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The Church and Culture part 2

This is part two in a three-part series on how the Church should influence culture.

By Michael Roop

Most of us agree that a local church should influence its community. The question is, how? Part 1 of this series explored the shortcomings of separation and insulation, noting that neither do any good in addressing the real evils that live in our surrounding culture due to their general passivity toward culture. This leads to the third of four common answers to our question.

Domination
Some churches will take an active stance toward influencing culture that sees only evil in its surroundings. These “culture warrior” churches, under the guise of zeal, want to force the wayward culture into submission, usually by legislating morality. The “win” is making sin illegal, and we can only do this by getting like-minded people into positions of power. Thus, one or the other political party is associated with “God’s way,” perpetuating the demonization of all who disagree.

The upside of this stance is obvious. God has designed His world to work a certain way, and deviation from that only ever leads to greater depths of pain, depravity, and brokenness. And, if God’s people don’t stand up for God’s way, what hope do our communities have?

However, the downsides should be as obvious. A culture warrior church vastly overestimates the power of politics to set or move cultural values. Often, policies simply ratify what the surrounding culture has already come to value. Further, the inherent demonization of those who disagree (i.e. vote differently) forgets that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood…” (Ephesians 6:12). Most importantly, Jesus did not give us a paradigm of “power over” as the means His kingdom will break through on this earth (Matthew 20:25-28, John 13:1-17, Philippians 2:1-11).  

And finally, like separatism, domination fails to account for the common grace in our surrounding culture, those aspects of our daily life that are sun or rain sent by God (Matthew 5:44-45). 

Accommodation
When the culturally active church begins to realize the common grace in surrounding culture, it can easily move under the umbrella of accommodation. Churches in this camp uncritically adopt values of the surrounding culture, even bringing cultural artifacts into worship settings. In these churches, values of the surrounding culture set the tone, not Holy Scripture. As a result, these churches are indistinguishable from other social action clubs. 

On the surface, much about this answer is appealing. The barrier of entry is the lowest for outsiders, and there is virtually no cost to following Jesus. Churches in this camp are free to feel relevant, loving, and affirming of their community.

Of course, achieving this “freedom” eventually comes at the cost of all that defines a church. The absence of the gospel, of repentance and transformation, leaves in its wake a social club that fails both in producing lasting change in their communities and in converting their lost neighbors to a true relationship with Jesus Christ. As the values of culture shift, so shifts the values of the accommodationist church, “carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:14).

So, what is left? How can the Church faithfully influence culture without falling prey to any of the weaknesses of these four possible answers? In part three, we’ll try to answer that question by looking at a passage from Jesus’ most famous sermon.