This is the sixth of seven core values we have studied as a group in the planning of Providence Church. So far we’ve looked at Sent Living, Family Focused, Bible Sufficiency, Kingdom Priority, and Authentic Community. Now lets look at the value of Cultural Engagement.
The New Testament reveals the counter-cultural essence of the Church as a gathering of believers living together in Gospel-centered community, while outwardly living a gospel-saturated life. The Church’s togetherness is coupled with the fact that we are also people called out to influence and impact the world with the gospel.
The word in the Greek New Testament translated “church” or “gathering” is ekklesia, which is a combination of the words “out” and “called.” Believers in the Church are changed by the Gospel and called by Christ to be a people “together” different from the world, and yet, always going out into the world with the Gospel.
What is sad in our day is that we have some Christians that are so “churched,” they’ve left this world long ago. Yet other Christians live severed from the body of Christ, and therefore, they not only live entirely in the world, but also, “of” the world. Her is the tension. New Testament Christians must pursue the balance between living together in the counter-cultural gospel community called the church, while living the called-out life of gospel living within culture.
Christians (and churches) are not called to retreat to their perspective bubbles in the world. The believer’s goal in life is not to seek a culture that makes life easier to live their convictions. The church’s objective is not simply to seek a sub-culture that promises to be better in order that they might try to convince people to retreat with them.
Christ never intended for His followers to live in a cozy Christianized bubble. In fact, Jesus Christ Himself left a cozy place called Heaven to live among sinful people in a fallen world. He sought to both establish and live in community with God’s people, while at the same time daily engaging an unholy culture.
While seeking to live in gospel-centered community with other believers within the church, Christians are expected to engage the culture with the gospel. This is the Christian’s task: centered by the gospel in community, while saturating the culture with the gospel. This is the responsibility of Christ’s Church.
The danger is real. If churches forget about engaging culture, and focus only on church togetherness, churches risk becoming a Christian Disney World. In these settings, church members succeed in living in a Christian society cut-off from the non-Christian world.
Many in the church bubble have Christianized social gatherings, exercise classes, pick-up games, play groups, concerts, and more. These are not wrong in themselves, but sometimes contribute to fortifying the bubble. One can go each week without engaging a non-Christian. The danger is that many in this setting struggle to have any non-Christian friends, making it really difficult to obey the Great Commission.
When churches forget about authentic community and become consumed with the culture, they become worldly and the gospel becomes obsolete. The danger here is that Christians can become so much like the culture and of the world that those in your culture never see or hear anything that lets them know you ARE a Christian. This makes it difficult to keep the Great Commandment.
I have experienced church life that settles for the Christian subculture mindset. It’s easy to get lured into embracing all the benefits “for my Christian life,” while causing a serious neglect towards cultural engagement. This normally results in an institutional mentality of the Church. Christians in these churches identify much better with being a member of the institution (not Christ’s body), rather than a missionary sent to the place I live.
When a church becomes all organization and no organism, evangelism becomes minimized to “inviting people to church,” and believers struggle with developing relationships with unbelievers. Thus, believers think in terms of going to church, and pastors find it challenging to disciple people to BE the Church! Church members end up living most of their time in a Christian bubble and spend little time engaging the culture.
Sadly, when churches and Christians say they value missions and evangelism, yet spend almost all of their time in the Christian bubble, it’s because they actually value the “benefits” above our gospel mission. Values are not what you say you do. Values are what actually do. People who believe the Gospel will value both Gospel-centered community in the church, and Gospel-saturated living in the culture.
We Christians could benefit most by having someone come and burst our bubbles. So ask yourself, “How are you engaging culture with the Gospel?”