It should be fairly obvious to any halfway observant Christian that over the last generation Christianity has gone from a religion that America endorsed, to a religion America ignored, to now being a religion that America is antagonistic toward.
From the news articles about Christian schools losing their accreditation, to the ones concerning the potential forcing of all Christian ministers to perform marriage ceremonies they fundamentally disagree with, to the removing of Christian campus ministries because of their attempt to require its members or leaders to sign a code of conduct, it has become evident that culture no longer believes Christianity is acceptable in the public sphere.
Another observation that is fully obvious over the last generation has been the trend in the church toward popular culture – or in other words, the trend in the church toward “popular Christianity.” From music labels, to book deals, to TV stations, to celebrity pastors, and on we go… It is now apparent, like never before, that while the culture is moving away from Christianity, the American Christian church is still trying to move toward the culture.
The most obvious arrival of pop-culture into the church has been thru the occurrence of what has been coined “the worship wars.” With mostly contemporary worship winning out, we have seen the embrace of secular music culture within the church. Lights, cameras, smoke, lead guitars and drum solos, “worship music” being sold for profit, and so on.
None of the creative aspects of secular music being brought into the church are necessarily sinful in and of themselves, but they do make the potential for sin (pride, greed, etc.) more accessible by elevating certain aspects of production in the church. And, let’s not forget the obvious downfalls to the celebrity pastor status and followership that has become common in popular Christianity as well.
All of that is true.
But what is most interesting about all of this is not the discussions about what has actually happened, but rather the discussion about why it has happened and continues to happen.
Why does the church continue to bring pop-culture in when Christianity is clearly being rejected within pop-culture?
Why does the church look more and more secular when secular society continues to distance itself (and in some cases attack) Christianity?
The answer may surprise you.
Now I know what many of you may be thinking, “It sounded like this article was headed toward calling the church away from this trajectory. I thought you were about to crush the church for trying to be like a culture that hates it…”
And you would have been right – if you were expecting me to be like most American Christians who are for some reason scared of the reality that Christianity seems to be “losing ground” in our society.
But I am not like those Christians. I see our situation a little differently. I like to think I see it a little more like Jesus…
Isn’t it interesting that Jesus’ first act in the plan of salvation he was called to fulfill was the act of incarnation. And yet the last thing the church ever seems to talk about is what it means for us to be incarnate in our society.
If the first step for Jesus was to become like those who he was looking to save, then why is it that Christians are so surprised when he expects the same of us?!
In fact, I have started to believe that unless the church becomes more incarnate in the world and begins to actually function completely outside the walls it has created by going right into where those who need us most are living, then the trend of antagonism toward Christians will only continue.
What I am not saying is that we should act like the world – Jesus did not. What I am not saying is that we should compromise our integrity for the world – Jesus never did. But what I am saying is what Paul said:
“When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ… When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ… When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.”
None of this removes the fact that there is an intense irony in a reality where we continue to pursue a culture and a people who continue to push us away. But by doing this we act like our very Savior who did the same for us.
In fact, we should strive to be incarnate just like Jesus – where we do not expect others to somehow get to us but rather where we do whatever it takes to get to them. We must stop trying to invite the world in, and start going to where the world is…
Are people seemingly “too busy” to come to a church event? Then go to where they are busy. Has the culture begun to value sports, and concerts, and bars, and other events more than the events of the church? Then get involved in those events and take Christ with you!
Our call is to be the church, not simply build a church.
So if the church we build looks like the culture and even goes to where the culture is (exciting events, etc.), as long as we are still being the church that God calls us to be (light, salt, etc.) then we are fulfilling exactly the call God has placed on our lives: to live like Jesus. And remember Jesus lived incarnate.