Christ and Culture Part 1
The conflict between Christ and culture is not new and neither is it rare. It is a daily occurrence as boundaries are blurred and culture develops. Christians have been viewed more often than not as subversive because of a belief that they are destined for more than just a human destiny. Many times they have paid a high price for it and continue to do so, from early Christian martyrs of Rome to those who refuse to bend their beliefs to desires of a communist state. In many nations of modern world underground church is still being persecuted.
Such cases are disturbing but expected. In many nations there are overt and covert attempts to silence religion, that is out of favour, from being expressed in public institutions. Religious views are being marginalised and reduced to impotent fairy tales better suited to children's bedrooms before a good night kiss, or perhaps some trivial, private and quiet hobby like stamp collecting. Religion is seen as an activity not befitting an intelligent public-spirited adult. Religion is seen as a past-time not a lifestyle. The issue is very much current as well as historical. To tackle question of Christ and culture we should clearly define Christ and culture.
Christ as Son of God points us away from many values man tends to prioritise and to one God who is truly good. Yet at same time, Jesus is a mediator between God and man, in Jesus we see God's love for man as well as man's love for God. Christ in us is a joining of two. This duality in Christ leads us to a corresponding duality of expression of Christ in us.
Our faith has both a vertical dimension (directed to God Father through Christ in us) and a horizontal dimension (directed through Christ in us to our neighbour). Any adequate address of Christ and culture needs to emphasise both that we are seated with Christ in heavenly places, above and beyond world and hate world, in that we find no cause for identity in it, and at same time God in fact gave His life for world as a result of His love for mankind, and enjoins us to do same.
We hate sin but love sinner. Culture comprises of language, habits, ideas, beliefs, customs, social organisation, inherited artefacts, technical processes, and values.
So what happens when Christ and culture collide? How are we to deal with Christ and culture in daily life. Here are a few ideas of how Christians have often dealt with this issue.
1. Christ is against culture The most radical answer is that Christ is against culture. God is sole authority for Christian, presenting Christ and culture as an either/or choice. If we follow Christ we must reject any loyalty to culture.
Do not love world or anything in world. If anyone loves world, love of Father is not in him (1 John 2:15).
Some would argue that prince of this world is Satan therefore to choose culture is to choose loyalty to devil.
All state obligations are against conscience of a Christian - oath of allegiance, taxes, law proceedings and military service. Christians in this view are encouraged to separate themselves from culture, either individually as Tolstoy did, or corporately as Mennonites have done, as a monastic community.
The integrity of those adhering to this option is shown firstly, in their willingness to suffer martyrdom in some cases under evil governments, and secondly, in social reforms they provoke.
The problem with this option is that it is impossible to separate oneself from culture as it permeates our thinking and language, in fact it is as much around us as it is in our heads. Though it may be possible to keep some evil aspects of culture out of our communities by separatism, we cannot rid ourselves of our own predisposition to sin.
If Amish live apart from state institutions or from mainstream technology and consumerism, all they succeed in doing is creating sub-cultures that while they may be counterculture, never attain to acultural status. The fact that a monastic lifestyle often required many rules and forms of discipline is proof enough of inherent tendency of man to fall into old patterns of sin. Because of this, separatist groups tend to adhere to grades of holiness that can only be maintained through works. Claiming that monastic life lead to greater holiness is why Luther said that it was not only unnecessary but, if it was chosen for this reason, it would become an institution of devil!
Separatism also only emphasises Christ's role in drawing us away from culture (the vertical dimension) but ignores God's role in our continued relationship with culture (the horizontal dimension). If Tolstoy was right, a Christian should pay no taxes, something that Jesus Christ said we should do. Jesus also tells us to love our neighbours, who are for most, part found in mainstream culture where practical works of love have to be culturally relevant to people who need God's love to understand it as such.
Christ even seems to reject separatism in parable of Good Samaritan. The Samaritan crossed cultural norms to help whereas priest and Levite for sake of holiness kept themselves apart from him. The Samaritan is held up as our moral guide in story.