March 2, 2010


We Americans are obsessed with control. Some churches push the value of excellence; many want to plan ahead not becaue it is pleasing to God to do one's best, but because it gives them some assurance of their control over the outcome. A whole movement of church growth was built around this concept, called the "seeker-sensitive church." Other churches are petrified of change; for them, this means keeping everything the same, week to week, month to month, year after year. We can control what we know, and so we introduce no new ideas, no new music or art, and consequently no new congregants.

This is not to say that excellence is a bad value - God does ask for our everything, from hearts to minds to strengths (it actually does please God when we do our best) - but to say that it needs to balance with other values such as flexibility, compassion, and understanding. Nor is this to say we should change just for the sake of change - that would be a terrible use of resources and time, and would likely hurt many in its pursuit of novelty over tradition. It is a call to intentionality, for excellence with purpose and change with direction and design. Jesus called his disciples out of their cultures and comfort zones for a purpose, a mission, a grand design.

Subsequently - and I think, because of Jesus' example - Historic Christianity has challenged and continues to challenge every culture in some fashion. For the Greeks and Romans it challenged pantheism and emperor-worship; for the Jews it challenged notions of messiah and Torah; for the African it challenges notions of marriage and of the supernatural; for Polynesians it challenges notions of the "Big Man" and materialism; for Americans and most Westerners, it challenges notions of control, individualsm, and consumerism. No culture is left unchanged in the wake of true Christianity, a religion that confronts a culture's demons at their source. But so too is no culture left empty when confronted with Jesus, who makes the culture more whole, more complete, more alive than it had been. Jesus does not ask us to obliterate a culture, nor does he ask us to become one with it. Rather, we must always keep the two in tension with one another; we must not allow our own cultural prejudice and bias to contort the free expression of Jesus' spirit manifested in another culture. But this does not mean we have nothing to say to it; rather, the global, multiethnic, transnational church is to keep itself accountable, each culture challenging and subverting notions of superiority over others. Jesus liberates culture to be more full, more complete, more whole than it could have possibly been without Him. The Romans were freed to a life focused on the One True God, the Africans liberated to a life without fear of the darkness, and Americans emancipated to a life surrendered to the Will of God, serving others instead of themselves.

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