Monday, May 17, 2010

Cultural Relevance, pt. 1

I've been looking a lot lately at how Christians interact with the world, and I think overall, we've got it wrong. This is a hard realization for me, since I've grown up in a "normal" family, attending "normal" school and a "normal" church. It goes against what I've come to expect. The more I open my Bible, though, the more clearly I see these two facts, two sides of the same coin:
  1. We aren't supposed to look like the rest of culture
  2. We aren't supposed to make the rest of culture look like us

I'm going to break this up into 2 posts, one thinking about each truth.

I've seen so many churches in my local community lately trying to be "culturally relevant." They're using gimmicky catch phrases and entertainment value to get attention and theoretically, people through their doors on Sunday morning. I get the idea. "Let's be non-threatening and appealing to seekers." But is that really the point of church? Is that what Jesus did?

Here's some examples I've come across just this week:

  • One church bought a closed-down movie theater to turn into their new "campus." Included will be a snack bar, a "worship auditorium," a children's movie theater, and laser tag.
  • The street sign from a conservative church: "Harry isn't the original Potter -- God is."
  • A sermon series called "We've Got an App for That," comparing the attributes of God to iPhone applications
  • A sermon series called "God in HD (High Definition)," comparing God to TiVo, DVD players, 24 hour cable, and big screen TVs

Here's the problem: my God isn't like 24 hour cable. And I don't know about other families in other programing areas, but I don't particularly want Him to be. We canceled our cable.

I also believe that Jesus was terribly counter cultural. Look at how often he upset the Pharasees and teachers of the law! Jesus made a point of making culture uncomfortable:

Again the Jews picked up stones to stone hom, but Jesus said to them, "I have
shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone
me? John 10:31-32

The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. Luke 20:19

So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, "Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with 'unclean' hands?" Jesus replied... Mark 7:5

Jesus pointed out the flaws in culture. He didn't embrace them. I do fully believe he was a happy man who had a lot of fun with his friends, but he didn't try to look like "the world" (those away from God). In fact, he said:

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to
the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. John 15:18-19

Yes, Christ met people where they were and told parables relating to things his listeners would already understand (like seeds and shepherding). Here's where I see the difference tho: at that time, Christ was speaking to people outside the church. Evangelism needs to be culturally relevant. Churches are for worship and for training the believers in how to "go and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19). See that word "go"? It's a command. Jesus didn't say, "Make yourselves attractive so that others will come." He said "go."

I see this pattern in Acts, too. The believers come together to worship Christ, having "everything in common" (Acts 2:44). When Luke wrote the book of Acts, he made a clear distinction between the gathering of believers and the work of the Apostles, who spoke out in the name of Christ in public places to bring people into faith. Unbelivers were not the target audience of the church gatherings.

I think a church should be the most counter-cultural place you find in our modern world. It should be a place marked with selflessness and sharing, with praise and joy. The church should be:

  • Peaceful (Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled. John 14:28-29)
  • Loving (By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. John 13:35)
  • Carefully choosing to avoid sin (Be very careful, then, in how you live -- not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:15-16)
  • Persecuted (Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil because of the Son of Man. Luke 6:22)

It all boils down to this: We know the Key to eternal life, and He wants us to tell others about Him. We don't need gimmicks and tricks to entertain people... we need Christ. We need to look different than the world around us!


Sarah Jane said...

Amen and Amen! I love your posts on Scriptural principles and how they relate to our world today. I agree with you wholeheartedly. I just went over some very good teaching notes from my parents church on the origin and role of the Christian church and everything you say is in exact agreement with what I've just read. I look forward to pt. 2 very much.

Mrs. G said...

What an excellent apology for a true New Testament church! I agree with you completely but how sad the Lord must be to see the money wasted on entertainment while so many suffer without their basic needs met. I'm looking forward to part 2!

Racheal said...

I agree oh so much! You put into words what my jumbled thoughts think...

Amy said...

Amen sister! Wow! I've been thinking about this very thing for a couple of weeks now. THANK YOU for posting it. It's a great study.


Jenny P. said...

Thank you all so much for your encouragement! I'm working on pt. 2, but I want to be extremely precise with my word choice and scriptural references, so it is taking a bit more time.