The church has a culture that is good and it is good to be part of it.
He retired from a non-descript desk job. He had a wife, adult children, and a handful of grandchildren. He liked to fish but it wasn’t what you would call a passion. He had lived a mediocre life if you compared him to other men his age. So there was nothing to prepare those on the periphery of his life for the outpouring of love and respect paid by 600 people at his viewing and funeral. A friend of the man’s daughter, seeing the throng of mourners, remarked, “I just don’t understand how an unassuming man, with such an ordinary life, makes this kind of impact.” The daughter knew. For all of his life, her father had been part of a way of life, a culture. Church culture.
He taught Sunday school, he was a song leader, he went to every service. If there was a two-week revival, his entire family went every night. When there was something the church was doing, whether it was a clean-up day or a cook-out, he considered it his personal responsibility to be there. There were district meetings and annual conventions. He spent decades serving and building lasting relationships. That throng of friends who came to honor him had journeyed with him through a lifetime of experiences. They had been part of a church together and now they came to tell him, “I’ll meet you in the morning.”
While today’s church leaders are pondering how the church can be relevant to the contemporary culture, we are forgetting one thing: The church has a culture that is good and it is good to be part of it.
Cultural historian Christopher Dawson wrote:
“The modern world is in a state of violent confusion and change. Everyone acts as if nobody really knows where the world is going. In all of this remains a truth: Christianity is the only way of life that is capable showing the way out of the tremendous dangers and evils that have become a part of the common experience of modern man. No doubt, as the Gospel says, people will go on eating and drinking and buying and selling and planting. But in the minds of unsaved people remains an anxious consciousness of the threat that hangs over them. They feel that something should be done and they seek a way of salvation, however vaguely and uncertainly.”
During the time of the early church, many people believed the true, life-changing message of salvation by faith in Jesus the church taught. Others continued to turn to the pagan religions and philosophies of Greece and Rome to try to satisfy their spiritual needs. But Christianity outlasted and triumphed over the pagan world of the past. Why? This: Christians look forward while the secular world looks back. Hope and expectation are characteristics of Christianity; they run through the New Testament from beginning to end. One of the best expressions of this is in Paul’s third letter to the Philippians, written during his captivity and trial, making even his trial an opportunity for encouragement. After describing all his gains and losses, he concludes:
Not that I have already reached fulfillment. I do not claim to have attained. But this one thing I do. Forgetting all that is completed and reaching out to the things that lie before, I press on to the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
A hopeful future is talked about in other places, also:
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11).
This attitude of confidence in the future which Paul and other writers express is also woven into the culture and attitude of the church as a whole, and it is one thing that gives Christianity such a great power of spiritual renewal. It is this forward-looking life that makes church a good place to raise children and invest your time, your resources, your life.
Looked at from a critical standpoint, the primitive church (and the church of today) might seem to lack everything that the educated regard as culture, lack everything considered relevant. Yet in reality, we are the representatives of a culture older than that of Greece and Rome. The people of God have been center-stage and relevant for centuries. The church is a real, living, way of life. You want history, we have it. Literature and art and philosophy are part of our culture, too. Let’s embrace it all and invite the world to join us. For a cook-out or a Bible study. You know. Relevant stuff.