There is a lot of talk today about cultural transformation. This has led to discussions about whether such a thing is part of the mission of the church. Is it a church’s job to transform culture?
Well, it depends on what you mean by that phrase, which is why it is necessary to define exactly what we mean by “culture” and “transform.”
I have argued before (and I argue in my forthcoming book) that culture falls under the broad category of human behavior. We wouldn’t necessarily consider all human behavior “culture” since culture relates specifically to collective behavior, but all culture is human behavior. It is essential to recognize this as we ask the question whether the church should be in the business of transforming culture.
Next, we must ask what the church’s mission is. Very simply, the church’s mission is whatever the sender–Christ–commanded it to do. Just as the Father sent the Son on a mission, and therefore the Son was responsible to obey those commands the Father gave him, so the Son has sent his church on a mission, and the church must obey what commands he has given it (Jn 17:18; 20:23).
Christ gave many commands in Scripture. Some of them are directed to individual Christians, such as “husbands love your wives.” It is important in this discussion to recognize that not all the commands in Scripture are for the church as a gathered body; some of them are for individuals.
But Christ did give the gathered church its unique mission in Matthew 28:16-20–he told the apostles, as representatives and founders of his church, to make disciples. That is the mission of the church. He also told them how to accomplish this mission: preach the gospel (Mark 16:15), baptize new believers, and teach them to observe everything he commanded.
Notice that this final means of discipleship specifically involves the behavior of Christians. A disciple of Jesus Christ is one whose behavior is characterized as observing Christ’s commands.
When a church makes disciples, a transformation of behavior occurs. A Christian’s behavior is transformed from being characterized by selfishness and sin into Christ-likeness (2 Cor 3:18).
So if we recognize that a church’s mission is to make disciples, and if we define culture as behavior, then yes, cultural transformation is part of a church’s mission.