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      CHRIST AND CULTURE ~ part 1
      by Roy Ryan

      BIO ~ ROY RYAN
      A United Methodist Minister, now retired, and a native Mississippian, Roy Ryan lives in Tupelo, Mississippi. He is a graduate of Millsaps College, BA in Sociology-Anthropology and of Emory University (Theology), M. Div focus on New Testament studies. He is also a graduate of Southern Methodist University (Theology) STM in Adult Christian Education and Vanderbilt University (Theology) D. Min in Theological Ethics. Roy has written eight books on Christian education and numerous articles for church and secular journals. He is presently teaching this course on "Christ and Culture" in First United Methodist Church in Tupelo.


      LESSON 1
      One of the troubling issues faced by many Americans of all religions and of no religion, is the relationship of church and state. This issue is sometimes talked about as "religion and politics" or "Christ and Culture."

      There are various ways of looking at this subject. Over a period of several weeks we will be looking at some of these ways and also dealing with some of the "hot-button" issues of a moral (religious)/political nature. We will attempt in the first few articles to do some necessary background work on the history of this relationship, some ways that religious people (this will be written from a Christian perspective, but some of the same concerns/issues would be common to other religious groups) have dealt with this relationship.

      Our hope is to help persons come to examine the biblical, theological and ethical foundations that will help us as Christian persons deal with some of these "hot-button" issues. There is very much a division in our nation when it comes to issues like human sexuality, capital punishment, abortion, war and peace, immigration, assisted suicide, stem-cell research, etc. We will attempt to deal with some of these issues, fully recognizing that Christians will differ on what we think about these issues.

      Some say we are in a culture war. What are the cultural values we can support and what cultural values may not be in keeping with our Christian faith? How do we decide what is "cultural" and what is "Christian"?

      I. Christ against Culture
      One biblical injunction is "Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. (I John. 2:15).

      Paul admonishes the early Christians: "Do not be conformed to this world -- but be transformed." (Romans 12:02) Does that mean that everything that is in the world is bad or evil -- can culture be good as well as bad? There have always been Christians from the beginning who have seen Christianity as "a set apart community of believers" who must separate themselves from everything that is "worldly." Other Christians believe that we should be involved in making our world better and that we cannot simply withdraw into our own little conclaves or communities. Proponents of this view have not taken the easy way out. Many of them down through the ages of Christian history have endured physical and mental suffering (even death), and the loss of homes and property and the protection of government. This is a radical view, but some groups of Christians still seek to separate themselves from the world.

      2. Christ of Culture
      This is the polar opposite view from the one above. For these Christians there is a close connection between "being a Christian" and "being a good citizen." Sometimes it is easy to confuse cultural values with Christian values -- which may or may not be true. Think how long many people in this country justified slavery in the name of Christianity -- and in the 20th Century how many Christians defended segregation in the name of the Bible and the Christian church. This view might be called "the Cultural Captivity of the Churches."

      One of the difficulties Christians today need to face up to is "how much are my beliefs based on Biblical and Theological truth" and "how much is based on mores, habits, cultural values." These latter change from age to age and culture to culture, whereas Christian truths survive in every age and every culture. Therefore, we must be careful to consider what we believe and how we behave, not based strictly on what "society approves," but upon a firmer base of Scriptural truth and things that the church has taught down through the centuries (Tradition).

      3. Christ the Transformer of Culture
      This view is a mediating view between the two mentioned above. If a Christian holds this view, it means that he/she will always be asking tough questions about what is good, what is bad, what is true, what is false, what is right, what is wrong. But the basic assumption of this view is that we first must be "transformed by Christ" and then we seek to transform the world. The person who accepts Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior believes that God is involved in all of Creation. Remember, in the Book of Genesis, God looks at God's creation and calls it GOOD.

      As followers of Jesus, we want to be in partnership with God in caring for God's creation, in making life as Just and Fair -- in other words, to live by the Golden Rule. The Christian is always asking, how can I make my community better? And, instead of being satisfied with the status quo, the Christian is always seeking ways to "love thy neighbor as thyself." Therefore, the work of the Christian is to work with Christ in his ministry of reconciliation. (Mt. 5:24 and I Cor. 2:18). If we adopt this view we will be actively involved in politics and in community organizations to live out our ministry of "love of God and neighbor" and in the "ministry of reconciliation."

      Which of the above (these are not exclusive types) best describes your way of looking at the relationship of Christ and Culture? How should this affect your decision-making about your life values and how you live in the world?

      For additional study and comparison:
      Richard Niebuhr - CHRIST AND CULTURE


      Essay 2 will deal with the topic, "The Nation With the Soul of a Church." Is the USA a "Christian Nation" or a pluralistic nation? What did the Founding Fathers believe about the new nation they were forming? What about the religious view of the Founders? These and other issues will be looked at in the next essay. Thanks for joining this process of reflecting on who we are and how we are called to live our lives as Christians.


      Click these links to access essays in this series:
      Part I... Part II... Part III... Part IV... Part V... Part VI... Part VII... Part VIII... Part IX... Part X


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