It's no secret that our culture influences the way that we worship in our churches. It has to. Our culture tells us how we process the world around us and how we ascribe meaning to things. It is because of our culture that we worship with contemporary Christian music instead of Gregorian chants; our worship changes as our culture changes.
But what we have to be careful of is how much we are willing to let the world shape our worship. It's one thing for our culture to impact our style; it's another thing entirely if we let it corrupt our message.
Certainly, there's been some of this that is more obvious than other of it. For example, it's no stretch to say that our culture's concept of Christ's "love" is nothing more than its own idea of tolerance, and it's tried to shove it down the church's throat by using our word for it while at the same time, changing the very fundamental nature of what that word means. The world's notion of a Jesus who doesn't care what you do or how you live your life but who loves you indiscriminately and approves of everything you do has been slowly creeping into our churches for a couple of decades now. Because our culture told us that's what "love" is, and we haven't pushed back with a truly Christoform definition of love.
It's happening again most recently, even as I write, with concepts of racism and sexism. These have become huge touchpoints in the culture at large, which has some ideas about what these things mean and what we ought to be doing about them. And in the past year or two, a whole slew of "Christian" books have come out from Christian authors who claim that the world is absolutely right about these things, that we ought to adopt them as Christian values, and that the church ought to lead the way on the very types of social reforms that the world is calling for.
On the surface, it sounds kind of like a good idea. We want the church to be shaping the world, and if there are changes to be made, it seems like a good idea to say that the church ought to be leading them. After all, if we are the ones to lead the change, then doesn't that give us a strong voice to speak into these atrocities? Doesn't it give us the edge to start shaping the world back toward God?
Because what's happened is that the church, it seems, has stepped up to do what the world wants it to do, according to the world's terms. I have read a number of these books that have come out - everything from how to address abuse allegations in the church to whether or not the church should offer reparations for slavery to what the role of women should be and how biblical and current cultures have shaped that. And what's troubling about them is that they all start in the same place: our culture has this right and we, the church, have this wrong.
Every single one of these books that I've read on these topics - every single one of them - is nothing more than a proof-text of the issue. That is, they start with the fundamental truth that culture provides and then find a Scripture to back that up. "The world says ______...and look! Jesus says the world is right. We should have been doing this all along."
It's the desperate cry of a church who has long given up her truth and yearns to remain relevant in a culture that is pushing her to the edges. The world is telling us how it wants us to live, and we are claiming not only that we can live that way, but that we should have been living that way all along. And not because that's the example of Christianity throughout the ages or even because it is the true preaching of Christ, but because we are clinging to our place in the conversation by accepting the world's rules of engagement. The church no longer stands on Christ's truth, but rather, she has embraced only what the world will tolerate of it...in the name of calling herself a good citizen and a meaningful spirituality.
It breaks my heart.
It seems like such a small thing, I know. After all, if we can find proofs in the life of Jesus that seem to support what our culture is telling us, why shouldn't we just live that way? And the short answer is - because it puts the emphasis on the wrong syllable. (Read it again, the wrong way. You know you want to.) It gives us a Jesus that is shaped by the world and not a world that is shaped by our Jesus. We spend our whole lives responding instead of initiating, and we become a faith that is blown about by the winds.
The world is half-right: these are conversations that we need to be having. Absolutely. Let's talk about racism and sexism and abuse and all the other things that are hard to talk about. But let's stop talking about them as things the church 'can get involved in.' Let's stop talking about them as places where we're trying to figure out how we, as the church, can help the world reach its goals on this one. Let's stop talking about how we join in the conversation.
We have to be talking about how we lead it, from the life and the love of Jesus. That's got to be our starting point. What does God have to say about these things? Not where does He agree with the world, not what is the world getting right, not whether or not these are 'good' things. But what is God's truth on the matter?
And for some reason, we don't seem to be answering that question. Because we're starting in the wrong place. We're starting with, "You know? The world is right about this." And it's getting us further and further from the Cross.
What we need to do is start in a slightly different place, with a slightly different confession: "You know? The world is asking good questions on this." Now, we can draw close to Christ and begin to answer them.