Our Approach to Culture
When it comes to the world and culture, Christians can adopt a variety of stances. Theologians and social philosophers have described these in a variety of ways (Tim Keller perhaps being especially helpful in this regard). However, we have four basic options. For our purposes, we'll call them incorporation, isolation, insulation, and integration.
On the one hand, we can incorporate with the culture. This involves simply “giving in,” calling oneself a Christian but adopting the values and practices of the post-Christian and increasingly secular culture around us. Those churches incorporating with the culture so radically redefine Christianity as to empty it of most if any historic meaning.
Obviously, this form of “faith” isn’t really faith at all, and Scripture warns against it in several places. All throughout the Old Testament, God’s people battle against this form of idolatry. One such place was during the time of Elijah, when the prophet challenged the nation of Israel to quit professing Yahweh alongside all other gods. God specifically forbids this religious syncretism in the first of the Ten Commandments: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).
Another perhaps more tempting option is to isolate one’s faith to the private sphere, adopting the post-Christian and increasingly pagan culture’s values and practices in the public sphere, while affirming and living an alternate set of values in private. This reduces Christians to a distinct and marginalized subculture.
Scripture has much to say against this view as well. For one thing, we must contend with Christ’s Lordship of all things. As a preface to His Great Commission, the founding call of all Christian evangelism and missions, Christ affirms that God the Father has given all authority in heaven and on earth to Him (Matthew 28:18). In other words, Christ is not Lord of some things; He is Lord of all things, something that His people should evidence. Paul corroborates this understanding in Colossians 1:15ff. There, He shows the supremacy of and call to honor Christ in all things.
In this view, Christians ignore and remove themselves almost completely from the culture around them, and set up an alternative and parallel society – one more devoid of society evils and the corrupting influences of sin. Some within this camp take an optimistic view of their efforts – i.e. that their separate witness will eventually win so many souls to Christ that they become the predominant culture. Others take a more pessimistic view – i.e. that things will grow from bad to worse, and all they can hope to do is reinforce the walls and hope to survive. In either case, this reduces Christians to an “anti-culture.”
It’s this view that many Christians believe is truly Biblical. However, the Bible has much to say against it as well. For instance, Jesus did not pray that God take us out of the world. Rather, He prayed that we might be able to obediently live in this world (John 17:15ff).
This brings us to the final, and we believe more Biblical view - one of cultural engagement wherein believers get truly involved at all levels of culture, yet in ways that reveal the distinctiveness and values of the Kingdom of God.
The example of Christ and his Apostles
Each of these four views rests on certain assumptions about not only us as Christians, but about God and the ministry to which He’s called us. The first view implies that we should love, serve, and ultimately honor our neighbors above God. Similarly, the second view implies that we should only acknowledge the lordship of Christ in the realm of private values, not over all of life - again a capitulation to culture. The third view often results in some degree of arrogance – despising our neighbors or staying at a distance until they have the good sense to see things our way, and come on over. It’s the fourth view that most closely emulates the pattern of Christ, something that we see in Philippians 2:1-11:
1If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6Who, being in very nature[a] God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the very nature[b] of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! 9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Without compromising His obedience to God and holiness before Him, Christ became one of us. He lived in the world, but was not of it. Intentionally, He was the friend of publicans and sinners, but never in a manner that compromised His distinctiveness.
Paul seems to emulate Christ’s example in his missionary efforts (I Corinthians 9:19-23):
19Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. 22To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
Our stance: Integration
In other words, Paul integrated into the cultures of the people He was trying to reach as much as possible, yet without compromise. If we are to reach Murrysville/Export and the City of Jeannette for Christ, this is the Biblical example that we must emulate. This is a major step toward becoming true ambassadors of Christ.