Vol 12 No. 41 Christ and Culture

Dear friends,

Is culture part of our calling and incarnational, or does it present a crisis for the church?  Response to the above title is both John 3:16 and 3:17:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him”.

God loved the world.  He declared quite clearly after each day of Creation that what he had made was good.  In his many covenants he showed his grace, patience, forbearance, and mercy, and in the new covenant with the Lord Jesus Christ made relationship available to all who call upon his name.

The church of Christ has gone through 3 ongoing cycles of relationship to the culture in which it found itself: initial persecution, civil recognition (and often civil power), or in an open and prophetic stance, waiting upon God and seeking his will.  If we become too much like the culture we are harmed by it; taking on its values and living outside a faithful relationship with God.  If we separate ourselves from the culture, judging it and seeing ourselves as better, then we deny Christ’s own response to the culture and reject his call upon our lives.  It is a challenging tension and balance to walk but a balance and a tension nonetheless.

Someone I know lives near the Arctic circle much of the year.  Not too long ago after the winter darkness they were out with friends and saw the first slim rays of the spring sun signaling the end of winter darkness.  Oblivious to the cold and joyous to see the sun they took off their thick mitts and stretched out open palms, naked skin, to greet that sliver of sunshine.  Several days later they found themselves in Thailand as part of their winter holiday only to discover that those self-same exposed hands at the edge of the northern winter were frostbitten.  The lesson in the story can be stretched too far but the apparent promise of the culture is not necessarily the promise of the new day, of sunrise and warmth.  It can often be a place that can harm where the promise turns to pain.  We as Christians still need to remember that if we live incarnationally we can never be isolationists.

Let us approach it another way in the words of Anna Robbins, Associate Professor of Theology, Culture, and Ethics at Acadia University, and one of our speakers at this year’s Banff Pastors and Spouses Conference.  This is from her article entitled “Hiding in Plain Sight” which I think is brilliant:

Sometimes, when I play hide and seek with my son, instead of hiding in a closet or under the bed, I stand out in the open, fully visible, alongside a curtain or near a door. Not expecting to see me there, he walks past and continues looking elsewhere. Hiding in plain sight.

Sometimes people don’t see the church in Canada because it is dressed in cultural camouflage. Indistinguishable from the world of which we are part, perhaps we have lost the distinctiveness of the gospel that makes us visible in our contemporary culture. We are supposed to be active participants, not idle bystanders. Immersed in our own distractions, work, and entertainments, we don’t notice people going by, and they don’t notice us. The church hides in plain sight.

In the city of Kiev, Ukraine, is the museum of microminiatures. Things so small they are nearly invisible to the naked eye become mesmerizing when explored through microscopes. What looks like a tiny yellow thread emerges in fine detail as a crystal flower with golden stem and leaves. The sensation of wonder increases with a chess set on the head of a pin, a nest of birds in a poppy seed, a red rose set in a hollowed-out human hair.

Sometimes people overlook the church in Canada because they think it is small and insignificant. It’s just an unfortunate speck on the canvas of history. Simply a lint on the cloak of the mind, to be brushed away when it becomes annoying. But our lives as Christians are microscopes to the seeds of the gospel. We beckon others to draw near, to capture a glimpse of a majestic seed of promise in their own hearts. What they have missed as insignificant, small, or irrelevant, fills their vision and imagination that makes the impossible real – more real than their own breath.

In the spark of creative imagination and the possibility of new life, the seemingly insignificant fills the frame. In a flash of wonder, hope is kindled. Nothing more meaningful can be encountered than the tiny gospel seed that gives birth to a mission, and moves a church out of cultural hiding, and into plain sight.

A fuller version of this article is available at annarobbins.org.


In Christ,

Jeremy Bell