Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Cultural Christianity

As I was preparing to take a test on basic electricity, I read up on reactive power. The material was quite heavy on my brain, but it began to make sense after reading through it a few times. Long story short, when electricity is produced through electromagnetism (how the vast amount of electricity is produced), there naturally arises a magnetic force that pushes in the opposite direction of the flow of electricity, resulting in wasted power. We call this force "induction," and where this force is greater than the forces put in place to counteract it, we say it is "inductive." Lost you yet?

Anyways, I began to look at this relationship as a good analogy for how our culture affects those of us who call ourselves Christians. I've noticed, as I'm sure many of you have, that the Church looks a lot different in different places, depending on the culture of the people in those places. In particular, I've noticed a great deal of difference between the culture of the Church in Fresno as compared to that of the Church in the bay area. Though only separated by roughly 200 miles, it would not be a far stretch to say that the culture of Fresno, by comparison, is a bit more conservative and traditional than the culture of the the bay area. In fact, the bay area is as secular as it gets in the USA. The point I'm making, and where the electricity parallel comes in, is that I see the same kind of force at work in the Church. That's not to say that there aren't exceptions (there are), but the vast majority of churches in the bay area reflect the liberal influence of their liberal culture. That "inductive force" is diluting the truth of God's Word, and diminishing its effective power. And to be honest, that force exists to some degree in the Fresno Church as well.

I think it would be safe to say that all churches around the world have some negative influences from the cultures they exist in. That's not to say that there is anything wrong with there being a reflection of the culture, but it is wrong when that cultural influence results in distortion of the truth, or reshaping the Word of God to fit the culture. I see the Church spreading the lie that the truth is somehow evolving to keep up with the modern world. You'll often hear people talk about certain unpopular passages of the Bible through the framework of "cultural context." This may make sense to understand certain events, or commands that God gave to His people for a finite period of time, but I often hear this being used to explain things that it shouldn't. When we do this, we are essentially saying that the truth is dependent on the culture. I would argue that if the truth is subject to the culture, then the culture is "god." We are also saying that the truth is not absolute. Our god is not the same yesterday, today, and forever. It's up to us, through the wisdom of our culture, to filter the truth out of an outdated document.

My point is that we have it backwards. Have we considered that maybe it's our own cultural context that's out-of-whack? As the Church, we should be set apart from the culture. That doesn't mean physically, or that we shouldn't interact and develop relationships within the culture, but that the world should look at us and see a clear difference. Today, I see the Church giving ground in a tug-of-war battle with the culture.

One of the big issues of the day is same-sex marriage. Along with that is the strong push from the world to be accepting of homosexual behavior. Pressure is on the Church to follow suit, and any church, or Christian for that matter, that calls it out as sin is singled out for public ridicule. The cultural pressure is great, and many churches have given in. In the bay area, it's not uncommon to see rainbow "Jesus fishes" or flags on churches, advertising their welcoming of all lifestyles. A couple years or so back, former CCM singer Jennifer Knapp "came out" in an interview with Christianity Today, and excused her choices by arguing that Bible passages condemning homosexuality were culturally contextual. Many churchgoers feel likewise, and appeal to love and understanding. It all sounds very nice, and besides, why should we care what other people choose to do with their lives? Besides, they're born that way, so there's nothing they can do about it. Why not encourage them to do what makes them happy? Sounds reasonable, right? That appeal to human emotions has been extremely effective because, by nature, we are empathetic. We don't like to be confrontational, or tell people they're wrong. We can't fully separate condemnation of behavior from condemnation of people, and the other side will always feel condemned as people as long as we condemn the behavior. Of course, it's a lie from the devil himself. He's convinced the sinner that the sin is what defines him as a person, and the culture as a whole has followed suit. Not only is sin something not to be ashamed of, but it is something to be proud of in today's America. The ones who are to be ashamed are the ones who don't approve, and most likely, those are the "religious nuts" who still believe that the Bible is the authority on morality.

The way I see it, many of the churches in the bay area are "inductive," giving in to the current of the culture that's pushing them away from the current that flows in the path of the Truth of God's Word. Some are still flowing in the right direction, but their power is diminished. Fearing ridicule, and perhaps struggling with their own culturally affected consciences, they simply avoid taking a stand on controversial subjects. They don't want to ruffle any feathers, and besides, we should be trying to draw the unsaved in to the church, right? If we start talking about sin, making them feel guilty and all, they'll leave and never come back! Or worse, they'll picket outside our doors! So what happens is we end up teaching a muted gospel, which basically says that none of us are perfect, but that's OK. We can trust in Jesus to extend grace for our sins. Never mind calling on anyone to repent of those sins, or pointing out that hell could be just a breath away for those who choose to continue in their own ways. We like to point out that God loves us, and we sing it in all of our worship songs, but we avoid the harsh truth of the consequences of sin. Everyone is glad to accept Jesus as Savior, but who will accept Him as Lord? Have we thought about what that means?

John 1:1-5 says:
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it."
Verses 10-14 continue:
"He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."

This passage tells us many things. First of all, it tells us that Jesus Christ is the Word. It tells us that Jesus Christ was there in the beginning with God, and that all creation was made through Him. It also tells us that though this world was made through Jesus Christ, most people didn't comprehend Him. Those few who did were born of God, in contrast to the world at large, which was born of the flesh and the will of man. The Word became flesh to make the glory of God understandable to us. He came to us, "full of grace and truth."

We have no problem accepting that Jesus came full of grace, but are we as accepting that He came full of truth? Do we believe all that He said? Sadly, many in the Church today are denying the truth of Scripture. They are chalking up much of it as allegory, denying the historical truths made evident in it. Recently, I happened to catch the last few minutes of the popular Fox News program, The O'Reilly Factor. Host Bill O'Reilly was reading viewer mail in response to comments he had made about much of the Bible being allegorical. The viewer pointed to Jesus' own words relating to Noah and the flood, as well as other Old Testament accounts that are hard for many to accept as history. Mr. O'Reilly simply dismissed the viewer's objections by proudly saying, "it never happened," in reference to Jesus' words. Mr. O'Reilly's nebulous views on the Old Testament necessarily demand him to also have nebulous views on the New Testament where they intersect. He ends up with his own version of Christianity, subject to whatever his own brain can wrap around and accept as true. His "truth" is subject to his flesh. The passage in John 1 tells us that God's Word is true. Accepting Jesus Christ as Lord means that we place our trust in Him. How can you trust Him if you believe He's not truthful in what He said? If you doubt what He said about the past or the present, why should you believe what He says about the future? Why should you have any assurance of your own salvation? If the Truth changes with time, nothing is certain. In fact, God becomes a liar. 

I see the influence of the secular world creeping into the Church, as we give ground on Biblical authority to godless philosophies being passed off as truth. The Church is being lured by the lie that to meet them halfway will give us credibility with the culture. By becoming more like them, we will become more relevant to today's world. The truth is quite the opposite. The more we become like the godless culture, the less we have to offer them, and the less we stand apart as something intriguing and counter-cultural. Like the inductive force that pushes against the flow of power, our culture is pushing us in the wrong direction, and our power is being wasted. If we continue to give in, we will eventually flow with it, directly opposing the power of God in our world today. Many in our ranks are already there. Let us instead be the ones to declare the Truth, pushing the culture in the right direction. We can't do that by capitulating. We must lead the culture. We must tell them the Truth.