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What should the Church’s relationship to culture be?

This is a good summary of the important debate going on today about what the Church’s relationship to culture must be. Here’s a snippet:

At the end of the day the debate about transformation is not between those who want Christians to be effective witnesses to the Gospel in every situation and those who want a privatized religion. Such a perspective is gross oversimplification. The real debate is between those who strongly support the development of genuine Christian vocation but who want to preserve the Church from becoming a mere means to an end and those who see the Church as a way to make this world “a better place for us all.” For that is what cultural transformation theology taken to its logical conclusion does; it ends up viewing the Church as a tool for doing something rather than as an inherently valuable thing in itself- a divinely ordained institution, the ark of salvation and an outpost of the Kingdom of God in earth to which men may flee for refuge.

It is a shame that so many words are being thrown around in what is essentially a great moment of faithful men talking-past one another. I have no doubt that Drs Wallover and Evans are right that God uses people to accomplish great things. I’m sure Dr Trueman would agree. The issue at hand is not whether God uses people or even whether individuals are called to express their Christianity publicly. It is whether this is the call of the institutional Church. More work needs to be done in this area for the stakes are great. In churches where the language and theology of cultural transformation have come to the fore, the result has been a downplaying of Christian vocation and the enlargement of church bureaucracy with the consequent watering-down of doctrine necessary for the institution to engage on friendly terms with secular power structures.

That such consequences are inevitable can be proved by an appeal to any of the denominations influenced by the old social gospel, of which transformationalism is merely a new manifestation. We must be wary for as Dr Schweitzer reminds us, “Preaching the cross is laughable and offensive to the world whereas social action is respectable and attractive. If both these activities are equally understood to constitute obedience to the Great Commission, which of the two is likely to flourish, and which is likely to atrophy? Moreover, even if the church somehow maintains a perfect balance between the two, that still means that her missions resources are being divided between that which the church alone can do (preach the gospel for the salvation of eternal souls) and that which the secular government and false religions can do (social action).”

Our obedience to God’s call as Christians living out our vocation before God in the world may be used mightily. It may seem to make no impact. Nevertheless faithfulness is the call. But never must we make the Church’s call into a mirror of our own. As a divinely ordained institution, the Church has a limited mandate. If she is to be all that she should, we must let God’s word determine her agenda. Just as we trust that God will use us to accomplish our end, we must trust and pray that He will use His Church to accomplish hers- in God’s way, in God’s time.

Read the whole thing.

Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

One Response to What should the Church’s relationship to culture be?

  1. Thanks for posting this; it confirms the audios you put in a separate post. My question is, was Hudson Taylor wrong going to China as a doctor, doing medical work? Or is it just a question of priorities? He certainly was an individual but he also worked for a church-supported missions society. George Müller can probably be classified as a Christian individual without question. Taylor is a little different…

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