Thursday, May 10, 2007

Cultural Literacy

Many Christians are culturally out of touch. I don't mean that they aren't up to date on their pop culture. I mean that they have little understanding of what culture is.

To these Christians, culture is all the stuff in the world that is different than "what Christians do." Here is an example of this mindset:

Redesigning the church to suit one's own cultural or generational preferences (as opposed to seeking a biblical approach to church order) is the very thing that caused the evangelical movement to run aground in the first place.

This implies that there is a neutral culture or, even worse, a "biblical culture" in which Christians can and should live. It says in so many words that there is only one way, "the biblical way," to structure a church.

And there are many other voices calling for a return to "traditional values." One news commentator styles himself as a cultural warrior.

There is no doubt that contemporary culture is growing increasingly hostile to organized religion. And there are many values of today's culture that are in direct conflict with the gospel. But this has always been so.

There has never been a time when society did not present a threat to the gospel.

  • This was true in first-century Israel.
  • It was true in fourth-century Constantinople.
  • It was true in twentieth-century America.

When modern missionaries first started evangelizing the peoples of the world, they often were more focused on instilling western culture than in instilling biblical values.

Much of this seems obvious to us now. Few Christians would confuse these western values with biblical Christianity:

  • Capitalism
  • Democracy
  • Western ideas of modesty
  • American hymnody

But there are many aspects of contemporary Christianity that have no biblical foundation. Even though they've become a common part of Christian practice and culture, they are relatively recent additions.

Here's a list of elements found in churches and Christian observance:

  • Altar calls
  • Baptism
  • Cathedrals
  • Christmas
  • Church buildings
  • Clergy
  • Easter
  • Evangelism program
  • Individual Bible study
  • Jesus as personal Savior
  • Ordination
  • Organ music
  • Pews
  • Priests
  • Public reading of Scripture
  • Revival meetings
  • Sacred music
  • Sanctuaries
  • Sermon
  • Sunday Sabbath observance
  • Sunday worship
  • Weekly offering

Tell me which ones you think are essential to Christianity and the gospel.

Pastor Rod

"Helping you become the person God created you to be"


jeff franczak said...

These are the aspects I think are essential with the verses that came to mind or that I found working through this.

Baptism (Acts 10:47-48; Acts 8:34-39)

“Clergy” in the sense of pastors/shepherds (Ephesians 4:7,11-13; John 21:15-17)

Individual Bible study (Psalm 1:1-2)
To constantly meditate on God’s Word, I think necessitates regular time alone in the Scripture, but not to the exclusion of Bible study with the saints.

Jesus as personal Savior (Romans 10:9-13; Acts 2:37-38; John 6:28-30 [believing/trusting seems to require an individual choice?]) However, perhaps our culture (western? Evangelical?) has expanded/emphasized the personal aspect more than the Scriptures do as a whole? There’s more than one mention of entire families being saved (Acts 16:29-34, Acts 10 (esp. 1-2, 24, 33, 47-48), 2 Timothy 1:5, Joshua 24:15).

Public reading of Scripture (in the assembly). I think of Jesus reading in the synagogue about Himself from the scroll of Isaiah (Luke 4:16-21). I think of all of Paul’s epistles to specific churches and also Jesus’ instructions to John in Revelation 1:11.

“Sermon” in the wider sense of teaching in an assembly of believers (Acts 2:42, also Paul first going into the synagogues to share the Good News in the cities he visited on his missionary journeys, e.g., Acts 14:1).

Sunday worship: I wouldn’t consider this essential, but I think there is a pattern shown in the New Testament. I thought of John 20:19, John 20:26, and Revelation 1:10. Then, doing a search, I found Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 16:2.

Weekly offering: Again, I wouldn’t consider this essential, but consider 1 Corinthians 16:1-2.

M. Pease said...

Hmmm ...

For essentials I would say Baptism, Clergy (Apostles, Evangelists, Teachers and Elders), Good Friday/Easter (the remembrance of Jesus' death and resurrection, not the fashion parades and chocolate egg hunts (Mmmm Chocolate...)), Acknowledging Jesus as the rightful Messiah which is the Gospel, Public reading of Scripture, and Discipleship (that is teaching people by example what it means to live the Christian life, assuming we can figure it out again.), and a Sabbath (pick your day)

Perhaps not really essential, but important are, prayer, personal study of Scripture, art, music and psalms, corporate worship, and teaching.

We're all supposed to be priests to the World and to each other and we should practice the giving of alms, comforting the sick, helping orphans and widows as individuals, not just giving money to an organization to do it for us.

daniel the smith said...

My opinion (emphasis on opinion):

* Altar calls - mostly harmful
* Baptism - absolutely essential
* Cathedrals - depends on context
* Christmas - harmful as practiced in America
* Church buildings - often harmful
* Clergy - not sure
* Easter - harmful as practiced in America
* Evangelism program - harmful as practiced in America
* Individual Bible study - depends on the individual
* Jesus as personal Savior - American jargon
* Ordination - not sure
* Organ music - depends on context
* Pews - context
* Priests - not sure
* Public reading of Scripture - essential
* Revival meetings - harmful in my experience
* Sacred music - has some place
* Sanctuaries - see buildings and cathedrals
* Sermon - something like this is probably necessary
* Sunday Sabbath observance - an oxymoron
* Sunday worship - good precedent, but by no means essential
* Weekly offering - can make people feel pressured

and I would add:

* communion - absolutely essential
* corporate worship (i.e. no lone-ranger christians) - essential

daniel the smith said...

And I would add that the church is like a hippy commune: it's really sad when it forgets its ideals and becomes the institution. I think the church in America is the institution.

And I didn't mean to bash Christmas and Easter entirely, so I would add:

* Observing the Christian year (Easter, Christmas, Lent, Pentecost, etc) - helpful if done properly