Culture is infiltrating the church at an alarming rate. Some folks I know had to leave congregations behind because of error coming into the body. Others are concerned about family members who will be needing to take a stand for the truth. I and many others I know have had to walk out of church assemblies because there was error in one way or another.
With culture infiltrating the church at an alarming rate, what are we to do? We need to understand that this phenomenon is as old as man himself. While Moses is at the summit of Mount Sinai, the Israelites, following the culture of Egypt, erected a golden calf. Several years after the Israelites had been in the Promised Land, they gathered to Samuel and said, “Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations” (1 Sam 8:5). Judaizers, because of their deep-rooted culture, demanded that Gentile Christians submit to circumcision.
We need to see the long history of those who blur culture and godliness for two reasons: One, We can take heart that although individuals fell into the siren song of modernity, God’s remnant has remained faithful, and Two, We also must see the warning of how easily we can fall into the trap of modernity and abandon our God.
As culture creeps into the church at an alarming rate, how should we respond? My suggestion is simply this: We fix our eyes on Jesus. Culture changes, every generation has its fads, but Jesus remains the same.
Does the infiltration of culture into the church really matter? Of course! Here are some reasons why:
Culture and following God have never mixed.
As His people were preparing to enter the Promised Land, God told them to destroy all the idols left behind (Ex 32:23-24). The people did not follow the Lord’s instructions but allowed those cultural icons to remain. Thus, the people were led into the sin of idolatry over and over again.
The Israelites wanted to fit in culturally, so they asked for a king “like all the nations” (1 Sam 8:5). I really would love to be able to go back in time and ask them how that worked out. Because the people wanted a king, they faced civil war, they were led into sin by those kings, and they faced divine retribution for their sin.
The people of God have always stood with the Lord over and against culture.
“Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God” (Gen 6:9). The culture in Noah’s day was so wicked that God destroyed all of mankind (save eight) with water. Because Noah walked with God instead of his contemporaries, he and his family found salvation on the ark.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image. Everybody else was doing it; it was the culturally acceptable thing to do. Yet, they were far more concerned with honoring the King of kings than honoring the king of the world’s lone superpower.
Jesus did not conform Himself to the culture of the day.
At the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, the people realized that Jesus had taught “as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matt 7:29); his teaching style was not that of His contemporaries.
The Sermon on the Mount itself was a departure from cultural norms. Adultery becomes not just a physical act but an issue of the heart. Instead of praying on the street corner to be seen by all, Jesus’ people pray in private. If a soldier compelled me to go one mile, I was to go two. Everyone else only went one, but Jesus tells me to go another mile.
Jesus led His disciples in a rejection of mirroring culture.
Under His direction, the disciples did not wash their hands before they ate (Matt 15:1-9); the Pharisees and scribes believed that cultural norm should have been practiced.
Before He left the disciples, Jesus made it very clear that they were not to live like the world. “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (Jn 15:19). The hatred of the world comes because we do not live like others.
Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world.
The Jews expected a king who would come and overthrow the Roman Empire; that was their expectation and their hope. Jesus, however, came to this world to establish a different kingdom. When Pilate asks Jesus if He were a king, the King of kings replies, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (Jn 18:36). Jesus’ kingdom transcends the culture of our day and leads us to a different set of values.
Our brethren chose persecution over conforming to culture.
When instructed to preach no more in the name of Jesus, the apostles chose imprisonment (Acts 4-5). Paul left his cultural Judaism behind and faced persecution (2 Cor 11:16-29). The church in Pergamum refused to deny their faith even in the days of Antipas (Rev 2:13).
God has called upon us to live above culture.
“I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy” (Lev 11:44); Peter reminds us that God’s expectation still stands (1 Pet 1:16). Since God’s character does not change (Heb 13:8), Christians honor God by living above culture.
Christians are instructed to think differently from their culture.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom 12:2). “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col 3:2). We want to have different thinking, for “the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 Jn 2:17).
Let us commit ourselves to living differently from the world! Tomorrow I will suggest some ways that we can live differently from the world.