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Christ and Culture: Embracing a Christian Worldview

Stanley Arumugam. 3 January 2008.

“Turning our backs on the culture is a betrayal of our biblical mandate and our
own heritage because it denies God’s sovereignty over all of life. Nothing could
be deadlier for the church or more ill timed. To abandon the battle field now is to
desert the cause just when we are seeing the first signs that historic Christianity
may be on the verge of a great breakthrough.” Charles Colson, 1999

Why is an understanding of Culture and Christ so critical now?

The US 911 introduced the notion of the ‘axis of evil’. Yet it is the very society
that rejects the idea of sin, evil and moral absolutes. In this postmodern culture it
is virgin ground for a springing up of a host of spiritual movements. This
worldview offers spiritual experience without being bogged down in institutional
religion. How appealing this is for the growing mass of disillusioned men and
women who find no meaning in life and now are drawn to a higher spirituality.

This new spirituality and hunger is deeply embedded in the cultural fabric of post
modern society. To fully appreciate the growth of the new movements and at the
same time the decline of the institutional churches around the globe, we have to
take seriously the nature of culture. Our witness as Christians is shaped by the
prevailing worldviews. We need to make sense of what is going on around us
and respond to the world not out of the word’s need but present the true gospel
and true Christ to the world desperately looking for God.

We need a filter to make sense of the world and our witness. Yes, the answers
are in the bible. . “It’s task [the church] is not only to understand the nature of
biblical truth but also to ask how that truth addresses the issues of the day.”
David F. Wells (2007).How we interpret the bible in the context of our different
cultures becomes more critical. We need to understand different worldviews that
compete for the hearts and minds of people. Above all we need a worldview of
Christianity that helps us navigate the shark infested post modern culture that we
are a part of.

If we don’t understand and apply the biblical worldview we become all things to
all people, undiscerning the subtle attractions of a world where nothing is
absolute and our personal meaning becomes the supreme foundation for our
lives. In this world Christians can become totally absorbed in the way of the world
or become totally separated from this evil generation and totally irrelevant and
out-of-touch. However neither position is biblical. Christ commanded us to be the
light of the world (in a dark world) and the salt (in a tasteless and meaningless)
world.

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The changing nature of culture

Culture can be defined as the identity and way of life of a certain group of people.
This can be at an ethnic, racial, regional or national level. There is no defined
once and for all culture. As social groups merge there is assimilation between
groups with new cultural groups emerging. At another level we have the culture
of the world we live in as Christians. The culture of Christ and the Kingdom of
God is distinct from the postmodern world we live in.

If culture is constantly changing why we should even bother to retain what is


unique in each cultural group? Others may argue that it is this cultural identity
that has been the cause of the world’s worst human atrocities. Postmodernists
would argue that everything is meaningless, that we construct our own reality
and culture is relative. The reality is that without a sense of culture we loose all
identity, meaning and clone ourselves as clinical robots.

This cannot be as God has created us as unique beings that belong to one or
many cultural groups. On the day of Pentecost God allowed a glimpse of cultural
diversity as people spoke all the languages of the earth being anointed by the
Holy Spirit. God abhors a misguided unity that strips people of their identity. God
confounded the schemes of the builders of Babel by causing them to speak in
many languages not understood by one another.

How do we relate to the predominant culture of our time in history called


postmodernism? In this cultural time period, how do we retain our language,
racial, national cultures and at the same time be responsive as individual
believers and the church in reaching out to the world culture we are in? How did
Jesus relate to the cultural context he was in? What does Paul teach us about
culture and being Christian?

Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture

The question of Christ and culture has long been considered by theologians.
Almost half a century ago, H. Richard Niebuhr's ‘Christ and Culture’ proposed a
framework of five typical answers to the question of the relation of Christ and
culture

i. Christ against Culture

This is the most radical view which presents the Lordship of Christ as directly
opposed to culture. It’s an either/or position; if we follow Christ we must reject
any loyalty to culture. This view encourages the separation of Christians from
culture. This position has some major objections which need to be considered.
First, the approach tends to be naïve about the nature of culture, sin, and

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holiness. It is impossible in practice to separate oneself from culture; as culture
permeates our thinking and language, it is as much in us as it is around us.

Secondly, separatism captures only one of the two sides of Christ's nature. The
view emphasizes Christ's role in drawing us away from culture (the vertical
dimension) into relationship with God. However it ignores his role in governing
our continued relations with culture (the horizontal dimension of our fellow men).
In fact, Christ is opposed to such a separatism illustrated in the Parable of the
Good Samaritan, The priest and Levite keep themselves holy, separate and
apart from the victim, but the Samaritan defies cross cultural boundaries to help
the man. This man is held up by Jesus as our moral guide (Luke 10:25-3 7).

The most devastating objection of all comes from classic orthodox theology. In
order for culture to be radically rejected in favor of Christ, logic requires that
Christ Himself is not a part of culture. This leads, however, to a purely spiritual
understanding of Christ which denies His role in creation and His incarnation in
history. In fact, Christ affirmed the world by making it and reaffirmed the fallen
world including culture by becoming one of us, a specific cultural being (Hebrews
2:14-18). Since we are to follow Christ in all things, and Christ has a cultural
dimension, we must follow him in that dimension as well.

ii. Christ of Culture

Supporters of this option are so-called cultural Christians who claim that Christ is
to be understood as the highest aspiration and fulfillment of culture. In this way it
is possible to affirm both Christ and culture and to deny any necessary opposition
between the two.

On the one hand they interpret culture through Christ, regarding those elements
in it as most important which are most accordant with his work and person. On
the other hand they understand Christ through culture, selecting from the
Christian doctrine about him such points as seem to agree with what is best in
civilization. This approach inevitably leads to accommodationism, the attempt to
reconcile Christianity with what appear to be the greatest achievements of a
culture. Thus the early church had its Hellenizers and Judaizers of the Gospel
and Gnostics who reconciled Christianity with their mystical philosophy.

One can immediately see, however, that this view tends toward an error equal,
and opposite, to that committed by the separatists. In its concentration on this
world, the view emphasizes the Christian's horizontal dimension to the exclusion
of the vertical. Without emphasis on grace and the after-life, religion easily
degenerates into a legalistic "self-reliant humanism. This amounts in effect to an
idolatrous worship of man or a denigration of God:

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iii. Christ above Culture

According to this view what is needed is not blank affirmation or rejection of


culture for Christ but a synthesis of Christ and culture. It is pointed out that
culture cannot be all bad because it is founded on the nature created good by
God, and that although nature and culture are fallen; they are still subject to God.
The view emphasizes that good works are carried out in culture, yet are only
made possible by grace, so that the kingdom of grace impinges on the kingdom
of the world from above.

On this view, "We cannot say 'Either Christ or culture,' because we are dealing
with God in both cases," yet we must not say "Both Christ and culture,' as though
there were no great distinction between, them. For in His promises, Christ goes
beyond culture, drawing us to the Father in heaven, but in His commands He
directs us to act in culture and we are subject to divinely instituted
representatives.

The greatest exponent of this view, Thomas Aquinas, held that the, church must
be viewed as simultaneously in and beyond the world, leading people to
salvation in heaven yet encouraging all that is best in this world's culture.

iv. Christ and Culture in Paradox

The paradox view differs from the preceding one by maintaining that while both
Christ and culture claim our loyalty, the tension between them cannot be
reconciled not at least in this lifetime. The most important version of this view is
Luther's doctrine of the two kingdoms or realms. We are both in the world and at
the same time not of this world.
There is a contrast between two realms: the realm of the world governed by law
and the realm of God governed by grace. The two realms distinction has far-
reaching consequences. Since one is saved by grace, not works there is no need
to separate oneself from culture. This means that any vocation can be pursued
for the glory of God. In that sense, Christians can participate fully in what is best
in culture: we are "set free to serve."

v. Christ the Transformer of Culture

This last option is more optimistic about the ability of Christians to improve
culture. It still affirms the universality of sin, but maintains that cultures can be
converted. One of the fundamental theological reasons for this optimism is the
view that the Fall only perverted things which were created good, that these
things remain inherently good and capable of reform, even though they have
been misdirected.

The suggestion is that mankind through the action of grace can create a more
holy culture. This leads to the idea of a Holy Christian community here on earth,

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visibly set apart from non-Christian culture. In this world Christians act as salt
and light, both as prophets of the Lord and servants to our fellow humans.

Understanding the nature of Worldviews

How we see the world determines the nature of engagement. A worldview is a


set of assumptions and beliefs about how the world works. In our post modern
world we have competing world views some that are obviously contrary to biblical
truth while other worldviews are more subtle and seem complementary to biblical
perspectives. We have to be discerning and in this light heed the warning of St
Paul who said “beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain
deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after
Christ.” Col 2:8

The Titanic devastation teaches us to look beyond the surface. The iceberg is
defined by what’s under the water and not only the bit that you see. In the world
of the Titanic the creators made what they believed was the unsinkable. They
sold this ideal to hundreds of passengers eager to experience a new life. Sadly
their assumptions were literally shattered.

Worldviews determine life and death. They are logical conclusions built on a set
of assumptions. These assumptions are called pre-suppositions. Some of the
famous assumptions have led to devastating disaster. Navigators before the 15th
Century believed if you sailed too far west – you would fall of the earth. It sounds
absurd to us now but at the time the worldview was sensible. The underlying
assumption based based on the earth as flat and therefore would have had an
edge. The logic was sound, but conclusion based on false assumption.

Another devastating example comes from the 14th Century. Black Death was
ravaging Europe. The learned people at the time believed the plague was being
spread by cats so they killed the cats. Sadly the real cause was a flea carried by
rats. The result of this worldview was the death of 24 million people. The logic
was sound but the conclusion was based on false assumptions.

Assumptions are at the root of all worldviews. James Sire, in his book the
“Universe Next Door’ addresses key questions that examine the assumptions
that underlie different world views:

What is prime reality?


What is the nature of external reality, the world around us?
What is a human being?
What happens at death?
Why is it possible to know anything?
How do we know what is right and wrong?
What is meaning of human history?

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How we answer these questions defines our worldview. A classic opposing
worldview comes from the Creation vs. Evolution debate. Darwin’s worldview
was distinctly different from the creationist biblical perspective. Both these
worldviews have resulted in divergent applications in matters of faith, education,
science and history.

Christians need to understand the biblical worldview which is also the foundation
for apologetics (giving reasonable defense of faith). A biblical worldview will act
as a compass in navigating the competing cultures in the world today that
present an alternative to biblically based truth. It’s also vital for Christians to have
an informed understanding of biblical worldview given the competing approaches
within the church. There are many heretical practices in the guise of a new
spirituality that has infiltrated the church. Paul warns us to test new movements
and adhere to sound doctrine.

Evolution of Western Thought

To understand worldviews and how they developed it is necessary to reflect on


the evolution of western thought. We can look at the entire history of western
civilization in three eras; pre-modern, modern and post-modern. These will be
described briefly:

Pre modern. Around 525 BC. This worldview existed when social units were rural
and family clans. God was a central idea. This was also the age of Gnostics and
paganism. Two scientists that typify the pre-modern era are Pythagoras (~525
BC) and Plato (~350 BC). Pythagoras proposed that reality consists of numbers.
His followers became a sort of religion. There was an increased interest in the
form rather than the substance of matter. Plato was also influenced by
Pythagoreans. Geometric drawings are only approximations of ideas behind
them. Ultimate reality consists of eternal, unchanging ideas. These ideas are only
imperfectly represented in the changing world of sense experience. Thus true
knowledge is knowledge of eternal ideas rather than of unreliable sensory data

Modern: 18th Century. The social units became cities with a shift from
communalism to individualism. In this time God was excluded from public life.
The centrepiece was freedom; from past, God and authority. The place of God
was now occupied by the human being. This was the age of Enlightenment and
Rationalism. Reason and progress becomes the new mantra of this age.
Progress is based upon knowledge, and man is capable of discerning objective
absolute truths in science and the arts. Modernism is linked to capitalism—
progressive economic administration of world.

Postmodern: 2000 onwards. In this worldview there is no universal truth and no


ultimate purpose. Meaning is individually constructed. Pragmatism replaces
Enlightenment. In this era there is no universal truth. In this worldview there is no

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purpose. We are impacted by the natural cause and effect of the Newtonian
world. We walk in a fog of loneliness devoid of purpose. Nothing out there is
eternal or of communal significance. In this space there is an emerging
spirituality and religious search.

The New Spirituality

Two metaphors express the distinctiveness of the new spirituality. Whereas the
classical religion (bible based) is described as house with form and function, the
new spirituality is an open-ended journey of self discovery and God-
consciousness.

The appeal of the new spirituality is its distinct shift in emphasis from institutional
religion to a personal spirituality. Decline in church membership in the UK and
US relates to the baby boomer generation and generation X’s rejecting any hint
of absolutes and organised, hierarchical religion. The new movement of post-
modernism separates spirituality and religion. You can be spiritual without being
religious. This new spirituality is personal, is discovered by the self and does not
have at its core an absolute God.

In an age where the promise of modernism has failed millions of people, this new
spirituality makes sense of a personal revelation. The journey starts with the self,
not God. It’s a journey with no fixed destination where the experience is the end
and not the means. In this world spirituality is personal and private.

The new spirituality has also entered the churches, where the appeal is to the
needs of post-modern living. We tout a quick-fix, formula based gospel that
demands nothing of us. Whereas the church should be a community of believers
bound by biblical truth, it is becoming a drive in, fast food spiritual roadhouse.
There are no rules, commandments only personal truth. This new spirituality
travels light. It embraces all seekers and accommodates ‘relevant theologies.’

Post-modern spirituality has successfully resolved religious pluralism without


confronting it. In this new world view all rivers lead into the same ocean. Jesus
becomes an incarnation of a highly spiritual guru. In this world psychology takes
the place of religion, The psychological world replaces the moral world.

Experience is personal and relative and truth is discovered in the journey. This
world has become the playing ground of the new seeker churches which base
their ministries on the needs of people and not on the bible. Christianity in this
context is being reduced to motivational messages helping people cope with their
day to day lives. The gospel of conforming to the pattern of Christ is rejected as
irrelevant and judgmental.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer warns us that “cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our
Church. We are fighting for costly grace.”

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Christ Supremacy questioned

We now have multiple constructions of the Jesus image. He has become a


spiritual guru, disciple, and mentor to the post modern seeker. He is no different
from Mohamed, Buddha, Sai Baba.

Deepak Chopra in his book ‘The Third Jesus’ tells all seekers that Jesus is also
one of the ways to God. Chopra describes the first Jesus as the historical,
incarnate Son of Man. The second Jesus is the foundation of theology and
institutional Christian religion. This Jesus is an abstract theological creation. He
contends that there is a Third Jesus, one that is more accessible. This third
Jesus is the incarnate model of God-consciousness. He, according to Chopra is
not the savior, not the one and only Son of God.

Throughout the book Chopra points out how Christians have misappropriated the
identity and messages of Jesus. At the end of the day Jesus’ glory is not in his
triune identity, nor is in his death and resurrection. Jesus is a great teacher that
the new spirituality can easily embrace. "Once you see Jesus as a teacher of
enlightenment, faith changes its focus. You don't need to have faith in the
Messiah or his mission. Instead, you have faith in the vision of higher
consciousness." The Third Jesus,p. 62.

If the historic Jesus is a myth, then we have a serious problem as Christians


because our faith is based on the incarnate Son of God who lived amongst men
to point us to God. More than this Jesus claimed to be God – that he and his
Father are one. That he is the only way, the truth and the life. Either he was
speaking the truth or he was raving lunatic. He cannot be anything in-between
that satisfies our liberal ideologies,

Other new books like the Da Vinci Code, The Holy Grail, and Judas Gospel
question the biblical worldview. These books are based on Gnostic writings and
embrace an alternative to the Gospels. They call into question the authenticity of
the Gospel accounts and create doubt in the believers mind by asking questions
such as the following: What about the “other” documents about the life of Jesus?,
Are they more reliable than the four gospels?, Was Jesus married?, Did they
have a child?, Do we know why we have the books in the NT that we do?, Was
Jesus human or divine?

Anti-Christian worldview

The church has strayed over the years and created an institutional religion that
has been oppressive to thinking people. The early Crusader conquests were
done in the name of God resulting in the massacre of all infidels. Jerusalem was
the trophy that had to be protected.

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Then there was the rooting out of so-called heretics by the church. This in fact
was politically motivated seeking to have total allegiance to the church which in
turn controlled the state. Many people were burned at the stake. Joan of Arc was
one of these martyrs who refused to accept the sovereignty of evil dictatorship.

The Jewish Holocaust was also done in the name of God. The silence of the
church in this time was deathly deafening. Nazi Zionism dominated the day. This
anti-Semitic mindset started long before Hitler by Constantine who also
persecuted Jews for being the killers of Christ.

In apartheid South Africa, the evil of this policy was founded on the bible. White
South African’s believed that scripture taught that races must be separated. The
word looked in horror whilst human rights atrocities were done.

There are many other shameful things the church has been engaged in such as
western missionary support for the slave trade, sexual abuse of children by
priests, prosperity money-making schemes.

The post – modernism of today is a reaction to this bastard church which seeks
to justify its cultural and social agenda through the manipulation of scripture. In
the post-modern world religions are the biggest cause of division, hatred and
injustice. So why associate with institutional religion?

Culture and Missions

“Just as one could not speak of the church without speaking of its mission, it was
impossible to think of the church without thinking, in the same breath, of the
world to which it is sent.” David Bosch

The mission of the church is embedded in cultural understanding. Jesus in his


incarnation as the Son of Man became God’s mission to human beings on the
earth. This incarnation was not esoteric but was rooted in a specific cultural
context of Jewish life. Jesus by his example teaches us that the mission of God
is lived out in the day to day realities of the world we are in.

He brings the good news to a world through the microcosm of Israel. Jesus life
and work touch the mundane aspects of life and at the same time connect us
with the story of God’s love for all people over the ages. Jesus did not impose a
new cultural lifestyle to the Jews but worked within the norms and customs of
Jewish life. In his ministry he was clear that he came not to abolish the law which
was the core of Jewish life and belief but to fulfill the law.

The only way he could fulfill the law was to demonstrate his deep understanding
of the law, how it was misappropriated by the Jewish people and how the good
news of the kingdom will bring a complete fulfillment to the requirements of the

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law. Much of his mission was spent prophetically challenging the injustices of his
time, redeeming the heart of God’s love for people through healing and other
miracles. He challenged anything that detracted from the true gospel.

He did this by introducing new kingdom thinking. He dialogued with the scribes
and Pharisees and tried to show them that all they hoped for was in Him. He was
challenging their paradigms of the messiah. He spent time with common people
like fishermen some of whom became his disciples. He didn’t pop in for a quick
sermon and get to the next crowd. He sailed with them, caught fish with them,
gutted the fish and ate with them. This is mission in life.

His lifestyle took him to the rejected people, the outcasts, leprous, blind, deaf,
and sick. He declared that he came for people such as these not pious elders
who thought they had arrived. This approach to mission took him to weddings,
funerals, taverns, mansions, to the mountains, over the lakes and into the
synagogue. Jesus lived his mission out in the cultural context of the day.

This approach is so much in contrast with early mission endeavors which was
based on a cultural superiority. The intent of communicating the gospel to people
was great. How it was done was the problem. These missions ended up
uprooting the cultural fabric of people groups and nations. These people were
declared uncivilized, heathen and culturally backward. The means became the
end and history is witness to the devastating effect of misdirected missions.

At the same time as western missionaries set out to Africa, the slave trade was
growing. A paradox existed where missionaries were setting out to free the
heathen from spiritual bondage and at the same time their counterparts were
filling shiploads of human cargo. The slave trade took people into a new
bondage. Somehow the two co-existed until brave men like William Wilberforce
challenged the British Parliament to reject such evil practice.

Devout missionaries from the West ignorant of the Chinese culture set upon
themselves the "holy" task of destroying everything that was Chinese.' There was
agonizing experience of Chinese converts who were denied of their Chinese
identity when they became Christians. The missionaries insisted that being newly
created persons, they should have a new identity. Chinese customs, festivals
and values were of the old world which they should have left behind when
entering the Christian world. Identity crisis, cultural alienation and social
deprivation are the results of this double conversion: being converted to
Christianity as a religious faith and at the same time to Christian culture which
cannot be separated from Western civilization.

What went wrong? I believe these early missionaries were not sensitive to the
cultural context in which they were evangelizing. They rejected the cultures of the
heathens and dismissed their meaning, identity and social structure as backward.
In this belief system, people became dispensable, mere working hands. The

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dominant culture of western missionaries was the norm that would guide their
work amongst the heathen of the world.

Till today there is a rejection of Christianity as the White Man’s Gospel. Part of
the mission package was not only the good news of Christ but the way of life of
the western world. Counter-movements arose in Africa and Latin America to
make sense of the gospel in the context people lived in. This was the roots of
Liberation theology and other efforts to understand how God relates to the reality
of injustice, oppression and poverty.

Amongst the early missionaries there were men like William Carey who deeply
understood the cultural context he was working in. He presented a remarkable
witness to people in India and brought many to Christ. The means he used was
both relevant and life changing for the people he worked with. Today we might
label Carey’s work as ‘social gospel’.

Dr. Carey gave forty-one years of service to India, and lived to see much fruit of
his labor. He made the first complete translation of the Bible into the Bengali by
his hand. He printed Scripture portions in forty languages and dialects. Together
with other workers they established a college to train native ministers and
Christianize educated Hindus, a medical mission, and a leper hospital, besides at
least thirty large mission stations

“Carey…believed that the real battle is in the mind. False beliefs lead to wrong
behavior and harmful culture. Therefore, Carey strove to fill the Indian mind with
the truth of God’s Word. That, he understood, was conversion—the cornerstone
in the task of civilizing.”

Carey lived out his mission in the cultural context of India. He did this by
employing his diverse gifts to learn from and enrich the lives of people he worked
with. The following is a list of some of the roles he played; Christian missionary,
botanist, industrialist, economist, medical humanitarian, media pioneer,
agriculturalist, astronomer, library pioneer, forest conservationist, public servant,
moral reformer, cultural transformer, translator and educator.

William Wilberforce is another great example of mission in cultural context. At the


height of slave trade, Wilberforce challenged the prevailing legal system which
was backed up by the church. He had to intimately understand the colonial
supremacy mindset of his time, have a deep respect for the value and worth of all
human beings and knowledge of the British legal system. He fought to abolish
child labour in England, slave trading, animal cruelty and the political rights of
Roman Catholics.

The battle consumed almost 46 years of his life (from 1787 to 1833). The cause
of abolishing the slave trade was defeated 11 times before its passage in 1807.

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And the battle for abolishing slavery itself did not gain the decisive victory until
three days before he died in 1833.

Paul as counter-cultural revolutionary

Paul provides us with a great example of engagement with the culture of the day.
He preached the kingdom of God in the culture drunk Roman and Greek world.
Two world which he understood very well. He taught in a disruptive pseudo-
culture which did not acknowledge God as the creator of the cosmos. In his time
there were appealing, attractive counter-theologies fuelled by the Gnostics.

Paul had to engage a world of emerging philosophy and idolatrous behaviour. In


this context he presents the God that people are looking for. He is able to make a
reasonable defense of the Christian faith to the most learned men of his day.

Calvinism also had a great impact on the churches engagement with culture.
Calvin instigated the separation of church from the state as a counter-movement
to the Catholic tradition in which the church controlled the state. When this
happened the prophetic witness of the Church was compromised. Church and
culture were one and the same. Calvin’s ideal sadly led to the opposite extreme
which brought about the separation of sacred and secular.

This is very much the dominant cultural view of many modern churches which
locate the sacred in the church and the body of believers. Everything else is
secular, our work, governments, education, politics and healthcare. This
separation leads to an other-word thinking where believers tolerate this life with
the hope of a coming new kingdom. While they live on this earth there is
disengagement.

A counter-cultural response will lead to persecution and death. This was clearly
the experience of the first Christians who dared proclaim an alternative to the
Roman world. Their witness of the new kingdom that did not bow to the
materialism of Caesar led to them being eaten alive in the Coliseums of Rome.

Its easy to avoid this engagement by isolating ourselves from the uncomfortable
issues of our world; the growing child slavery in European countries; global
poverty and debt; bonded labour; political fraud; financial mismanagement;
HIV/AIDS; blood diamonds; genocides; terrorism.

The kingdom of God

The Kingdom of God is here and was established in the incarnation of Christ. It’s
a kingdom where Christ is king and we who believe in Christ become citizens of

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this new kingdom. The kingdom of God is a mindset, a way of living; it’s a new
culture that God is establishing.

We are in this world but not of this world. As believers we have dual citizenship
but we are part of a new kingdom established by Christ and being worked out
unto perfection in God’s time. We don’t choose the path of separatism and hide
away on holy mountains but live and breathe in our respective cultural contexts.

We do this not with a false supremacy but with insight we have a deep
appreciation for the human condition and God’s love for us. We work and drive
and play in the same places with believers and non-believers. Our witness is the
through the Holy Spirit that resides in us as we infuse the desperate world
around us with a new hope of the Kingdom of God.

We cannot be hid in our holy church clubs. Lights of God need to illuminate the
world around us. This suggests that Christians need to be actively involved in the
common good of man, bound together in unity and love for one another. We
began to demonstrate a new kingdom mindset that is not escapism but one that
is deeply rooted in the current world.

Throughout church history, there have been those who have (to use Dwight L.
Moody's words) become "so heavenly minded that they were no earthly good."
The kingdom of God demands an earthly good responsiveness. We must be
involved in cultural work – this is our mandate. “ we do not have a Christ who
merely listens to prayers of sentiment, but One Who looks on to see how we
handle the spade, the hammer, the book, the needle, the brush and any other
instrument, in order to draw out of the world, ourselves included – all that God
put into’ McLaren

Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise
your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16

Christ asks us to be the lights to the world. A light that is hidden, separated from
the realities of life is useless. Likewise he asks us to be the salt of the earth, to
bring a good taste to the bland materialism that we find ourselves in.

Being salt and light is not a distant, yet to come, heaven mandate. It is an
imperative for here and now. This mandate is embedded in our cultural context. It
requires us to be present in our thinking about the world we are in and at the
same time understood in the context of God’s divine mission through the ages.

As we understand and absorb the world we are in, we don’t become despondent,
or fall in line with the negative thinking of skeptics and pessimists. As we
understand the reality of the world we are in we become attuned to the mission of
God in and through our lives. We are bearers of good news to a dark and blinded
world.

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Social Action - A Christian Mandate

There are some Christians of the view that social action is a social gospel which
is not true to scripture. To be clear any social action not led by a scriptural
revelation is purely humanistic effort which may be done as a means of spiritual
point scoring. This is work-based. Nevertheless these actions make a difference
in lives of people who don’t care about the theology or motive that underpins
compassionate care. Christian social action is informed by the cultural context of
our world and directed by our biblical mandate and is judged by our motives.

Isaiah, Micah, and Jesus affirm that acceptable worship of God must be
accompanied by service to God’s creation, our fellow man. Worship is to divide
our bread with the hungry; worship is to treat employees fairly; worship is to bring
into our homes the helpless, poor and destitute; worship is to help our relatives;
worship is to clothe the naked; worship is to visit the sick; worship is to visit the
prisoner; worship is to live a life of personal righteousness.

Jesus also illustrated the concept of true worship when he said, Then the King
will say to those at his right hand, “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the
kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and
you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you
welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I
was in prison and you came to me.

The righteous will answer him, “Lord when did we see you hungry and feed thee,
or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and
welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in
prison and visit thee?” And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you
did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me. Matthew 25:34-40
(RSV)

These passages clearly illustrate the behavior God expects from those who wish
to gain His favor and blessing. The Greatest Commandment as restated by
Jesus in the Gospel according to Saint Mark summarizes concisely the purpose
of man’s existence—which is to love God, to love our fellow man and to love
ourselves.

One day Jesus was questioned by a teacher of the Law who asked, “Which
commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, Hear, O Israel:
The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all
your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your
strength. The second is this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is
no other commandment greater than these.”

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And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that he is
one, and there is no other but he; and to love him with all the heart, and with all
the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as
oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when
Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the
kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any question. Mark
12:29-35 (RSV)

When we begin to understand that the three parallels, love for God, love for
neighbor, and love for self, are the essence of God’s great design for human
actions on earth, we will be driven to response. It is to this “discovery” that the
next comments will be addressed.

Social Action: God’s work delegated to Christians

The Christian is in the world but not of it. He is actually the citizen of two cities,
the city of God and the city of this world. Although his physical existence is in the
city of the world, he is the subject of another state. His heart and thoughts are
elsewhere. He is the ambassador from God’s city to earth. His first duty is to be
faithful to his Lord. He stands up for the interest of his Master as an ambassador
and champion of the interests of his homeland.

The Christian, the citizen of two cities, must plunge into social and political
problems in order to have an influence on the world. This action is not in the
hope of making the world a paradise. It is simply to help make it a more tolerable
place, to help bring order where there is disorder. The Christian in the world can
have a profound impact. Where personal righteousness exists, social evils are
called into question. Institutional change takes place when Christianity is present.
Equity must emerge out of Christianity, slavery must be condemned. Oppression
of the poor by the rich should be condemned when Christianity is present.

Each generation of God’s people must find the implications of the Greatest
Commandment for their time and place. The mandates of the scriptures calling
for love of God, love of neighbor and love of self, must be worked out in society
in ways which might be quite unique to each generation and to each local
situation. Practical implications of the Gospel will emerge and have an impact on
any social situation when Christians are present.

The power of Christianity, incarnated into human behavior, provides the Social
Action impetus for Christians. Christians who take seriously the whole counsel of
God will search for ways to show respect for Him through their actions on behalf
of their fellow man. This requires a honest understanding of our cultural mandate.

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REFERENCES

Angus J. L. Menuge.(1999). Niebuhr's Christ and Culture Reexamined in Christ


and Culture in Dialogue.

Brian D.McLaren. (2007). Everything Must Change. Jesus, global crisis and a
revolution of hope. Thomas Nelson.

Archie C. C. Lee. Religious Identity and Cultural Alienation : the Case of Chinese
Christianity. P97. Internet

David F Wells (2005). Above all earthly pow’rs. Christ in a postmodern world.
Intervarsity Press. Leicester.

Deepak Chopra. (2008). The Third Jesus. NY: Random House, p. 62


George Smith (1909) Life of William Carey. Shoemaker & Missionary. Internet.

James Sire (2004). The Universe Next Door. A Basic Worldview Catalog.

John Bower. (1978). Direction January 1978Vol.7 No.1. 3-10 (Winnipeg,MB).

Rod Parsley. (2007). Culturally Incorrect. How clashing worldviews affect your
faith. Thomas Nelson.

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