The Church, Past, Present, and Future #8

The Church Today – Part Four

We live in the age of unbelief. Fewer and fewer people are claiming to be Christians through the western world. Christians are losing social status and favour more and more, almost by the day. And, the  Church and the Christianity that is seen and heard often does not resemble the Church of the New Testament nor the Gospel of the Kingdom.

Today, as we look at most functioning churches, we see that many churches are no longer preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, Some never did. It seems to me that we have three types of churches in the world today regardless of the culture, language, or location. 

Let’s spend a few minutes looking at these three approaches to church life today in the midst of this age of increasing unbelief.

1> Churches that take what we might call THE CONVERTING CULTURE APPROACH

In this mindset, what matters most in that the culture or society that we live in should reflect biblical principles and values. So, we go about working to convert our society, people group, or nation to the Christian faith. We go to great lengths – doing almost anything – to make it happen. We become networked with others who want to see change – others who have their own agenda and non-Christian values. We make moral compromises. 

This set us into a battle mindset. So, we see what is often referred to as “The Culture Wars.” This pits the Church against the world. We, the believers, are right. The world and non-believers are wrong. We work hard to convert them; to convert the culture often regardless of the cost or the alliances we have to make. 

Don’t get me wrong, Christian should be engaged in all of culture, seeking to transform culture through the power of Christ, through whom all things were created and through whom all things are sustained. After all, Christi is not just Lord of the Church, but of the world. But, we need to recognize that, until Christ returns, this world will never look as it should. We should not be trying to build the new Jerusalem and you can’t force people into the Kingdom of God. 

So, making compromises and unholy alliances in the pursuit off converting the culture leaves many people suspicious of the Church and hardened to the message of the Gospel. 

2> Churches that take what we might call the CONDEMNING CULTURE APPROACH

In this age of unbelief some churches are pursuing the idea of removing themselves from the world, retreating into a subculture and staying well away from the wider culture because society is sinful, corrupted, and antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

These types of churches have always been a part of the church’s response to the challenge of living in this world. It was once seen in the rise of the monasteries. You see it today in the blogs and books advising Christians to create their own sub-culture, withdrawing from the increasingly un-Christian and yes, anti-Christian wider culture. 

Sounds good. God does call His people to holiness. The Scriptures are clear about the Church being distinct from the rest of the world. We are to be salt – we are to ‘taste’ different.

However, we are to be “the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). And, salt maintains its flavour while it is rubbed in the foodstuff it is being used to preserve. Also, salt spreads its flavour. To do so, we must be engaged with the culture we are working to influence. We must actually get our hands dirty and show and share the Good News of Christ, and proximity and relationships are essential to making that work. It requires involvement in the local community and in the public square. Culture is not the source of evil. That’s the human heart (Mark 7:18-23). And so, closing out the culture won’t close out sin.

3> The third popular response to post-Christian culture is the most attractive, the most widespread, and the most scary. It is to follow the trends – TO CONSUME CULTURE. 

So, wherever culture and historical Christian teaching disagree, the Christians accommodate the culture. After all, if we want to stay relevant in a post-Christian age, then some of the Christian stuff will have to go. So we redefine sin to allow for lifestyles, attitudes, and behaviour that are anything but biblical. 

This looks good because it usually starts in a good place, with good intentions of seeing where the Bible speaks boldly and clearly about social issues that we often ignore, and embracing the connection between faith and culture. However, it often ends up with the church involved in social issues at the expense of the gospel. We neglect the Gospel because we are focused on the implications of the Gospel. And then the social gospel ends up not being a gospel at all.

Those who take the ‘consuming culture’ approach follow culture, first and foremost, before the Bible, neglecting and compromising on significant aspects of faith. These men and women begin to look more and more like the world and less and less like the Church. When the voice of a culture, and not the Word of Christ, is what governs the Church, then it is no longer the Church. It is just a social club of people desperately trying to keep up with the cultural fashion and trends. Ironically, that is the quickest way to close your church. Why would anyone bother coming to a church that is indistinguishable from anything else?

These three styles of a church interacting with the society and culture within which it is located simply do not impact the people they are trying to reach with the true Gospel of the Kingdom. However, the vast majority of churches today fit into one of these three categories. Thus, the church today is in trouble and needs to change.

The early church was one that lived within the culture in which it was located. The early Church did not try to convert the culture – they simply witnessed to the life-changing power of the Gospel and saw thousands come to Christ. They did not condemn the culture thus turning people off the biblical message of salvation. They simply unconditionally loved people who lived in and embraced a specific culture. And, they did not consume the culture thus appearing to act and live the same as those they were trying to influence and impact for the Kingdom. 

Instead, the early Church believers had the courage of their convictions and were free to be the people of God living out the mission of God, marked by the joy of God. They lived with a sense of hope and saw what was going on around them as an opportunity to tell others of the Gospel of the Kingdom and an alternative way of life.