Monday, July 26, 2021

Culture and Worship

This week, we're talking about the challenges of a faith that looks a lot like the culture around it. This conversation starts when we are taught that the Christian Old Testament is 'strikingly similar' to so many of the other near-Eastern ancient myths. In other words, the OT story that we cherish is not so different, they say, from the stories of the other gods that their peoples told. 

And one of the challenges that we face when we come to the place where Christ and culture meet is that we absolutely have to begin by confessing that our culture does influence our worship. Our culture does impact the way that we tell our stories. 

We can see this in our churches fairly easily. No longer are we singing the historical, acrostic hymns recorded in our bibles that detail the long, arduous history of God's people. Nor are we gathered around vocalizing Gregorian chants. Even the hymns that were a staple of our worship just a generation or two ago are now 'outdated,' getting updates into contemporary worship styles. 

We print our attendance numbers on a bulletin that we hand out, rather than putting them into a wooden board at the front of the sanctuary. A sanctuary which, by the way, is now called a "worship center" or something of the like. Instead of using hymnals or even bibles in the backs of the pew in front of you (which are now chairs, we must note, in many places), they are blasted onto a giant screen behind the praise band or the pastor. 

We have even traded in a lot of our sacred language. Instead of words like "sacrament," we've gone with "ritual." Instead of "atonement," we substitute something cheaper like "forgiveness." We have new translations of the Bible coming out at a faster pace than ever before because Christians are looking for the Word in a language that they understand, a language that feels more natural to them. Instead of "blessed," we now have versions that say "happy." 

Our culture absolutely influences the way that we worship and the language that we use and the styles that we adopt. Our culture shapes the topics that we decide to preach on - it's why more churches today are preaching the "five fundamentals of a Godly marriage" than they are the Romans Road or the crucifixion. Did you know there are churches among us - too many, in fact - who preach the crucifixion only on Easter? Most of the year, they're preaching culture. 

And it's because we live in a culture that has determined that culture is everything. So if we want to speak to a culture that says that culture is everything, then we have to do so by creating a culture and by creating touchpoints with culture and by following culture into itself. 

On one hand, we have to be careful not to give up our message of Christ in order to reach the culture. On the other hand, we have to be aware of how fundamentally necessary it is to situate Christ into our cultural context. After all, He came to live among us because He knows that these are the real lives that we live, and He has always had something to say about these real lives. 

The problem is not that culture shapes the way that we worship. The problem is when we let culture hijack our worship and throw it completely off-track, when our worship becomes more culture-formed than Christoform (in the image of Christ). 

To be continued. 

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