Christian Culture?? REALLY?

WHOSE “Christian culture” and how do you define that?

Straight up, like “Christian music”, I use the phrase/terms on occasion but when you get right into the guts of it, I don’t believe there is any singular, perfectly defined “culture” that pristinely reflects nor represents Jesus Christ and His people.

To understand what I do believe you’ll have to slog through this post, but in that some won’t, that in itself demonstrates my position: no one of us (myself included) are the mind, soul and heart of Truth any more than any of us individually or all of us together equal God!!

I’ve never hidden the fact of things I like, things from my past that I still engage with in the present that are sometimes loved and sometimes hated by other believers.

Things like blues, loud music, street concerts (or indoors) with the scent of incense blowing through the air (note I said incense, not pot or hash…) adults and kids blowing bubbles, dancing and the colorful and/or denim, sandals and basic look of the hippie that at core, I still am and have been since I turned about fifteen years of age.

On the other hand, some folks in some places would immediately think by looking at (and smelling that patchouli oil on) me “No way is this guy acting his age/a true disciple of Jesus/to be trusted.” And I understand and accept that culture both unifies and separates us. It truly ain’t just about Jesus, saving faith, genuine commitment to scripture and living out God’s love -is it?! And some folks apparently spell patchouli differently, ‘eh?PatchouliOil

Culture is about human customs, traditions, “comfort zones”, a way of thinking, speaking, behaving, interacting that are both learned and taught by an array of elements including parents, siblings, friends, even enemies. We look, listen, see what seems to be acceptable and unacceptable amongst our family, neighbors, friends and other social and eventually business/work associates.

Each local Christian gathering, church, denomination has it’s culture and often subcultures -and by those (although often the claim is that it’s all about what The Bible says) judge and sometimes voice incredible disgust toward others who don’t accept their chosen tradition as THE way to do things.

And I’ll add, being Spirit-filled myself, that a dozen Christians who all claim to hear His voice, operate in His giftings and consider themselves “anointed” by Him are at times in full disagreement -over cultural matters. “Hey, my spirit doesn’t bear witness that a bottle of oil from India is of God… in fact it’s likely demonic!!!” Ahhhh… sorry, but I’ve got better things to do than debate such matters.

I posit culture easily as much as theology and doctrine is in the present day the why of Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox and “other” faith traditions whereby followers of Jesus are or are not linking much with others outside their own cultural province.

Whether or not we or those I’ve just listed proclaim saving faith in Jesus Christ or not, attend this or that local or denominational or house church (you-name-it) or not, we observe and adapt or rebel against larger cultural traditions, sub-cultural traditions and various spoken and unspoken codes of belief and conduct to the extent we find some sense of place among peers and people in general in the closer and/or wider world.

To the heart of my own thinking:

My personal (and often shared) relationship with the One I believe is the very Jesus Christ of the Bible, crucified, dead, buried and risen, coming again- the One I daily seek in listening, talking, reading, and interacting in both deep joy and passionate misery… I believe HE rather than any culture or subculture… is my Lord and Savior.

The problem is that, as I’ve often stated, no culture is in itself a living human being, a moral entity, a soul with a will of it’s own for whom Christ died and rose.

And yet our cultural traditions are often THE issue/s that bring us to judge, condemn, even seek to destroy one another, both outside and within professing Christian faith traditions.

There are plenty of reasons I find culture and subculture hills unworthy of dying on or hardcore separating over but just two more are: they change and shift, mutate and sometimes go extinct amongst those professing saving faith in Jesus as well as those who do not. Building a tower of Babel on a tradition (new or old tradition by the way) is akin to an architect using one layer of paper-thin balsa wood per floor and per wall as his/her building material for a skyscraper!

It is plain foolish to demand tradition -alone-… because it’s comfortable to us… as a kind of immovable object upon which to build a life.

Having said this, a savvy reader may be rightly thinking “Ok Glenn, so what about the tradition of The Bible? More, what about traditional interpretations and readings of that book? Don’t a great many believers end up getting things wrong by that traditional approach even to scripture as a foundation for life and interaction with others?”

Excellent question.

My response is “Of COURSE” we all (as one translation renders a passage from God’s Word) often make many mistakes! Yes. No disagreement with your thinking if you are logically considering traditions even re. the Book.

My very next response is that it’s not what scripture brings to us but what we place upon and bring to it that I believe truly gets us caught in the weeds.

Nobody including myself fully and flawlessly rightly divides the word of truth, at present we all have partial knowledge and understanding indeed. I repeat this constantly if you read through my blogs or read/hear interviews throughout my lifetime. And yet…

And yet if we do not come back to the Bible and to Jesus Himself we often run to scripture interpreting it in such a manner as to agree with our own comfortable and comforting traditions and chosen culture. Which is not Christ Himself nor His Word as such (which according to Him, unlike heaven and earth and the bulk of human traditions “will never pass away”.)

How many skirmishes, wars and splits have happened in human and church history on the basis of culture versus actual scripture. Consider core commands of God in both Testaments about loving one’s neighbor, forgiving one another, not paying back evil for evil, loving one’s enemies for His sake! So very often the methodologies which greatly link to one’s culture or subculture, are the stone of offense where we ourselves break fellowship or others end it with us.

I will suggest that there is a shallowness and even danger of longterm cultural connection that in itself is not about the Comforter unifying people but rather individual comfort via cultural similarities being sought after and even demanded. Such is not “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”.

So today I wear patchouli. Tomorrow I won’t because I reckon a good many where I’ll be aren’t into it. No big deal. Jesus is my Lord and Savior -and I care deeply about those I’m going to be with. I want to serve them.

Perhaps all this is worth considering along the path?

As always, thanks for stopping by! -Glenn

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4 Comments

  1. Enjoyed your thoughts and agree Glenn, been a Christian almost 39 years . Went through a lot had a powerful conversion. I am not has dogamatic when I first started. Many tests but Jesus is very real to me but my interpretation of scripture are not perfect and have to accept. I guess that’s what grace is all about. Thanks Glenn for your honesty

  2. How do we get past the thinking, even theology, that Culture is the enemy? Why do we insist on a definition of Christianity is Culture, rather than Culture as responsibility and care?

    Joe

    1. Joe, My best guess is we have to mature in God’s love, receive new eyes as we consider “the other” and come into a brutal honesty about our own preferences and prejudices admitting they are nothing more than either or both of those. Clutching those like a dog with a bone often brings one to trashing rather than loving people when they are unlike ourselves.

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