I’ve recently been having a conversation with a friend of mine who is trying to come to grips with what it means to follow the command in 1 John 2:15, “Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you.” (NLT) There are other similar passages throughout the New Testament. We have been talking about how to really apply this admonition and still live and operate in the culture in which we live. I have a feeling this will take me several posts to talk about, so I’m going to start out with some observations I’ve made. I’ve seen several different attitudes that Christians have on this topic. Here are the different applications I’ve observed:
Separatists- they generally believe that culture is bad and should be avoided when at all possible. People who follow this mindset typically create their own subculture that rarely interacts with the secular world. They believe that to stay pure, they must remove themselves from the negative influences of culture as much as possible. I know this will step on some toes, but this is where Christian schools were born. I realize that many Christian schools don’t have this attitude today, but the original intent for many of them was to take children in Christian families out of culture so that they could be educated in an environment that was free form the negative influences of the world. I’m not saying this is all bad, I’m just pointing out that a separatist mentality definitely led to the Christian school boom. I’ve also observed different levels of separatism in Christians. Some are very extreme and impose very strict rules; others are more lenient. But the attitude is generally the same when it comes to secular culture: culture is something that can corrupt Christians and their answer is to limit our interaction with it.
I don’t have a label for this second group, but I have observed in some Christians an attitude of wholeheartedly embracing culture. This group does not see culture as the enemy but as a neutral thing. It is not something that should be avoided; it just is what it is. It’s just the reality in which we live. There is no attempt to impact or change it but to live a peaceful life within it. They believe that cultures around the world are just a product of their history and Christians should just embrace the culture in which they live and seek to honor God with their life in it. Again, I’ve observed varying levels of this attitude, but the common denominator is embracing culture rather than running from it.
The third attitude I’ve observed and the one I try to have is that of changing culture. As I have looked back on my life, I have at times been a separatist and at times been a culture embracer. However, the attitude that I believe Scripture tells us to have is that Christians are here to impact culture. We shouldn’t run from it and we shouldn’t be happy with the way it is. We are called to bring God’s “kingdom to earth as it is in heaven.” I am very optimistic about what the church can do in this world. I believe the church is the hope of the world.
Now, there are definitely different ways that Christians seek to impact culture. Some try to do it through politics. They believe that if they can get the right people elected or lobby hard enough that the world will be affected for Christ. I haven’t seen this strategy be very effective at all.
Some Christians believe that getting involved in issues of social justice is the way to impact culture. They believe that Christians should be leading the way in helping the poor and fighting against injustice. I am very supportive of this idea. I see a lot of this in Jesus’ earthly ministry. There is a renewed effort among Christians to make this happen, and I am grateful for it. I believe that this can impact culture in a big way.
At Athens Church, we encourage our people to be involved in these efforts personally as much as possible. Organizationally, though, we have decided to try to impact culture in a different way. We encourage our people to invest relationally in their friends who are not actively following Christ and then invite them to one of our services. Our hope is that our people can personally impact people that God has placed in their life. Our goal is partner with people in impacting the world in which God has placed them. Is this the only way to impact culture? Of course not. Other Christians are choosing different ways to do it. Hopefully, though, Christians around the world will continue to believe more and more that the church is the hope of the world- that we really can change culture and bring God’s kingdom to earth.
On the next post, I will talk about how I believe people’s views about the end of the world (specifically their interpretation of Revelation) can affect their attitude toward culture.