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.