Christ and Culture

(James 4:1-8a; John 17:13-18) – J G White
11 am, Sun, Sep 23, 2018 – UBC Digby

For God so loved the world…  We recite John 3:16.  We sing it. How many people around us understand it?  Does our corner of the world know what we mean by this Bible verse?  Our corner of the world that is still loved by God so much. It gets said of Christians that we are to be ‘in the world but not of it.’  What on earth does this mean?

In His big prayer for his closest followers of long ago, Jesus said to God, His Father: (John 17) 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world…. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.

Two thousand years of Christians have seen themselves as people sent into the world by Jesus.   Today, our Baptist Convention suggests this as one Marker of a Mission-Edge Church: Seeking to understand CULTURE.  

We need to understand our neighbours, our neighbourhoods.  Then, we can share Christ well. So we do things like these:

  • We corporately study how the Bible and Jesus intersects and speaks to culture in our day.
  • We seek to understand culture, rather than hide from culture.
  • We equip one another to know how to engage culture with Jesus’ grace and truth.

A healthy Baptist Church seeks to understand its culture.  But, just when we start to hear this advice, we might remember what we just read from James 4 in the New Testament.  Did it not say that to be friends of the world is to be enemies of God?

I think this is about being friends with the way society does things, with what people value now.  If how we think and speak and treat people (and the creation) is just like the rest of the world, we are not different.  We need to know what is wrong inside us in order to help resist it, don’t we? We need some more changes inside, to be more like Christ.  

These verses in James that say, ‘draw near to God,’ must go with the words of Jesus’ prayer in John 17.  We are sent into the world, with protection, with Jesus, with purpose. This is for the sake of being friends with the people of the world. Loving the world of people. So today’s part of making new disciples of Jesus around here is: know your neighbours really well.  Understand them. Speak their language.

How to make disciples?  One part is our motivation.  Our inspiration to be on mission in our lives.  We are deployed right here, for Christ. Sometimes I feel really inspired and excited about this.  More often I feel shy, unprepared, and cautious about being a missionary in Digby.

About ten years ago I felt inspired by a comment made by Charlie Harvey at an Evangelism Conference.  Charlie and Fran Harvey served for decades as Baptist missionaries in Africa. Nowadays we would call them Field Staff, Global Field Staff.

Charlie got up during a question and answer period and spoke.  We listened. Here was a wise, experienced, retired, respected Missionary.  

He told of the moment, decades ago, when they finally arrived in Africa, and stood before a crowd of people.  He remembered looking out on all those smiling brown faces, who looked back at him, a young, white, Canadian man.  Charlie said he looked out at them and knew he did not have one sweet clue what they were thinking, how they thought, how to communicate with them, what to do.  It took years of living among them to learn and make a small difference in their lives, and they in his.

Then, Charlie Harvey said he retired and came home to New Brunswick.  He looked at the Canadians his grandchildren’s age, and felt the same way.  No clue what they are thinking, feeling, what makes them tick, how to connect with them, how to share his faith. ‘I’ve got to start all over again,’ he suggested.

He was right.  It starts with a commitment to live with them, get to know them.  Be sent into our world.

How to make disciples?  Speak the ‘language’ of the people, not our jargon, our church culture.  So many of us who frequent pews on Sundays know all the code words.  Even if we don’t actually understand them all, we are used to them!

What does a person from Digby who never has gone to a Church think of all these terms and phrases?

For God so loved the world
He gave His only Son
to die on Calvary’s tree
From sin to set me free
Some day He’s coming back
What glory that will be
Wonderful His love to me

It is all code words, right?

I happened to watch a lecture online this week by Steven Pinker, a Canadian, a Harvard professor of psychology.  He gave a very interesting talk about language, style and writing in the 21st century. He says so many professors and experts write in a way that is so unclear and hard to understand.  It is just the way they all do it. And here is an example he gave of how so many professionals talk these days. A young man told what he did to a journalist:

I’m a digital and social-media strategist.  I deliver programs, products, and strategies to our corporate clients across the spectrum of communications functions.  When the journalist confessed he had no idea what that meant, and asked him what he really did, the man finally gave in and said: I teach big companies how to use Facebook.

In our lives, it would be a good exercise to take home the words of our first song, ‘For God So…’ and rewrite it so that any 25 year old could understand us.

How to make disciples?  Don’t blame ‘them,’ the ‘outsiders.’  God so loved the world.  The world of people, the creation, the whole schmear.  

I hesitate to quote this again, because it can be a downer, but the lesson is good.  This comes from Dr. Stephen McMullin’s Evangelism Course Sharon and I took four years ago in Smith’s Cove.  

Many churches, urban and suburban and rural, evangelical and mainline, are dying.  When a church is dying, what are the common responses?

  • Blame society: It is the world’s fault that the church is not growing.  Non-Christians should be coming to Church! Stores should be closed on Sundays.  Sports should not be allowed on Sunday.
  • Blame the young.  They aren’t taking on their fair share of the work.  They owe us for raising them in the church.
  • Blame the old.  They caused the problem.  If they had been willing to change, things would be fine.

Blaming one another, inside, or blaming those outside the churches, is not a helpful sign.  Rather, what’s it like to follow Paul of the New Testament? He said, I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. (1 Cor 9:22)

Or, as our Baptist Staff person, Kevin Vincent, said enthusiastically at Oasis a month ago: Sunday is not a sacred, special day anymore?  Well! We have all seven days to pick from! The whole week is ours!

How to make disciples?  Learn from them – take a respectful, humble posture to non-Christians.  I believe one way of humbling myself before God is for me to be humble before every person God loves.  That just might be every single person on earth!

One: Hear their critique of Christians and of Church.  Ya know, it just might be that people who quit church long ago each have good reason for doing so.  We had best learn from them. We have an opportunity for the Master to teach us a lot through the experience of others. People who have never tried our Christianity have a good outsiders view that we do not.  Some of them are not afraid to say what they see in us, the good, the bad, the ugly and the beauty.

Also, Two: Hear what they need and what questions they are asking.  A house up the street has a sign that says this: ETERNITY IS A LONG TIME TO BE WRONG.  Not only is this written in secret Christian code, life after death might not be the main concern of a lot of contemporary people around us.  What does matter to them?

As we get better at knowing the people around us, we get trained by the Master to serve them.  One new tool just became available on Friday. It is called “Fearless”, and is a study program put out by the MacRae Centre at Acadia Divinity College. ‘Fearless’ is a guide to Christ, Culture & Courageous Faith.  The teaching in this little course is by Dr. Anna Robbins. Let me close with some of her words from a Faith Today article, published one year ago.

But when we look at our culture carefully in the light of day, we may find things are not as scary as we first thought.

Yes, the Church is declining. Yes, the Christian influence in Western society is waning. Yes, culture is [becoming secular] at a rapid rate. No, the Church doesn’t enjoy the same cultural position it used to.

But Dr. Robbins suggests; there are fewer and less scary monsters than we imagine. …God is still on His throne, and His Church is still on mission in this country. …We enjoy an immense amount of freedom to worship and live out our faith with commitment and enthusiasm.

We don’t need to panic that we need to defend God in a godless world. God is at work and will defend Himself.

Perhaps it’s time to learn and teach how to live our faith in contemporary culture with love and joy.

Let’s [stop this seemingly endless cultural lament and] get on with the serious and joyful work of the gospel. After all, it’s not our work, but the Holy Spirit’s to change a heart and a culture.

Be fearless!

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