TITLE: Christianity, Christ and Culture
By Tim Burns
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In the Huddle
Discipleship Through Intentional Community
by Tim Burns
Christianity, Christ and Culture
I might be different than most other people, and when I have any doubts, all I have to do is ask my wife or kids. But more accurately, I think I'm different than many others who call themselves Christ followers. When I came to Christ, my life looked really good on the outside, but was a complete mess on the inside. While dysfunctional doesn't' begin to describe my family, we looked good from the curb. My brother, sisters and I all did well in school. We were in church every weekend, and lived in a modest, post WWII, GI bill funded neighborhood. Not quite a house with a 2 stall garage, white picket fence, dog and a fine trimmed yard, but close. So by any popular measure of cultural success, my family would have earned a healthy B. If I were to use another yardstick for emotional health of my parents, siblings and myself, our report card would be one of those that that dog ate. Looking back, the only grade I could use is just above failing.
So when I came to Christ, and found out that my life can be, and should be transformed, I was ecstatic. Christ called me to leave my former life behind. As Ro12.1-2 says “ . . . don't be conformed to your previous life and lifestyle, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” I finally had an external reason as well as the promise of internal power to leave behind that emotionally painful place.
I once heard that when a person comes to Christ, he doesn't necessarily leave all the bad habits behind. The example was that of cook. A bad cook before coming to Christ is still a bad cook after conversion. My struggle turned on this peg - because my life looked good, I was unaware of the the internal transformation that I desperately needed. As a result, I hit my first spiritual wall.
I was isolated. I had grown up on a neighborhood separated from most of my classmates, and my siblings were more than 5 years older and younger. As a result, I did life by myself. My culture was one of rugged American individualism, although now dressed in a religious robe. Some of the verses I applied to memory in those first months were those that supported the idea of individualism, standing up for issues, opposing a worldly culture. Like my hero Captain Kirk from the USS Enterprise, my spirit was bent in a way that said “I am going to do what I want, regardless of the consequences.” When I came to Christ, I only made a subtle shift. Now I had the power of heaven behind my efforts to single-handedly change the universe . . . or so I thought.
I was a perfect candidate to become a man with a new religion and a new cause. I had a new system of belief, and a new level of religious fervor. But I was not a disciple. Internally I felt a new desire to serve and please God. Externally that translated into a religious culture. I carried a new list of dos and don'ts. I accepted the Christian “Prime Directive” of building and adhering to a new religious order. Yet as a person familiar with isolation, my self imposed direction was not about engaging the culture, connecting with other individuals, and watching God transform them through the vehicle of community, accountability, transparency and grace. No, I walked softly and carried a big bible, set on bludgeoning the entire world into accepting the grace and love of God.
This is the reason behind my thesis. I was different. I wanted to leave behind the life I knew, but had personal habits that made that goal almost unreachable. I wanted to bring others into the kingdom, but thought I would do it myself. Me and God – that was enough. So from my perspective, I couldn't figure out why others didn't share my zeal, or didn't see the need for transformation.
Most of my friends, and many of those who I meet in the Church today, have one half of the equation. On one hand, Christ followers often have the zeal to follow Christ but not the desire to be transformed. Why leave behind a lifestyle that works pretty well? When the family is healthy and job brings personal and financial satisfaction, what is there to transform? Doesn't God want us to live healthy, successful lives as evidence of his presence? We hear this message via CCM music, and from Christian television all the time. What do I have - and why do I have to change? This person's temptation is to compromise the call, to live a culturally safe lifestyle. Rather than engage the culture with the transformational Gospel of Jesus Christ, this person is lukewarm, having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof.
On the other hand, those who come to Christ from a disrupted emotional history want to change, but often have no idea what it will look like. They have little connectedness to friends and family. Becoming a Christ follower means leaving the familiar behind. These individuals have the zeal to be transformed, but none of the relational support to follow faithfully. When the road become too rocky, they often turn aside, and go back to what is familiar. The conversion resulted in isolation, The result is often a legalistic lifestyle that measures his own worth, and everyone else by religious fiat.
I am reminded of Jesus parable of the good seed strewn on different soils. Some seed fell where the ground was shallow, sprouted quickly, but withered and died in the heat. Other seed fell on good soil, but was chocked by the cares of the world, and became unfruitful. The goal, the target to which Jesus tried to point his followers, was to become good soil, deep, broken up, free of weeds, Jesus calls us to receive the word with gladness, and in response become fruitful. (Luke 8.5-18) As Christ followers, we are to be transformed, (Ro. 12.1-2) and then become a transforming catalyst on the world. (2 Cor 5.17-20)
The first century church was a culturally transformational force in their world. Individually members brought with them the zeal to change and follow in Jesus footsteps. Those who had everything willingly left it behind to follow Christ. Those who had nothing came into to an extended family, a unique tribe within the larger culture in which they were accepted and cared for. The result was that rather than creating a flash in the pan fad, or ingrown sect, they changed the world as they new it. As Christ followers, we are called to the same task. As Paul said “Follow me as I follow Christ”
In order to create and sustain their transformational influence, the church practiced intentional community. Alone, the individuals would have been easy targets for internal temptations such as compromise and apathy, or external forces such as burnout out, persecution or despair. As a tribe together, they changed the world.
The Next Step
In my next few columns I will explore more deeply these paths which rob the Church of her transformational influence in the world. Next month we will look at a church which is too similar to the world around it to be transformational. In subsequent months we will dig into our tendency to become, or stay insulated, isolated and ineffective.
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