We are examining the question, “How should the church relate to culture?” by looking at Jesus. (The conversation starts here.)
To begin we need to start at the beginning. The Gospel of Johns says…
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…And the Word sent out a signal calling all men to Himself. And some received the signal and came to Him. And when they arrived they were pleasantly surprised to find out that the Word looked like their long-lost father. When the people asked, “Why do you look like my dad?” the Word replied, “To make you more comfortable your first time meeting me. I wanted to create a place where you would feel at ease.”
I’m sorry. I got confused. That’s the movie Contact with Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey.
Okay…seriously now…John 1:1, 4, and 14
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…
In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men…
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we was His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Faced with the task of reaching this mixed up mess of multiple cultures all jammed into the same space what did Jesus do? He wrapped himself in flesh and came to live with us. He joined us where we are. He became part of our culture. He met us on our turf.
Paul gives us a beautiful picture of how this played out in his life. 1st Corinthians 9:19-23
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 as 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 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.
When Paul was sharing Jesus’ love within the Jewish culture he took on their culture. He dressed like them. He ate like them. He went to synagogue with them. He lived amongst them.
When Paul was sharing Jesus’ love within the Greek culture he took on their culture. He dressed as they do. He ate what they ate. He participated in their activities. He lived amongst them.
Why? Why would Jesus come to us as one of us? Why would Paul change his habits, language, traditions, and customs according to match the people He was sharing with?
One might think this was a deceptive act; that Paul and Jesus were trying to trick us in some way. But that’s not the case. Their behavior would only be deceptive if Jesus and Paul did not fully become the culture and were in some way secretive about their motivations. Jesus became human and joined our culture out of love. It was not an act of deception. He was the “light of life.” He carried a message of love we desperately needed to hear. He joined our culture because it was the only way to bring us the incredible gift of grace. Paul was the same. Paul didn’t become a Jew because he was tricking the Jews into believing in Jesus. He became a Jew because he loved the Jewish people. He wanted to fully embrace them and bring them the radical Jesus message in a way they would understand.
Also, let’s be clear. Jesus didn’t ask us to come to Him. Paul didn’t ask the Jews to come to a church service. Jesus came to us. Paul brought the message of the Gospel to the Greeks and the Jews. The love of God was not carried in a sermon or a song. It was conveyed through the intimacy of personal relationships, through worn hands that wash feet, through laughter, through shared meals, through life. The Gospel is transmitted not through our rituals and rules. It comes through our life.
To often we behave as if once we got saved we left culture and now we have to return to it in some way. It’s just not true. If we are imitating Jesus we should be always bringing the gospel with us into our tribes. This is the beauty of Jesus’ love. It can be transmitted into any culture. It will look differently in each relationship, in each conversation, in each act of service, but it is the same love.
Culture is not a place we left when we joined Christ that we now have to speak to from afar or sail back to on the ship Tricky-Tricky-Disingenuousness. Culture is where we live. It is part of who we are. And because we love the people we live with we invite them to fall in love with Jesus as we have.
Sounds simple right? Well…it gets more complicated. To be continued.