Monthly Archives: March 2012
“While it is true that we live and minister within a cultural setting, there will inevitably be certain aspects of the culture that we cannot embrace or celebrate. We are called to be in the world, but not of the world.
Though we make every effort to present the gospel message with excellence and effectiveness to the world around us, we should be careful to do so in a way that both stays true to the biblical gospel and stays within the biblical boundaries of moral propriety. Catch-words like “relevance” and “contextualization” are not a valid justification for condoning coarse speech or morally-questionable behavior in order to identify with certain youth subcultures.
The power of the gospel is not in us, our cleverness, or our ability to camoflage with the culture. Thus, we don’t need to cuss to reach sailors, or drink to reach alcoholics; and we certainly don’t need to engage in sinful enterprises in order to reach sinners. To use fleshly methods to reach the lost is self-defeating, bringing a reproach on the pure name of the Savior we proclaim.
Nonetheless, these methods are often excused under the guise of cultural contextualization and accommodation—which in the current conversation has gotten down to the sub-culture level. We are told that we must focus on the niche market, becoming like the sub-culture in order to reach the sub-culture. If we are going to reach football fans, we ought to learn about football; and if we are going to win drunkards to Christ, we need to plant churches in local bars.
At every turn, we are advised that we need to accommodate the society around us—as if the key to reaching the culture is to become exactly like the culture (or sub-culture). Though speaking to a different issue, the words of Francis Schaeffer still ring true:
Evangelicalism has developed the automatic mentality of accommodation at each successive point. Evangelicalism has done many things for which we should be thankful. But the mentality of accommodation is indeed a disaster.
The primary passage used to justify this approach of cultural-accommodation is 1 Corinthians 9:19–23, where the the Apostle Paul explains that he was willing to make whatever sacrifices were needed to reach different types of people with the gospel. Thus he writes,
For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.
These verses are sometimes used to justify the idea that, in order to reach the world, we need to use worldly tactics. But that is actually the very opposite of Paul’s point. The apostle is not teaching that the end justifies the means, as though fleshly methods (or the flaunting of Christian liberties) should ever be used to create common ground with unbelievers.
Rather, in the broader context, his point is that he restricted the use of his Christian liberties, if such was necessary, in order to reach those whose consciences were more strict (and therefore weaker) than his own.
As one commentator observes, Paul “refused to allow his own freedoms to prevent others from following the ways of Christ” (Richard L. Pratt, 151). In so doing, “he avoids becoming antinomian and is careful not to transgress God’s timeless moral principles” (Craig Blomberg, 184).
From both the context of this passage and the apostle’s other teaching, it is unmistakably clear that Paul would never sanction the use of carnal conduct (1 Thess. 4:3–7), imagery (Phil. 4:8), humor (Eph. 5:3–5), or speech (Titus 2:6–8; Col. 3:8) to build bridges to the lost. Along with the other New Testament authors (James 1:27; 4:4; 2 Pet. 1:4; 2:20; 1 John 2:15–17), Paul consistently exhorted his hearers not to embrace the corruption of the culture, but rather to distance themselves from it (e.g. Rom. 8:13; 1 Cor. 6:9, 18; Gal. 5:19–20; Col. 3:5; 2 Tim. 2:22; Titus 2:12).
It is important to remember that the same man who wrote, “I have become all things to all men” also wrote (to the same church), “Come out from among them and be separate.” What a timely reminder that is for those who think that the way to reach the world is to become like the world.
The principle of separation from the world is clearly taught throughout the New Testament. Here are just a few verses of the many that could be listed.
Romans 12:2 – Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
Colossians 3:5–8 – Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.
1 Thessalonians 4:3, 7 – For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality . . . For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification.
Ephesians 5:3–4 – But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.
Titus 2:6–8 – Likewise urge the young men to be sensible; in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us.
Titus 2:11–12 – For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.
James 1:27 – Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
James 4:4 – You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
1 Peter 1:14–16 – As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
1 John 2:15–17 – Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.
As these passages evidence, an emphasis on personal holiness and moral separateness in the midst of secular culture is not legalistic. It’s biblical.
Over and over again the New Testament calls Christians to stand out as lights to the world. We don’t reach the darkness by becoming like the darkness; we reach the darkness by shining brighter and brighter in contrast to the darkness of the sinful world around us.”
Let not Sola Cultura reign.