The Cultural Christian (Casual Christian Part 3)

Jennifer Hua identifies herself as a Christian. A 35-year-old former attorney studying Christian counseling at the Wheaton College Graduate School, she has gone to church all her life and is a lay leader in her suburban Chicago congregation. She furthers her spiritual development by daily Bible reading, prayer, listening to and singing worship songs, and interacting with other Christians. And every few months, she carves out time for a silent retreat.  She says, “I do all of these things because I know from past experience I need to recalibrate my mind and my heart to be in tune with God.”

James Smith also identifies himself as a Christian. He attended church as a child, but his attendance was minimal as a young adult. He believes in God, he occasionally attends church (Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan) when his time-consuming job in the finance district allows, but he doesn’t participate very often in other activities to further his spiritual life. He has a Bible but he rarely opens it and what leisure time he has he spends with friends, most of whom are of different faiths, and he doesn’t necessarily believe that his God is any different from the one his Muslim friend worships.  He says, “I don’t think that God would be a God who would shut others out of heaven because they don’t use the word ‘Christian’ to describe themselves.”

The United States is described in the mainstream media as largely Christian (between 70 and 80 percent, identify themselves as “Christian”) and compared to the rest of the world, this is certainly the case, but, not everyone within this vast group of Christians are alike.

To understand the range and differences among American Christians, Christianity Today International partnered with Zondervan Publishers to have Knowledge Networks conduct attitudinal and behavioral research of U.S. Christians. In September 2006, more than 1,000 self-identified Christians 18 years of age and older were surveyed on their religious beliefs and practices. The results reveal a number of significant differences, illustrated by the examples of Jennifer and James. In fact, portraits of five distinct segments emerged from the study. They are called . . .

  • Active Christians,
  • Professing Christians,
  • Liturgical Christians,
  • Private Christians, and
  • Cultural Christians.

Each group represents about one-fifth of those identifying themselves as Christian, with Active Christians (such as Miss Hua) most likely to have a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that affects their beliefs and inspires an active church life.  Cultural Christians (such as Mr. Smith) are least likely to align their beliefs or practices with biblical teachings, or even attend church. And between the two is a range of beliefs, different commitment levels, and varying public practice of the faith.

Simply put, there are those who let the culture determine what Christian values are.  Those people are in the world and they are of the world.  Are they participating in sin?  Maybe; maybe not!  But, their values are guided by what is popular, or what is politically correct, or what is considered valid at the time, or by what makes them feel good.

Romans 12:2

1)    The “Cultural Christian” is one who is conformed to the world.

There are four key words in this verse.  Look at them.

  1. Conformed
  2. The World or the Age
  3. Transformed
  4. Renewing

Conform means “to make like.”  When I pour Jell-o into a Jell-o mold and it forms to the shape of the mold, it is conforming.  When I wear a hat, I get a hat hair.  My hair conforms to the shape of the hat.  In this world and the age I live in, I make myself just like it and I have conformed myself to it.

  • My values will be guided by the thinking of the age I live in (which is constantly changing)
  • My purpose and goals will be formed according to the way of thinking I follow
  • My thoughts and actions will be determined by conforming to the modern age

I may get my way of thinking from CNN or MSN, or the NY Times, or from Oprah or Montel, and the movies, or friends, or books, or the Internet, or any number of sources that are worldly and conformed to the world themselves.

The World/the age in which you live, the popular or current values of the rest of the world press every person to conform to the values that the world holds.

  • The past 40-50 years the world’s values have been about tolerance, self-reliance, humanism, evolutionary thinking, and political correctness.
  • The world is trying to force its values on us through media, through legislations, and through education and at every level, especially higher education.

I used to be on the board of a Campus Christian Fellowship at Truman State University.  The campus minister, Joe Belzer informed us one time that the prevailing philosophies and teachings in the universities, within ten years become the mainstream beliefs and practices in America

I have noticed a broader application to the principle Joe shared with us 15 years ago.  It really begins in the universities on the east and west coasts where America is more liberal politically and religiously.  That becomes mainstream in public life in about ten years time.  The universities in middle America grasp the teachings and philosophies in the following years and that becomes mainstream in the middle America about ten years later, so we see what is happening in universities on the coasts and 15-25 years later, it is a part of the life patterns of America.

Conforming to the ways of the world is how that looks.

But the apostle Paul indicates we are to not to conform to the world, don’t conform to this age.

This is where being transformed comes in. Transformation is changing from one thing to another.  The actor on the stage transforms as they change costumes for each part they play.  Mixing cake ingredients like flour, eggs, milk, chocolate and whatever other ingredients are required together and then when it is baked it transforms and becomes a cake.  The caterpillar balls up into a cocoon and eventually becomes a butterfly.

We are to change away from the ways of the world; the values that guide people away from God, the worldly philosophies and worldly religions and worldly values.  We are to be renewed in our mind, transformed, changed from what we were which was worldly, sinful, and far away from God.

Jesus reminds us that we do not belong to the world.  We belong to God and the things of the world, the ways of the world are not our ways; they are not to be a part of our lives.

@John 15:19

And John warns us not to love the world or the things of the world.  If we do God’s love doesn’t live in us.

@1 John 2:15

The Bible warns us, Christian leaders warn us.  They even teach this to us.

Biblical Christianity versus Cultural Christianity

Biblical Christianity means being joined to Jesus Christ through faith in what he did for us at the cross then allowing him to live through us so that others might know him and see his love.

 Cultural Christianity follows the changes from culture to culture.  They imagine their god fits their new cultural wants and values.

Some of the differences between Biblical faith and today’s cultural deviations. Follow the link to this chart prepared by Dennis Monroe for a comparison of Biblical and Cultural Christianity: http://www.crossroad.to/charts/cultural-Christianity.html

Cultural Christianity is why the church has had little impact on our society.

2)    We should think in terms of Biblical Christians and Cultural Christians should be Transformed

Biblical Christians are those who seek to live by believing, obeying, understanding and applying Biblical teachings and principles, with God’s Spirit in our lives.

Cultural Christians are defeated, they’ve given up and they’ve been drawn into the secular mold and live a form of counterfeit Christianity.  Their Christianity is a matter of convenience rather than of conscience or obedience.

Which world-view is yours?  Is it guided by the Bible?  Many cultural Christians think they are guided by the Bible but if they accurately study and apply scripture, they’ll find they have a form of Christianity without the reality of Christianity.

Therefore transformation begins with a total and accurate Biblical viewpoint and obedience to the God’s word and this is much more than simply asking “What Would Jesus Do?”

  • Do you have a point of view about something?  Examine the scripture to see where it stands in relation to God’s point of view.
  • If you are honest about it, humble toward God, and obedient to Christ, when your view differs with God’s, even if it is close but not quite right, then you will accept God’s view and change your heart, your mind, and your actions to match it.

A second means by which transformation takes place is that we become spiritual people, true spiritual people and that means that we have the mind of Christ.  @1 Corinthians 2:15-16

  • We all have the Word of God
  • Christians have the Spirit of God
  • But do we have the mind of Christ?

There was a book published about 20 years ago in tribute to Seth Wilson, long-time professor at Ozark Christian College (Joplin, MO) who died last year.  It was called “The Mind of Christ.”  His focus was having the mind of Christ.  That is why he spent hours every day pouring over the Bible, studying, learning and investing years teaching the Bible to willing minds who were seeking to serve God as ministers and missionaries and servants in the church.

The mind of Christ comes from the Spirit of God who makes it possible for us to understand spiritual things.  The worldly mind cannot understand spiritual things.  The world can’t even accept the things of Christ.

The mind of Christ as Paul applies it here in Corinthians has to do with correcting the sin and division in the church.  Because they were mixing the ways of the world with their faith in Christ!  It sounds like a lot of the modern church.  Living by means of the world, but belieiving and claiming to be Christian.

I want to use the term “the mind of Christ” to make us think about who Christ was on earth and what his focus was on.

  • Pleasing God, obeying God, honoring God
  • Drawing people to God for salvation
  • He did this in a number of ways: Preaching, teaching, caring, helping, obeying God’s commands, staying true to God’s word.

The Cultural Christian varies from the mind of Christ.  They have accepted Christ.  They are professing to be Christian.  But their values differ from the churches values, from what the Bible says.  It could be:

  • Church attendance is an optional thing
  • Or that we should tolerate other religions as if they were true or equal to Christianity
  • Or the homosexuality is ok with God
  • Sex is ok in any situation
  • Or any number of Biblical things that have been interpreted through the lens of worldliness or even rejected because it is different than the world.

We need to continue to be transformed by letting God’s Spirit renew our minds through our faith in God and our reliance upon the Bible, developing the mind of Christ and become Biblical Christians.

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Have We Gotten Evangelism Wrong?

Read and consider this article from Relevant Magazine’s online presence.

http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/deeper-walk/features/25194-have-christians-gotten-evangelism-wrong

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Salvation for Everyone

There is less than a 10% chance that a person will ever accept Jesus Christ and be saved after they become an adult.  As people get older their outlook becomes more entrenched in the worldly, away from God, without Christ.  It is very important to reach people before they become a teenager, to reach them with the Biblical worldview so that they have the seed planted which can grow into belief and acceptance and salvation.  Churches and ministries have realized this and concentrated on young people and they should.  But what of those who have become adults that have not accepted Christ?  What of the younger generations of adults?  What about my generation, the Baby Boomers?  What about yours?  Have we admitted defeat when there is victory to be won?  Have we concentrated on the obvious to the exclusion of the difficult?  The Gospel message and the salvation of Jesus Christ is for everyone, not just the most likely ones.

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Every Person

I remember one of the biggest forms of evangelism in America was when we handed out tracts. I’m not sure why we thought that was so good and I’m sure it helped lead some people to Christ, but I was always uncomfortable with them. They seemed to be more about scaring people out of hell than inviting them into heaven.

But some missionaries in Taiwan are taking an approach that has some similarity to the old evangelism tracts with a major and in my opinion positive change. It is scripture, not a story or a discourse on spiritual laws, but just the scripture that helps the people who are overwhelmed by the large amount of scripture of the Bible. They don’t know where to go or where to begin. They don’t know how to make head nor heals of it, but the method that New Tribes Mission has employed seems to be effective in Asian cultures.

Take time to click the link and read the article.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/may/32.45.html?start=1

This is more than the tract-like publications New Tribes developed. This is about cultural evangelism – reaching people where they are at.

One of the New Tribes training centers is close to where I live in Camdenton, Missouri. We have several New Tribers (as we affectionately call them) attend our congregation.

http://www.ntm.org/

What might we learn for our culture from this method?  That might be a question we should investigate.

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Let’s Take on Faith, Reason, and Nonsense

These discussions are hard, not because they’re rational but because they’re emotional.  It’s hard not to let hurt, disgust, anger, fear, and a number of other possible emotions get involved in the discussion.  It injures me deep in my soul when people attack what I have found and believe to be true.  They feel the same when I say Jesus is the only way.

Well, let’s go back in time 35 or 40 years.  I grew up in central Indiana, in a conservative environment.   A mostly working class community with about 60,000 people, several GM plants, a steel mill, a Dodge transmission factory and the like.   Two large high schools with 1500-2000 students each and a hand full of county high schools of a few hundred each.

I was born into a family of believers.  My parents were part of a church whose fellowship primarily was with  Restoration Churches (http://www.therestorationmovement.com/ and http://www.gotquestions.org/Restoration-movement.html, should help explain the movement).  We were taught the Bible, not a form of theology and doctrine, just what the Bible presents as a whole, you know, Biblio-theology.

I attended Ozark Bible College (now Ozark Christian College, http://www.occ.edu/) a conservative Bible-believing and teaching college and have read and studied over the years what I first believed beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Jesus is the only way to God, salvation, and heaven.  I learned it from those I respected and they shared it with me from the Bible and through reason.  People like Paul Jordan, PT Butler, Knofel Staten, Harvey Bacus, Don Dewelt, Seth Wilson, Wilbur Fields and more and they referred to many apologists such as CS Lewis in Mere Christianity, Josh McDowell with Evidence that Demands a Verdict, and others documenting facts and truth about Jesus.

So . . . for me, it’s pretty simple, Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, my Lord and God (I thank Peter, Mark 8:29 and Thomas, John 20:28 for faithfully confessing these truths for me to learn, believe and confess).  Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but through me” John 14:6 & 9 (cf., Acts 4:12 & 1 Timothy 2:5).  In doing so, I also believe that there is only one way to God and salvation and that is through Jesus.

The problem now lies not in whether I believe it or not, I do, the problem lies in that many don’t or they don’t like that God chose to be so exclusive about access to him.  And when we begin discussing these things, though reason may be present, often emotions are stronger than reason and people go all bongo about what they feel.

Let us look at the identity of Jesus Christ, of who God is and what they have said taking into consideration the claims of many other religions because as one theologian I recently heard on the video The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel (bought it at Wal-Mart for $7.50 last week), all religions could be wrong, but not all of them can be right.

I had (maybe I still do) a lesson book for teens called Don’t Check Your Brains at the Door, let me borrow from and alter the title for use here.  We will use our brains because Christianity is a thinking religion that is filled with faith, hope, and feeling, but as we find the way to salvation, let’s Check Our Emotions at the Door.

What is right and what is true?  Let’s find that out and then put our heart and soul into it.

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PS: Check Lee Strobel’s books The Case for Faith and the The Case for Christ for detailed information about this.

Where to Draw the Line

Recently I read the book, The Future of Faith by author and Harvard theologian Harvey Cox (http://browseinside.harpercollins.com/index.aspx?isbn13=9780061755521).  I am curious for the sake of the kingdom of God what the future of faith is.  I mean, as a Christian, as I grow as a disciple of Jesus Christ, I am reaching out to the lost souls of this world and I should be as Jesus said, shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.  You know, understanding and working within the mindset of the people I share Jesus with while be holy and undefiled like Jesus.

Mr. Cox makes some very interesting observations and as well as some disturbing interpretations of the future.

Click on this link to read a PBS interview of Mr. Cox about the  book;http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/episodes/september-25-2009/harvey-cox-extended-interview/4342/.

I have to admit, what he believes about the Bible and truth was somewhat unexpected.  For instance, he claims more than once that the creation account in Genesis is a creation myth as well as many other accounts in the Bible.

He believes that we are moving away from dogmatism into a time of faith, in an era he is calling the age of the Spirit.  There is a shift away from dogmatism and creeds.  Denominationalism is fairly dead.

It appears that the idea is a move away from the full understanding and teaching of scripture and a complete reliance on faith and the Spirit, regardless of truth and Biblical teaching.

One thing this denies is the connection of the Spirit and the Word.  They work hand-in-hand.  I will have faith.  I will be practical.  I will be Biblical.  But I will not give up the clear teaching that the Holy Spirit has given us, the Bible.

The answer, if this is the trend for the next couple of decades is what has been termed “Biblical-Theology.”  Let the Bible be the doctrine and creed, not this man-made crap such as Calvinism, Catholicism, Arminianism, etc.

Let the Bible be the Bible and the rule and guide of our faith, just like the concepts the Restoration Movement has touted for a couple  of centuries

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Significance and Evangelism

The past 50 years has seen a major paradigm change in American.  Used to be, we were satisfied with settling down to life as it existed.  It may be college, or a factory or service job.  Most of us got married and had kids, bought a house, and lived life enjoying the stability.

The paradigm change has been that people search to find meaning in their life instead of letting meaning rest in them.  They want to make a difference.  I encountered this with a young man who was going to graduate from high school last year and he was worried that his life would be nothing more than “I think therefore I am.”  My body functions, my mind has thoughts, and I live with my desires and the environment I am in, but does it make a difference.  A sad thought if that’s all life is.

Recently, Relevant Magazine presented an article about how the search for significance can also have a negative side (http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/deeper-walk/features/20665-trapped-by-the-search-for-significance).  It is worth reading.

People want their lives to be more than just existing.  As the Relevant article begins, “I have an insatiable need to feel extraordinary….”  That’s where we’re at in our culture.  I want to make a mark and be remembered for something significant and feel that I have done something significant.

We are significant to God and our lives no matter how extraordinary we feel, are just that, extraordinary.  I get a sense of satisfaction when I impact someone’s life positively.  I work with teens who have attachment disorders (For a definition and description click on this link; http://www.helpguide.org/mental/parenting_bonding_reactive_attachment_disorder.htm).  My main role with them involves as many as three elements; leading spiritual time and dealing with spiritual issues, being an encourager, and at times counselling from a Biblical perspective.  I see change in some the students and I understand that I have impacted some of them.  That makes me smile, because I know I have been able to help them, but I do not do it because I am searching for any sort of significance.  I get my significance through God and Christ.

I want to make a difference because God intends to redeem the world. The impact I want to make in this world is what God is doing. “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent,” (New Living Translation).  God wants to save everyone.  His desire is to redeem each individual.  My satisfaction isn’t that I have done something that impacts someone, but that I have been saved by God, gifted by his Spirit, and he does incredible things in and through me and sometimes without me.

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