“We have to be wary of the influence of culture.”
That’s what I heard an older gentleman say the other day in a conversation about how the Church should conduct its business. Culture, as he saw it, was a mental contagion that was poised to infect the Church and kill her from the inside.
Let me be clear that I’m not writing this to criticize this person. In fact, I’ve waited nearly four weeks to start writing about this experience and won’t be posting this for several more weeks. No, this isn’t about that particular person. It’s about the narrow view of culture that he expressed so clearly that I’ve heard others express as well, though less explicitly. And so, let’s discuss his perspective without judgement of his character.
Implicit in his assessment of culture as a threat to the Church was his belief that culture was an entirely worldly creation and was not already an aspect of his own Christian experience.
Culture is a false enemy. People often use “culture” as a stand-in for the ideology of their political or religious rivals. Combined with a flawed view of what is secular and what is sacred, we arrive at a perspective of culture as an evil force desperately trying to influence, infiltrate, or in anyway incapacitate the Church.
There is no such thing as a “secular” or “sacred.” All things belong to God, and so nothing, in that sense, is secular. However, some things are sacred in that we use them for God or to worship God and other things are “common,” which is to say that we use them as part of our everyday lives.
“Profane,” however, is what we call the treating of sacred things as common. When we take the name of the LORD and use it as an expletive, a word uttered to express anger or pain, we profane the Name. However, that doesn’t mean the we cannot use words to express our suffering, but rather, we should reserve some words, like the Name, for when we call out for an end to suffering.
The problem in that scenario wasn’t the language, but it’s use. The enemy isn’t culture; it’s the way it’s used, expressed, warped toward the common away from the sacred. Human beings are sacred creatures, and the culture we create out to reflect that. To the extent it doesn’t, we and our culture are profane. But that doesn’t mean culture is the enemy, and it doesn’t mean that culture is a foe or force banging on the door of your church, trying to force its way in.
Culture is already inside the church because it is part of every single one of us.
The fact that this individual in this meeting was debating an issue in English is an example of his culture.
The fact that we were meeting to discuss and debate is an example of culture.
Culture is an indispensable part of who we are, and like everything else, reflects our fallen nature while simultaneously being slowly redeemed.
In Revelation 21:10, the Apostle John had a vision of a heavenly city, a “New Jerusalem,” descending to the earth. This would be the capital of God’s eternal kingdom, Heaven on Earth.
But why wasn’t it a garden? In Genesis, when all of this began, God planted a garden and placed humanity in it as the crown jewel of all that He had made. The first cities were made by men, men descended from Cain. In fact, for most of the Old Testament, cities were places that represented the heights (or rather depths?) of humanity depravity.
And yet, at the close of this world and the opening of the next, God was founding a city, not planting a garden. Why?
Because Jesus died to redeem humanity along with the rest of creation, including what we have created. God has redeemed us, and one day, He will redeem our culture.