What it really means to be the salt of the earth.
Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. - Matthew 5;13
Salt of the earth?
We are the salt of the earth. What does that mean? We are a preservative. Everywhere we go, by being who we are, we prevent moral decay and corruption. But salt is no use where corruption is already advanced. Salt cannot reverse decay; it can only prevent it.
Even worse, salt becomes polluted when it's exposed to decay. We must be wise: we must go to preserve what is not already lost. There are certain human institutions that are too far gone to be preserved. Perhaps they can be redeemed, but more on that later.
We are commanded to keep from being polluted by the world. We are also commanded to be in the world in order to redeem it. This poses a dilemma of sorts. Every situation is a judgment call: can I remain in this situation without being polluted?
Wherever there is a concentration of power and influence, there is a concentration of worldliness. One could argue that by taking positions in the world system's nerve centers, we can have the most influence. Sometimes this works. Consider the examples of Joseph, Daniel, Esther and Nehemiah. But it takes an exceptionally strong disciple to remain pure in such a concentration of worldly arrogance, deceit and greed. It also takes some divine intervention to keep from being destroyed there. Don't go that deep behind enemy lines unless you can handle it.
In my own life, I've remained too long in toxic work environments where bosses lied and cheated, where the resources and freedom to do a good job were unavailable, where office politics took priority over professionalism and even human decency. These places damaged my faith. I managed to stay above it all, but it brought out other things in my character that were almost as bad. I did no good there, and they did me harm. That which we cannot preserve will either pollute us or damage us.
I've also been in church environments that combined a controlling, neurotic legalism with a subtle but pervasive worldliness. an excessive desire for control is a worldly desire, stemming from lack of faith. I have seen churches where there were very lax standards, and they were worldly in less subtle ways. All churches are worldly to some degree due to flawed human nature, and we must make the best of it. But a church is never quite as bad as the world. We can preserve a church and not be polluted by its failings, if we stay focused on God.
In either case, we must preserve our independence from all men, in order to preserve our reliance on God. This is what it means to have personal convictions. This is how we can be the salt of the earth
"But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye." - Acts 4:19
Our loyalty is to God.
A word on the separation of church and state: This noble principle was devised because state control of a church corrupts the church and turns into a branch of the world system. A state-established religion is a false religion. It is the world disguised as God. Only an independent church can be the salt of the earth.
Never trust any institution that promises to do the job of the church but is not based on faith in God. It is the job of God's church to look after the poor, to enlighten the ignorant, to redeem the fallen and to preserve the family. None of these things can be done properly without God's intimate involvement. Idealism is not enough. Good intentions are not enough. Human nature will corrupt eveything where power is involved. A flawed world cannot be its own salt.
Without the salt from God, everything that is good in the world will eventually fail. Courts will cease to dispense justice. Charities will misappropriate money intended for the poor. Businesses will fail to create wealth, and will steal it instead. Democracies will degenerate into tyrannies, and then the tyrants will fall. We must preserve everything that can still be preserved. But we must also recognize when something is too far gone.
We cannot preserve the world forever. The Bible makes it clear that human civilization is doomed. What we can do is slow down the decay, and thus give more souls time to repent. But we must be careful to preserve ourselves from corruption. A disciple must never, ever put his faith in anything that is not God.
And he must never give his loyalty to anything that is not God. In late 2015 the news carried a story about a Christian who lost her government job because she wouldn't compromise her beliefs. I won't address the issue of whether she made the best choice, because that's a judgment call. However, there were many professing Christians who condemned her for not doing her job, and for violating the oath she'd sworn to the government. This is wrong, and it is dangerous. Our oath to God takes precedence over any oath to flesh and blood. We must never condemn anyone for being loyal to God. "Judge for yourselves whether we should obey men rather than God."
Light of the world?
We are the light of the world. Why not shine our light in the places of deepest darkness?
Do so, but understand the risks. Light has come into the world, but men love darkness more than light, because their deeds are evil. Jesus warned us not to throw our pearls before swine, for they would turn on us. I've been there. I've gone into corrupt workplaces and thrown pearls before swine. Perhaps I did it a bit self-righteously, even with indignant anger. If I'd had a lighter touch, I might have reached one or two, and faced less persecution. But the corporate culture as a whole was beyond redemption. There is no salvation without repentance. Anything or anyone too far gone to repent is doomed.
There is godly anger - anger at rampant greed and dishonesty. Jesus showed this when he cleared the temple courts of moneychangers. He got crucified, and only then made a huge difference in the world. If you are the light of the world, you will meet hostility from the world. The world will see you as hostile, and will retaliate. And the world has a point here. Jesus was an aggressor against evil. Good is not nice. Evil is not nice. Only mediocrity is nice.
Here's another dilemma: if you're too pushy, you alienate even the open ones. If you're not pushy enough, your light is hidden. Conformists make no impact, but neither do clumsy nonconformists. It's another judgment call. We must learn from experience to find the right balance.
We must also know when to cut our losses. There comes a time to shake the dust of the stubborn off our feet. It's important to do this with dignity.
Sometimes people just have to hit bottom before they will accept the light. Here is where the light is greater than the salt. That which is too far gone is best left to rot. The stench of decay will disillusion the worldly, and some of them will decide to give Christ a try.
Some of the companies I left went under a few years later, and everyone was surprised - except for me and some outside observers. A dysfunctional organization is blind to its own faults. There was one where a previous CEO had looted the finances. Now they worshipped the new boss, although I could see his failings plainly. People want to believe, it's just that they want to believe in the wrong things. The world cannot be a light unto itself, but it keeps trying.
It seems heartless to stand by while systems crumble and people are cruelly betrayed by their false gods. But their gods will fail them sooner or later. Better sooner than later, so that they have a chance to repent. God is a loving god, but His love is tough love.
The fate of the world system
That which cannot go on forever will die a slow, agonizing death. The book of Revelations describes the fate of the world system, gradually going from bad to worse until nothing is left of it. Civil society makes several wrong turns, jumps the rails, sheds bits and pieces, grinds to a halt, tips over, caves in on itself and then catches fire. Most of the human race dies in the flaming wreckage. Those who reject the Beasts and turn to God will be rescued from the calamity. Be grateful that the process is so long and drawn out. It gives everyone more time to come to his senses and jump off.
The truth of Revelations is plain to see, if we will only look. A study of history shows how nations crumble and fall. The trends in our current society are troubling. All the secular pieties are failing, one by one. It's said that disciples ought to keep their political views to themselves. I say disciples should refuse to have faith in any political ideology. Every political party or movement is a false god. A disciple of Christ should never, ever be enthralled by a charismatic public figure or a beguiling promise of secular salvation. Even the good things in the world are destined to perish with use. And most of what the world shills for is no good at all.
If disciples of Christ are to have any political viewpoint, it should be this: keep Biblical Christianity legal, and push back against anything that actively opposes God. Anything beyond this is suspect. Our politics should be purely defensive, intended only to keep our light visible. And the light we are to shine is not a worldly light. It is otherworldly.