchinson’s book, Church in Society.
“What if instead of nostalgically looking back, like the Israelites on their journey from Egypt longing for a time that perhaps never really was, we deliberately chose to learn the lessons chronicled by Christian citizens of the first century and look forward? This book is about looking forward to a future neighbourhood, city, nation, and world influenced by the way we live our lives, person by person, Christian by Christian, congregation by congregation, denomination by denomination, as the Church in society.”
Don this quote reminds me of the fact that I am not the only one who looks back on “the good old days,” with fondness. The Israelites did as well, even though being slaves in Egypt, wouldn’t really be considered as “the good old days.” So, what is one way we can look forward instead of back with reference to first century citizenship lessons?
First, thank you, Jenny, for inviting me to share and for giving your time and effort to compose good questions.
I think many of us have a tendency to look back. In doing so we often glamourize the past. The writings by and about first-century Christians suggest they looked at the past differently than we might. That difference informed how they experienced their present and imagined their future.
The past, for them, was tied to stories of victory, defeat, longing, and promise found in the Old Testament. The Scriptures affirmed the reality of the Living God and detailed the many promises of the Messiah Redeemer that were fulfilled in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. With that certainty, first-century Christians were prepared to live for Jesus, relying on Holy Spirit to do so responsibly and meaningfully in worship of God, love for one another, and love for neighbours. They were also prepared to die for worshipping Jesus because they grasped the vision of an eternal future. Promises fulfilled in the Old Testament instilled confident hope in the promises we today find expressed in the New Testament ― particularly the promise of a future home in heaven.
When we look back, we have an inclination to plot a future that tries to reclaim the past. With first-century vision, we more actively engage the world around us in the today moments; loving God, other Christians, and our neighbours. With the freedoms we enjoy in North America, we have very different opportunities to be good citizens and influence culture through the way we live than did our emperor-oppressed first-century brothers and sisters who are now in the great cloud of witnesses referred to in Hebrews 12. Like them, however, the challenge for us is to fix our eyes on Jesus, know our eternity is planned, and avoid being distracted by the influences of this world.
When we see our present world through the lens of Scripture, promises kept, and promises to be fulfilled we will have greater influence with other citizens through our participation in business, education, media, politics, and the public parts of life than when we are simply trying to restore or hold on to what we once had.
What life, work, or volunteer experiences impacted you to write this book and how did you know that God wanted you to write this particular book?
It has been both blessing and challenge to have a multi-faceted career.
Jesus said, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). As I look back, that describes my life experience.
In high school, before I was a Christian, I developed an interest in politics and public service. When I gave my life to Christ I was in law school, preparing to launch a career in politics. I set that aside to follow Jesus and pursue the only understanding I had at the time of serving Him in ministry, becoming a pastor in The Salvation Army. The first community Gloria and I had the privilege to serve was on the Lax Kw’alaams First Nation reserve in Northern B.C. Next, we led a congregation in Williams Lake. And then, asked by our leaders to complete my law studies, I was the “pastor’s wife” in Vancouver ― where Gloria was the senior pastor and I was her assistant ― before heading to the national head office in Toronto. In the national leadership role given to me, I became involved in several public arenas such as law, public policy, and media, before burning out. In time we returned to pastoral ministry outside of The Salvation Army, and later agreed I would accept a different national leadership opportunity.
I’m a lifelong learner, so for me the various responsibilities required educating myself to properly meet them. Following the Spirit’s lead, I also had the privilege to serve on the boards of several organizations, in both church and community. There I learned more about practical politics, struggling humanity, and the global condition of the Body of Christ.
In 2016 I found myself working in a new role, from home. I was invited to speak at a pastors and leaders conference, which led to writing my first book, Under Siege: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 (1867–2017). Frankly, I thought it would be my only book. But a friend who leads a publishing company asked me to consider writing a shorter book based on the third part of Under Siege, which dealt with practical application of our religious freedom.
I thought repackaging something I’d already published was like cheating, so I resisted the idea. When I saw that other Christian authors were publishing shorter or updated versions of earlier works, I prayed. Then I started writing, and there was a fresh wind blowing where it wished. It was a different writing motivation than the first book, and a different book than restating part three.
In looking at your website I am amazed at all that you have been involved with and how God has placed you in particular places for particular times to assist in making changes for good. Is there a certain time that really stands out for you?
It may sound unoriginal, but the time that stands out most for me is the adoption of our daughter. I don’t think I’ve written about this story before.
Perhaps like many Christians, I have had repeated experiences that align with the story in Mark 4. Jesus is napping in the back of my boat while events feel like life is tossing me around on the waves.
We volunteered for missionary service and were asked instead to serve a First Nations’ community. We fell in love with the people. After nearly three years we were unexpectedly moved to a small city. Within a year we were off to Vancouver for law school. Along the way, because Gloria and I could not have children we explored adoption. The waiting lists were long, and the likelihood was by the time we completed the paperwork and screening and a child was available we would age out of the system. So we decided to focus on our work, and to use leadership opportunities to mentor others.
One day, shortly after we had peace about our decision, the phone rang and we were unexpectedly presented with an opportunity to adopt. A private adoption had fallen through for a family in a friend’s church and she thought of us. The family wanted Christian parents. The baby was Indigenous, and our time living with First Nations’ people became an important factor. It was essential that we be living in Ontario within a year of receiving custody in order to complete the adoption process, and we knew that following graduation we would be moving to Toronto. We needed to complete a home study in B.C. that met Ontario requirements. One of two qualified social workers in the province was just returning to work from maternity leave and had no client list.
It was as if Jesus awakened from his nap, said “peace, be still,” and made it clear that everything that happened in our lives was in His control. Jesus gave me an important lesson in learning to be faithful in what might seem like smaller things. That became the impetus for accepting other opportunities, some “small” or short term or interim. Being faithful in small things is a lesson I’m still learning, along with when to say yes and when to say no.
How did you manage to do all that you have done and still find the time to write two books? (Including time spent researching information)
Gloria and I have enjoyed a wide-ranging life journey. In the process, I have collected friends, books, education, and practical knowledge. My work on religious freedom necessarily became a part-time pursuit because we’re active in raising our grandson who has unique health and intellectual needs. When he’s at school and the house is quiet, I write. In the evenings or on weekends, when it might be a little noisier, I research and edit. I also gather materials as I go along when I read something interesting in a book or online.
Is there a possible third book in the works?
All things are possible with God, right?
Yes. There might be another book. Maybe more.
There’s a chapter in Church in Society which I have been told begs for expansion based on my experience, so I’m praying about that. I’ve written an outline and a few draft chapters, but they could just as easily end up as blogs or in the recycling bin. I’m also praying about a few other ideas that would be a slightly different direction, but still rely on my education in history, politics, law and theology. While I’m praying, I’m assembling research and typing out thoughts, just in case.
The pandemic has presented both challenges and positives. What have you seen as a challenge and what have you seen as a positive?
There have been two significant challenges for me with the pandemic. First, having our grandson home from school for nearly eight months. We love him, and it was tiring going 24/7 without respite. Second, it has been difficult to watch the Body of Christ express deep division about government limitations on physical gathering for worship. Many have taken positions with little or no reference to Scripture or Church history. It’s a subject unintentionally addressed from different perspectives at several points in Church in Society. The gathering limitations and persecution experienced by first-century Christians, contemporary persecution of our brothers and sisters in other regions of planet Earth, and biblical principles of civil obedience and civil disobedience are all topics covered in the book in a way that offers insights for application in today’s circumstances.
On the positive side, much of the Body of Christ has adapted to doing worship differently and finding ways to connect supportively with other Christians, including purposeful time in prayer. Prayer was the first option for first-century Christians and the pandemic has helped it to become so again for many twenty-first-century Christians.
Do you have someone who greatly influenced you as a child to choose the direction you took as an adult?
I don’t know about giving me direction, but my middle school science teacher had a significant influence on me making a course correction. Mr. Richter gave me a one-on-one detention. He used that time to convince me I had more to offer than continual attention-seeking performance as a class clown.
What would you like to share with other writers and authors?
The most valuable writing lessons I’ve learned are from reading, writing and interacting with other readers and writers. Reading introduces us to different writing styles, and helps with grammar through osmosis. Read short articles and long books. Write where you’re comfortable and then stretch yourself. There is no substitute for writing, re-writing, and self-editing. There is also no substitute for learning from others, whether you’re in conversation with their work or they are critiquing or editing your work or sharing from their writing experience.
That and be appreciative when given the opportunity to share your writing or about your writing. Thank you again, Jenny.
You are welcome, Don. Thank you for sharing.