Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Moving Into The Neighborhood

When Christianity first started, the followers of Jesus lived in a world full of people in situations that were really at odds with Christ and his teaching.  What were they to do now that they were spiritually Christian while almost everybody around them was a culturally very Roman?
The early followers of Christ often took an approach to spreading the Good News of the gospel that was not only counter-cultural to the Roman and Greek way of life, but was countercultural to how the church today often handles the uneasy tension between the church and society. The early church wanted to reach their cities – they cared about them, after all -  but they lived in places where they were surrounded by a lot of really bad stuff. 

The early followers of Christ decided that the best way to communicate the Gospel was to enter the current cultural stream and divert it to Christ’s ends. They didn’t move out of the neighborhood; they moved even more deeply into it. As a result, we see some interesting intersections of church and culture, a tradition with a history in the Old Testament as well:
Jesus moved into the earthly neighborhood from his heavenly one; he generally blended in with culturally Jewish expressions (which is very different from blending in with unholy cultural norms/worldviews). The early church did this too. Jesus didn’t avoid culture; he entered into the stream of history and made himself known. The early church realized they were called to do the same.

This, I think, is what we mean when we Christians talk about “being in the world but not of it.”  We are people with a dual citizenship. Our goal is enter the stream of history and, wherever possible, find a way to channel the life and the energy that is there to the glory of God.

Here's my question: is the modern church 'moving into the neighborhood' well? 

The images and stories of our culture  will almost inevitably play a significant formative role in us and our kids. Are we retreating and ignoring, or are we engaging and redirecting?  The history of our faith would suggest we must live embedded lives, learning how to divert polluted streams toward the cleansing, filtering message of the Gospel. 

On the other hand, we must be careful that we don't uncritically absorb everything around us. We are called to baptize the cultural imagination, not be baptized in it. We will either immerse the narratives around us in the gospel or be immersed by them. 

This tension will never be easy, but it will always be important. May we do it wisely. 

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