Monday, September 6, 2010

Church and Culture

During one of my evening walks last week I listened to a workshop session from the 2007 Gospel Coalition Conference. Stephen Um from Boston MA presented a session dealing with the church and culture. One of his rather off-handed comments sparked my thinking.

After Peter’s message on Pentecost, the multitude responded in Acts 2: 37 with, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter’s answer was, “Repent…” That answer emphasized that the gospel calls us to break with the past and enter a new kingdom. This was not novel in Peter’s theology. Jesus had explained this in Lk. 14:25-33. There must be a radical reordering of priorities and a major shift in worldview when one becomes a follower of Christ.

Fast forward to 21st century Western (predominantly American) evangelical culture. We debate about the most effective ways to reach the lost with the gospel. We have the Emerging Church, the “seeker-sensitive” model, and, in order to maintain links with the past while facing the future, countless churches have both contemporary and traditional services on Sunday morning. Some have realized that unchurched people will not attend on Sunday morning so they have provided a Saturday evening service (which I wonder if it’s merely an opportunity to allow church members another day of sleeping in on Sunday, but I have no way of knowing).

What seems to have been lost is the realization that no longer do unsaved people ask, “What shall we do…?” Instead, it is the church asking the world, “What shall we do to make you want to be saved?” Am I the only one who thinks that this is backwards? Now, I am not railing upon the contemporary vs. traditional idea. I personally think that we need to call a cease fire in the worship wars. But it seems to me that the more we try to adapt to pagan culture, the less effective we become.

The beauty of the gospel is that it is trans-cultural. In Acts 15, the Jews tried to freeze the gospel into a Jewish context when Gentiles began to be converted. That movement was soundly rebuked. But the attempt to place Christianity into a culture has been an ongoing project. The most recent version in our country is to make Christianity white, suburban, and Republican.

Peter tell us to be ready to have an answer to anyone who asks for the reason for the hope that is in us (1 Pt. 3:15). Is anyone asking?

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