Thursday, July 22, 2010

Cultural Tension

“Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship does light have with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14)

A nearly constant tension Christians live with is the question of cultural compatibility. To be sure, few Christians go around thinking about that, but whether they realize it or not, it is happening all the time. The question is: How can we live in the world and yet not be of the world. In cultural terms: How can we be part of our culture and yet not be influenced by the evils in it?

Some Christians, like the Puritans, sought to build a culture of purity within their own ranks and withdraw from the world around them. Some of that has spilled over into the Amish communities of today. Is this the solution, to withdraw from the world?

On the other side of the issue, just a casual glance at the American Christian church of today will show that our culture is nearly fused with Christian expressions. It’s difficult at times to know where “the world” ends and “the church” begins.

Donald McGavran, a church growth expert of several decades ago, said that 95% of culture is innocuous, so that many cultural forms are of no real consequence to Christianity. It just means that Christian expressions will differ from culture to culture. But he further suggested that there can be no compromise with the other 5%. But what does that 5% look like? It would have to include such things as: values, relationships, and moral standards.

We might learn something helpful from gold. Gold can be shaped into rings, necklaces, and bracelets. It can be molded into watches. Gold is used today in computers. It has medicinal uses. Probably its most important use is that it serves as the foundation for our monetary system. But regardless of how it is used, the fact remains that it is still gold. That doesn’t change. The fact that it is valuable never changes either.

Peter told us that our faith is like gold, which, when tested by fire, serves only to remove the dross and result in a purer gold. But not even the fire can change the fact that it is still gold.

The point of all this is that Christians need to be Christians, whatever their role in a given culture. When Christians adopt the values of the world, the world’s standard in relationships, and the world’s standards of morality, that would be like mixing gold with lead. The gold gets diluted and loses value.

Let gold be gold. Let Christians be Christians: actively involved throughout culture, but not changed by it.

Lord, We recognize the validity of this, but we also know that it’s a little harder than it sounds. We need Your Spirit’s power within us to enable us to live this way. Amen.

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