Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Transforming Culture, Part 1

In his book, Christ and Culture, H. Richard Niebuhr wrote about how the church influences the world. He was right, that Jesus asks us—even demands—that we transform the world. However, he set up a false dichotomy between passivism and activism. As if those who do not act in the political manner in which he was used to, then they were not acting at all.

Jesus, on the other hand, presented a kind of transformationalism that is not necessarily politically active, but is powerfully active, nevertheless. He established the following principles:
a. Creating alternative communities
b. Being welcoming to all who desire transformation
c. Gently, patiently influencing without force
d. Attacking the forces behind the evil

1. The church as saltYou are salt—essential for the world. But if you lose the basic qualities that make you important, you cannot regain them. You will be useless, cast out of God’s kingdom and trampled.
You are light—God’s glory and truth in the world. You are the kingdom of God to come, and you cannot be hidden. Nor should you be hidden—God’s glory should be displayed, not hidden. So display the true righteousness of God before everyone, so that people will see your acts of God and so glorify the Father.
Matthew 5:13-15

The church is not a building, an organization or a political force. Rather, the church is, according to Jesus, an alternative society, a unique people, a separate nation which lives by God’s law of love. The church, in the form Jesus established it, is a group of people who are living according to Jesus’ principles of love. The church is made up of the outcast of society, engaged in community not to just improve ourselves, but to love all of those in need. And we strive to live out the principles of love found in Jesus’ law—we do not insult, we do good to those who persecute us, we do not look with lust, we keep our promises, we do our religious deeds before God, not for people’s being impressed, we do not judge others, but we are constantly repenting of our sin and forgiving those who repent. And we will strive not to be put in a situation—like the military or addiction to drugs—that will cause us to act in opposition to this way of life.

We will look and act different for all this. The world will see us as strange, as ignorant, as naïve or even as hateful because we will stand with Jesus, no matter what anyone else says or does to try to promote us or to try to oppose us. At times, we will act different from that which the world calls “the church” or “Christianity.” “And this is because a majority of the church is caught up in the ways of the world, and has become a part of the world—focusing on education, on politics, on judging, on intellectualism, on power and the manipulation of it. And so they, the façade church, looks at the church of Jesus, and thinks that they’ve missed the point.

The church of Jesus is a community, not a political party. It doesn’t seek to compromise its ideals so it can fit better into the world. It doesn’t seek to give a message less than the love of Jesus, ever. If it changes it’s ideal of love and mercy and hope in God’s future, then it is no longer the community of Jesus, but a part of the very empire it seeks so hopelessly to transform. The compromised church is in a place to be transformed, not to create transformation.

1 comment:

David said...

When I read Niebuhr, you and him are saying the same thing. I don't see him promoting political transformation necessarily or exclusively.

But it doesn't matter what Niebuhr thinks- I think your understanding of Christ Transforming Culture is the same thing Jesus taught. Thanks.