Many of us have heard this concept before, that the church should be “counter cultural”. We hear it thrown around from the pulpit, during conversations over coffee with friends, or even from the televangelist we see on the t.v. screen. Historically, the church has modeled counter-culturalism in a positive way (my opinion - other than the whole crusade and penance thing from the catholic church), but within the last five decades, I believe we’ve had a warped view of what being counter cultural looks like.
We’ve seen this modeled in the last few decades through two major cultural effects that have happened to the church. One being ”mimicking culture”…a concept modeled perfectly through contemporary Christian music in which we take exactly what culture is doing, throw a couple of tag lines of Jesus on it, and call it “relevant”. Interestingly enough, I believe the church was more focused on being ‘counter-church’ than anything else during this time period. Thank goodness we’re moving away from this.
Another model of counter-culturalism is when the church has completely reclused from culture all-together. We see this in many fundamental movements where Christians are shut in the church, have nothing to do with broader society, and have very limited influence.
But what does true counter-cultural Christianity look like? What does it really mean to be in the world but not of it? I would like to propose three concepts in which I believe define counter-cultural Christianity. Grant it…these aren’t the only three, but I definitely believe they are three major ones.
1. One-Way Belief
In an age of post-modernity and mosaic generations of individuals picking and choosing different belief systems to formalize their own truth, nothing screams counter cultural than the fact that Christ claims to be the way, truth, and the life…in fact, he goes so far as to proclaim himself to be the only way. But the only way to what? Well….truth. This makes secularist cringe because to them…truth is relative. But to any logical thinker, truth is not relative. If something else is true, the opposite has to be false. Christ’s claim of being the only way is super counter-cultural.
2. Love through Service
In our secularist/consumerist society, love is defined mainly by one thing….taking. It’s about what I can gain out of a relationship, a product, a feeling, etc. In fact, with the recent “social justice” movement that everybody has jumped on, love in this process usually derives from a motive of…”it makes me feel good to give back.” But is this really love? No, it isn’t. Love screams of something different. Love screams of serving others, even when there’s nothing to get in return. Love means serving others even when it’s hard. True love is modeled by service.
3. Engaging in Biblical-Community
This is where counter cultural Christianity gets tough. Within broader culture, the understood montra is….keep your junk to yourself. If you screw up, hide it. If you’re struggling, find whatever you can to cope with the pain. But biblical community calls for something different. Biblical community calls for us to be vulnerable with one another, to confess our sins to one another, and to carry each others burdens. This is not always easy. It’s hard, but always worth it.
A false assumption on counter cultural christianity is the question of what influence the church should have on the broader culture. Like stated before, many christians either mimic the culture to the tee, or recluse from it all together. I want to leave you today with an excerpt out of “How Now Shall We Live?” by Chuck Colson:
“When the Church is faithful to its calling, it always leads to a reformation of culture. When the church is truly the church, a community living in biblical obedience and contending for faith in every area of life, it will surely revive the surrounding culture or create a new one.”
Religion is not a reflection or product of culture, but quite the reverse. As the great twentieth-century historian Christopher Dawson argued, cult is at the root of culture (taking “cult” in its most basic meaning as a system of religious worship). The late political philosopher Russell Kirk agreed: “It’s from association in a cult, a body of worshipers, that human community grows.”
The oyster offers a good analogy. Oysters make their own shells, so if the shell is badly formed, the problem is not in the shell but in the oyster. Likewise, when a culture deforms and decays, don’t ask what went wrong with the culture; ask what went wrong with the cult—the religious core. “When belief in the cult has been wretchedly enfeebled, the culture will decay swiftly,” Kirk wrote. “The material order rests on the spiritual order.” The hope for today’s world is a renewed and vibrant spiritual order, a culture-creating cult, men and women of another type, arrayed for the great battle of principle against principle. A battle that begins, “In the beginning…”
Image courtesy of esbjorn2: http://www.flickr.com/photos/comicartschool/1483344473/