The trouble with letting culture define our sacred words for us goes beyond just losing the essence of the heart of God, although that would be enough. We are losing the foundation of what it means to be a people of God, as well.
Take, for example, this question: what is a Christian?
When we let the culture define our words for us, then a Christian is simply someone who goes to church. Someone who has professed allegiance to the church. Perhaps, in the best of circumstances, someone who has been baptized. But rarely, if ever, are we talking about the heart of a man to determine whether or not he is a Christian. Rather, all we're talking about is where he spends his Sunday mornings and maybe, just maybe, where he gives his charitable donations.
And maybe you're thinking, what does it matter what the culture thinks? True Christians, you say, know better.
But do we?
Look at the metrics that the church is using to determine her 'success' in the world. She has firmly taken her cues from culture. The measure of a church today is not the number of disciples she produces, but the number of attenders she attracts. We measure our churches by likes and follows, by attendance, by budget. We look at the size of our sanctuaries and auditoriums (or, as my church has come to say, 'worship centers'). We look at the number of programs that we offer, rather than the quality or type of those programs. The main metric is how many we can get involved and not how many we can involve ourselves with. We say that we are followers of Jesus, but He's often far away from the things that we engage in - little more than the name or emblem on the sign or emblazoned on the lapel of our matching polo shirts.
We don't measure the Christian faith any more by righteousness. We don't measure it by justice. We don't measure it by peace. We certainly aren't measuring it by love. And sadly, when we are, we're often using the world's definition of love and not Christ's - we're using something more like tolerance than true embrace. We're reaching out to certain demographics so that anyone who looks in our windows can see how 'welcoming' we are, but we're not making structural changes to our offerings to honor the demographics we're trying to draw in; rather, we're just hoping they'll tolerate us, as well, and maybe come to value the things we already value (which, too often, isn't them).
We're doing everything the world tells us to do in order to show them that Christianity is real and vital and relevant and yet...our faith is missing something, isn't it?
It's missing the very essence of the Christian faith. It's missing the very things that God created us for and that Christ has called us to. It's missing the kind of love and righteousness and hope and confident assurance and grace and mercy and justice and humility that are supposed to mark the lives of a Christian. It's missing discipleship. The sad truth is that most churches don't care any more if you're coming to be more Christlike...as long as you're coming on Sunday morning. We don't even have metrics for Christlikeness. We don't have metrics for faithfulness. We don't have measures for how your life has changed in the past five months, five years, five decades. It doesn't matter who you were or who you are or who you're becoming, as long as we can call you a 'Christian' and hold you up to the world as one more person who 'believes' what we believe. Because, hey, three billion persons can't be wrong...even when they are getting it hopelessly wrong.
That's why we have to be careful about what we're letting the world define for us. Because in just a short breath, the world goes from defining our sacred words to defining our Christian character and let's be honest - this world expects so much less from us than God does. This world doesn't have our best interest at heart. To this world, a 'Christian' is nothing more than an idea. It takes so very little to be a 'Christian' in the world's mind.
Yet, we cannot forget that we have a Christ that has called us to leave everything, pick up our cross, and follow Him.
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