Friday, July 25, 2008

Between Three Worlds - Vision Pt. 4

So just what can two cats (Justus and Epaphras) from the first century teach today's church regarding employing a kingdom focused, biblically driven witness that leads with truth and engages people from multiple cultures?

Enlarge our vision. Presently we tend to only engage distinct subcultures within our society perhaps believing that young white goatee sportin post-modern artists could never have anything to do with middle aged, black modern entrepreneurs. We then craft a mission strategy that heavily depends on entering their cultural world. The end result are churches that consist mainly of young white post-moderns and middle aged, black moderns. However, instead of seeing the white post-moderns as the problem and purview of the white evangelical church and the black, middle aged moderns as the challenge for the bible believing black church let’s go after both with the belief and intention of seeing God transform them to the extent that they recognize see that what we have in common in Christ is far more important and far more valuable than what naturally divides us.

Don’t worship your culture. Both Justus and Epaphras had to part with aspects of their culture which were very important to them. This didn’t mean that Justus ceased being Jewish or Epaphras stopped being Greek. It did mean that upon believing in Christ they chose to focus on those aspects of biblical culture transmitted though the faith once delivered to the saints. This also enabled them to enjoy the flexibility of adopting certain non-sinful human aspects of culture for the purpose of advancing the kingdom. It’s here that Paul’s maxim from 1 Cor 9:19-23 is particularly important to us. Like Paul we must learn to wear human culture loosely. The extent that we’re wedded to a specific culture is the extent that we will shrink the reach of our witness. And we might be surprised at how flexible others are with respect to culture once we’re committed to biblical driven cultural flexibility.

Don’t waste our culture. Part of the challenge with any culture is the way that it defines who people are and marks them as belonging to one people group and therefore standing apart from other people groups. And in my view that’s one of the biggest obstacles facing the expansion of an authentic, biblical driven, unified witness in the 21st century. White evangelical believers and bible believing black believers have identified and held onto their natural cultures far too tightly and far too long. In doing so we’ve failed to emphasize and embody genuine biblical culture for the witness of the gospel and the glory of Christ. We spend so much time attempting to be culturally relevant to our niche human cultures that we’ve failed to produce a people that who are mainly known for the culture embodied in passages such as Ten Commandments, Beatitudes or Colossians 3. The result is believers who are far more American or African-American than we are Christian.

What could a focus on biblical culture look like? Let me give an example from each of the passages I just mentioned. From the Ten Commandments God’s people could nurture a culture of contentment. This could be especially valuable in a society that prizes covetousness. Through our lives we could demonstrate the advantages of gratitude, giving and biblical contentment. We could show our society that life isn’t about things and that our identity isn’t found in having the latest and best gadgets. We could also learn to be a people who intentionally live beneath our means so that we could increase what we give to those who have less than we.

From the Beatitudes we could prize the biblical cultural virtue of meekness. We could then find ways to use whatever strength we have be it emotional, financial, psychological, social or political on behalf of those who are weak and have less strength. And we could apply this meekness towards all kinds of people who for whatever reason need it. Imagine a group of churches in a particular city or region deciding to gather together and speak out and support the latest group of immigrants just because God providentially provided us with the opportunity to do so?

Lastly, from Col. 3 we could cultivate a taste for the life yet to come. We could become so enamored by our next life and the Savior who awaits us that we literally reorganized our time, finances and lives around the pursuit of His kingdom and promotion of His gospel.

The basis of this way of thinking is the view that the strength of our witness doesn’t spring from having worship events that mimic our human culture as much as it is having the One we worship transform us as we engage the culture.

Check your politics at the door. I’m using the term politics here in the generic sense of the way societies organize resources. I’m not asking for anyone to change his or her political views. Instead I’m asking that we don’t hold our politics so dear as to just about mandate that those who believe like us must vote like us. Also we need to be crystal clear with ourselves and our culture concerning which things are so important that they should occupy out time, thought, conversation and fellowship and which are not. Frankly brothers and sisters it is both unwise and detrimental to our witness to be so identified with and tied to one political party or another. And it is also unwise and potentially damaging for any aspect of God’s church to speak or act in such a way that lifts the temporal earthly agenda of a country or people to the level of God’s eternal kingdom. We are not here to promote or preserve the overall economic, political and military supremacy of the United States nor the lifestyle to which that supremacy brings us. Nor are we here to see that African-Americans or any other ethnic group levels the playing field and grabs their slice of the American dream along with everybody else.

Is there a place for politics in this new 21st century church? Yes there is. These churches should work together and work with the local officials of our cities, counties, townships and regions to advocate for policies that will benefit everyone who lives in the region.

Work hard. Isn’t it interesting how Paul the apostle of God’s grace mentioned how hard people worked to see that the message of grace impacted the Roman world? First century discipleship wasn’t a casual affair. Those who embraced Christ adopted the promotion of the gospel as a way of life and not merely a religious addition to their existing life. They gave themselves to the task of the gospel doing whatever was necessary to see to that it spread. Though we’re not sure what all of them did we do know that whatever it was they did it willfully, consistently, whole-heartedly and joyfully.

The current community of believers in America may have to look at itself in the mirror and make a hard choice. We can adopt the path of following Jesus by the way of the cross and truly embody biblically informed culture. This will mean wrapping our lives around the promotion of the gospel and thus radically altering how we spend our time, money and organize our lives. Or we can continue to be molded by our current culture of commerce and entertainment, wrap our lives around the comfort and convenience that culture affords us and then wait for the next church growth guru to tell us the real secret to connecting with the culture.

To Him Who Loves Us…
Pastor Lance

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