One of the more pressing questions facing the Church in each generation is,
“What is the church’s relationship to the culture?”
The reason this question carries such force is because the answer dictates how we, the Church, go about fulfilling our cultural mandate.
“Cultural Mandate?” you ask.
Genesis 2:15 says,
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and to take care of it” (NIV).
A similar idea is communicated in Genesis 1:26-28. Essentially, these passages record God’s intention for mankind to perform the functional role of God, in all creation. That is, mankind is to safeguard, preserve, protect, and rule over creation. Basically, mankind was created to reflect God in all creation, to be the tangible, visible image of the invisible God. That was Adam and Eve’s commission, their job description.
But, like everything else in our world, that proper relationship between mankind and culture has become corrupted through the Fall. If we take seriously this concept of the cultural mandate, then it raises important questions:
Should the Church imitate culture in an attempt to be relevant to a lost world? If yes, then how do you transform that which you imitate?
Or should the Church set itself apart from the surrounding culture in an attempt to be distinct? If so, then how do you fulfill the Great Commission?
Or should the Church seek appropriate cultural engagement? If so, by what means? Political action? Forced compliance to external moral codes? Renewed evangelistic efforts?
So you see, how we answer this question is just as important as the mandate itself!
I see three basic options for the Church. The terms below summarize what in reality is a spectrum of varying degrees.
- Assimilation – the church assimilates into surrounding culture.
- Engagement – the church engages the surrounding culture.
- Separation – the church separates from the surrounding culture.
To illustrate, let’s consider the education of our children. Some Christians choose to send their children directly to public schools. This lends itself more or less towards the assimilation end of the spectrum. Other parents concerned over the state of our public education system opt for private or home schooling. This lends itself more towards the separation end of the spectrum. The point is that no matter how parents decide, the larger issue here is how Christians, and subsequently the Church, will relate themselves to their immediate culture.
I could go ahead and offer my opinion on which option holds the most promise for the Church. But I’m going to resist the temptation. Instead, I want to hear from you. What do you think?
Take a moment and answer the quick poll question at the top of this post. Stay tuned. I’ll share my perspective in a series of future posts!
Genesis 1:26-28 (NIV)26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness,so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky,over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground. ” Back up top