We are called to advance God’s Kingdom. We must identify the spirits of the age lest we become immersed in the culture and end up advance its agenda in the name of Christianity. We are called to impact the culture not be impacted by it. If we don’t see this distinction we will offer a form of “Christianity lite” in which we promote culture with a watered down version of Jesus. If we are simply reflecting culture what is the point of our mission?
We are not called to offer a Christian version of culture to entertain people and get them to consume a cultural Christ.
We have already been discipled by culture as we grow up. How about discipling the culture by the Kingdom and power of God?
Salt and Light is Transcendent
Mat 5:13-16 MKJV You are the salt of the earth,…(14) You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden… (16) Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in Heaven.
God’s call upon His people revealed throughout the Bible can be summed up with the phrase, “God’s family of Spirit filled disciples together on God’s mission.” A central feature of this call is being salt and light. The idea of salt and light has to do with our contact and influence on the world. In Biblical times salt made an impact by being directly applied on something, like meat, in order to slow down the deterioration process. Salt had a way of impacting and preserving.
The idea of light, as a city set on a hill, spoke of the distinct culture that gave testimony of a different way of living (God’s way). In our case it is the culture of heaven (as revealed through God’s word) demonstrated through the church. In that day cities were places of distinct culture and life. In our day as individuals walk among God’s community there is encouragement and reinforcement of His ways. This helps all of us stay on track with God and provides a collective witness of Heaven’s culture lived out on earth.
Trendiness without Transcendence
In an effort to be both salt (able to be rubbed on unbelieving humanity) and light the idea of trendiness comes up. A while back I read of a church in England that unveiled a bronze statue dubbed “Jesus in jeans” depicting Christ as a man of the 21st century. One of the local leaders was quoted as saying, “You are always looking for new ways to enrich people in the experience of Christianity and it is good people can be open-minded to appreciate it.” The good side of this argument is portraying Jesus and Christianity as relevant to the 21st century. Obviously if Jesus walked the earth in physical form today He would probably wear blue jeans at some point. This is part of the idea of incarnation which is God coming in the form of common man.
One thing we must be careful of however, is that we chase the idea of being trendy while neglecting the real impact of Jesus and the power of God which leads to transcendence. Many churches and Christians seem to always look for the newest, coolest, most trendy approach that comes out. This is great and important as long as we do not lose sight of the real foundation of Christ and Christianity that affects culture summed up with the idea of transcendence.
The salt and light are in the alternative life that is only in Jesus. The transcendence is the powerful changes Jesus makes in the lives of people that have no earthy explanation.
It is the alternative way of living that originates and is sustained by the power of God. It is the change Jesus makes in every area of our lives. This has both the quality of salt and light in it.
Example of Transcendence in the Early Church
We can be trendy but not transcendent. All through the history of the church the thing that made impact was the transcendent lives that real Christians lived. Unbelievers noticed the changes, not by their cool clothes or trendy style, but by their changed lives. There was an early letter written sometime around the year 100-150 AD called the letter to Diognetus who was a well respected pagan. It extolled the virtues of Christianity over paganism. In it you see that the thing that caused Christians to make great impact was their transcendent lives. Here is the letter.
“Christians are indistinguishable (cannot be distinguished) from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries (invented by the ingenuity or speculation of men) inspired by the curiosity of men.
If there is no transcendence among God’s people that demonstrates an alternative way of living by the power of God then we are just offering dead religion in contemporary clothes.
Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine (nor do they advocate mere book learning). With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign. And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them (practice infanticide). They share their meals, but not their wives. They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated.
A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they, rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.
To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world. As the visible body contains the invisible soul, so Christians are seen living in the world, but their religious life remains unseen. The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restriction the soul places on its pleasures.
Similarly, the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments. Christians love those who hate them just as the soul loves the body and all its members despite the body’s hatred. It is by the soul, enclosed within the body, that the body is held together, and similarly, it is by the
Christians, detained in the world as in a prison, that the world is held together. The soul, though immortal, has a mortal dwelling place; and Christians also live for a time amidst perishable things, while awaiting the freedom from change and decay that will be theirs in heaven. As the soul benefits from the deprivation of food and drink, so Christians flourish under persecution. Such is the Christian’s lofty and divinely appointed function, from which he is not permitted to excuse himself.”
You can see that the world wasn’t impressed by Christian’s trendiness or contemporary “coolness.” It was the alternative way of live they lived out before an unbelieving world. Obviously this is why they were so persecuted in the first three centuries and also why they made such an impact as salt and light.
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