The Church and Culture

September 10, 2013

The question of whether the PCUSA is leading our culture or following it with regards to views on same-sex marriage needs some careful consideration. How the church is to relate to the culture (“the world” in contrast to God’s Kingdom) is best addressed by some biblical data collection:

  1. The culture is characterized by what people want, what they prefer, what they invest in, and what they think makes them happy. Eve’s little speech in Genesis 3 outlines the worldly point of view completely. The Kingdom of God is characterized by what God wants and how we invest our lives in furthering God’s desire for humankind. Inherent in culture is the establishment of idols, maybe not the stone monuments found in Athens (Acts 17) but their functional equivalent in 21st century western culture: that thing or person we worship and trust with the important matters of our lives, the one to whom we pledge our allegiance, the one who “owns” us, the one for whom we live.

  2. The reality is that we are in the world but not of it. This statement by Jesus is not a command to be in but not of the world; rather, it is a statement of a reality perhaps only he sees. To be in the world means to be incarnated in its context, to be present to it, to be a part of it. To be of the world is to draw one’s identity and strength from the world and to adopt the world’s priorities. To not be of this world means that we do not draw our marching orders from it, we find our identity by some other means, and we derive our power and our message from the One above all others, God, who sets the agenda for healthy and whole life (shalom).
    There is a very real sense in which the church should never really fit in culturally, lest it accommodate a worldly point of view. But it should never disengage, either. The church, for better or worse, is in the world; but it gets is power elsewhere.

  3. Jesus said the world would not know us, and there would be a chronic misunderstanding of the church’s goals by people of the world. The world doesn’t recognize itself in the church, because #1 is true: we are citizens of another Country and are accountable to another standard set by God. In one sense, we do not speak the same language as people of the world, or, alternatively, the world misunderstands our use of language and cannot process its true meaning. Jesus addressed this grand Misunderstanding by becoming a human being and entering fully into life among mortals, without losing his heavenly citizenship or identity. He was also not appreciated or recognized—rather, vilified—for being the heaven-sent Savior of the world. We the church cannot expect that our worldview will be acceptable to the society at large. In fact, if we ever finally feel like we have “arrived,” we should take a close look at those areas where we may have assimilated.

  4. The church’s role is not to condemn the world, but to participate in God’s redeeming of it.  Redemption is accomplished by the work of God through Jesus Christ, reconciling the world to himself. The process of redemption began with the naming of the problem: alienation from God due to Adam and Eve’s prideful rebellion against him in the Garden. The restoration of unhindered relationship with God could only be accomplished if God did something radical: render forgiveness for the unforgivable through the sacrifice of the Just One. When we—the church—participate in this act of reconciliation, we are agents and proclaimers of the transforming message of the gospel. “In human frailty, we have sinned; Christ, we are forgiven. Receive what God has given and live the new life he has offered.” How we have sinned becomes the grist for the mill of critique and prophecy within the church and out in the world. It is pretty clear that Martin Luther King, as a contemporary example, was a prophet not only to the church but to wider American society. He called it as he saw it, and as God saw it, and put his life on the line to help Americans own up to a great evil, repent, and adopt a new way of living with each other. Was this being “against” culture? No, the movement represented a longing for a society to become a place of shalom. Was the movement “for” culture? No, because it called out our falling short and critiqued a manner of life that was contrary to God’s intention. Was it “ahead” of culture? Maybe we’re getting closer, because a vision called us as a nation to something better. None of this is to deny that the Civil Rights Movement, or any other we might name here and around the world, had its flaws, missteps, ‘bad apples,’ or pockets of idolatry. This of course is why we all must remain humble even as we address the ills of the world around us, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

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3 Responses to “The Church and Culture”

  1. Bruce B Pope Says:

    Please use bbp12 only

  2. emd5542 Says:

    You speak for me, Rev Mary, and the truth is so uplifting as it enlists us to seek this Jesus whom we promise to trust and obey. What other way is pleasing to God? Amen. Eleanor Duffield


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