About 50 years ago, Joni Mitchell wrote a song, Woodstock, about a traveler, symbolic lyrics representing the counterculture of the 60s.
Part of the song goes like this …
Well, then can I roam beside you?
I have come to lose the smog,
And I feel myself a cog in somethin’ turning.
And maybe it’s the time of year,
Yes and maybe it’s the time of man.
And I don’t know who I am,
But life is for learning.
These words resonate with me – I feel like a cog in something turning. I’m glad that life is for learning, and one thing I’m exploring is the relationship between the church and culture. Cultural issues seem divisive – I see it in personal relationships, we see it in churches.
The one thing I know is that, as Christians, we are called
to unity fully soaked in humility, gentleness, patience, and love.
I, therefore, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live worthily of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, putting up with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you too were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.Ephesians 4:1-6
Being a white woman, I look at social issues through the lens of my middle class suburban experience. As a learner, and in an effort to build unity in the body of Christ, I want to learn as much as I can about life from other experiences in order to participate in the call of God to walk justly. I look for voices that represent minorities, poverty, or people from different denominational or religious walks of life. I do this to understand perspective, to get a glimpse of life through their eyes, when possible to imagine walking a mile in their shoes.
I try to avoid name-calling, labeling, issuing sweeping generalizations, an all-or-nothing approach while I seek to understand, while I look for elements of agreement. I don’t wish to delve into politics but for the sake of example, I share this one cultural issue affecting churches:
I’ve heard much objection to the concept of “woke” even to the point of saying you can’t be “woke” and Christian. I’m trying to understand such a strong position? The definition of “woke” was added as an adjective to the Oxford Dictionary in 2017. It’s definition: “originally: well-informed, up-to-date. Now chiefly: alert to racial or social discrimination and injustice.” What disqualifies one from being a Christian by being alert to racial or social injustices? Nothing!
It is this type of labeling that is dividing the church instead of unifying it. Could it be that we agree on the key elements of what is of first importance in Christianity even with someone who identifies as “woke”? Of course, we could!
What is of first importance? Paul explains to the Corinthian church …
Let me remind you, brothers and sisters, about the good news which I announced to you. You received this good news, and you’re standing firm on it, and you are saved through it, if you hold fast the message I announced to you – unless it was for nothing that you believed! What I handed on to you at the beginning, you see, was what I received, namely this: ‘The Messiah died for our sins in accordance with the Bible; he was buried; he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Bible.1 Corinthians 15:1 – 4 NTE
So … of first importance is that we agree that Jesus died for our sins according to the scriptures. His death changed us! He delivers us, sets us free from the bondage of sin and death. Second, he was buried. Jesus’ death was real. The disciples had to remove his body from the cross, prepare it for burial as much as they had time before the Sabbath began, and lay Him in a tomb. They rolled the stone to seal the tomb. Last Jesus was raised on the third day according to the scriptures. Even Jesus had pointed to being dead for three days before rising again when He proclaimed to the Jews that He could tear down the temple and rebuild it in three days. His resurrection means we serve a living Savior. These are undeniable attributes of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
‘What sign are you going to show us’, they said, ‘to explain why you’re doing this?’ ‘Destroy this Temple,’ replied Jesus, ‘and I’ll raise it up in three days.’ ‘It’s taken forty-six years to build this Temple,’ responded the Judaeans, ‘and are you going to raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking about the ‘temple’ of his body. So when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Bible and the word which Jesus had spoken.John 2:18-22 NTE
Scripture speaks to injustice, social ills, and how to treat the foreigner, widow, and orphan but it does not prescribe a specific role for the church. Instead we know that as individual Christians we need to feed the hungry, provide water for the thirsty, clothe the poor, visit the sick and those in prison.
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’Matthew 25:37-40
Interestingly, scripture tells us that
Jesus did not come to condemn the world (John 3:17, 12:47).
It seems as imitators of Christ,
we should not presume to do what Jesus did not do.
Wash and make yourselves clean.Isaiah 1:16 – 17 NIV
Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
stop doing wrong.
Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.
How does the church intersect with culture in a meaningful way?
These ideas come to mind.
- We were placed in time and space for just a time as this.
- Culture is a gift. God’s first mandate to man was to care for creation, to use the good gifts given to us for His glory.
- Cultural elements like music, visual arts, the created world are good. But our culture is in a fallen state, awaiting redemption.
- We are part of culture; therefore, as we contribute to our culture, the arts, institutions, and achievements we represent God, we are salt and light to those around us. As salt we represent an everlasting covenant and as a light we point people to Jesus. We live out kingdom principles.
- Last our commission is to take the good news of Jesus to all people groups. That, for sure, is our cultural responsibility, asking God to give us eyes to see people the way He sees them.
The real problem is this: the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, individually corporately, tending to do the Lord’s work in the power of the flesh rather than of the Spirit.Francis Schaeffer, No Little People
The central problem is always in the midst of the people of God,
not in the circumstances surrounding them.
How does the church intersect with culture in a meaningful way –
we don’t attack culture.
Instead individually and corporately
we learn to walk in faith by the Spirit!!
Practically this means being in the Word, reading, studying, memorizing it. Praying over the Word, asking God to open our eyes to the beauty of His creation, to the beauty He intends for humankind. It means fellowshipping with other believers, but also building relationships with nonbelievers, loving and serving them, being the hands and feet of Jesus. In all of these actions, not checking off a to-do list (my M.O.) but instead leaning in to the Spirit, asking Him for direction, offering to Him the hours, minutes of our days for worship, listening, and doing His good will!
If believers are to truly follow His example, being conformed into Christ’s image, we would love unbelievers (and any who reject what we hold dear) as God loves them. We would value their existence and seek to recognize the aspects of their lives that represent God’s image. We would honor their lives. We would respectfully consider their experiences, their expertise, and their right to go a different way than we might. This means we would listen, value what they offer society and creation by employing skill and insight and display a perseverant love amid difference and disagreement. We would serve them. We would seek to provide for people’s needs—particularly the poor, suffering, and marginalized. We would joyfully work alongside them in addressing evils of the day, caring for creation, and cultivating societal flourishing. Finally, we would involve them in God’s providential and salvific work as much as they are willing to be involved. This is how God currently loves all people, even those who reject His salvation. May we endeavor to do the same.Kymberli Cook
The presence and power of his spirit
Transformed … already, his work in me
Transforming … not yet, his work through me
Incomplete, in process
His power, His presence
His will, His way always!