One final post and the plan is to move on from this discussion of church and culture. It seems to me that a third step we might think about in overcoming the difficulties that differing cultures present in our churches is to have a clear focus on the mission. It is notable that when Jesus’ final words in Matthew are not a command to propagate culture, but make disciples of all nations. If we unite around that vision I think it makes a huge difference to the role that culture and our cultural differences play within a church.
First, a focus on mission (by this I mean more than evangelism, but making disciples) will necessarily put culture in a secondary position. In a recent article in Evangelicals Now, Marcus Honeysett helpfully points out that there are two positions that a church can stand in, maintenance or mission. Maintenance is about preserving a culture. Mission turns away from a preservation mindset and is about moving forward and seeing the church built in quality and quanitity. In effect, mission can become the new dominant culture that we all grab hold of.
Second, a focus on mission will leave, or should leave, no time for petty arguments about cultural things. Am I being naive and ignoring the reality of our sinful natures? Or is it true that if our attention is taken up with the pressing matter of how to reach our communities with the gospel and how can we encourage one another to grow in Christ we are not going to be so concerned about whether the music was a bit livelier last Sunday or the chairs have been moved around.
Third, a focus on mission gives us a reason to overcome our differences. According to Jesus love is the badge of discipleship (John 13:35). How will an unbelieving world see that the gospel is real and relevant? One of the chiedfways is by seeing the love that Christians have for eachother. If we are serious about mission, we will be serious about unity because without it how can think of reaching a dying world?
One last thing. Don’t we need God to help us with this:
Oh God, may I submit to your will for the church. May I love people who are different to me, who see things differently and do things differently. Help me to remember that I am not accepted before you because I do things in a certain way, but because Jesus died for me. Help me to think of others in that way as well. Help me to be humble and realise that there are many different ways of doing things, my way is not the right way and other way the wrong way. Help me to have such a passion for mission, a passion to engage people with the gospel and see people growing in the Lord Jesus Christ, that I am willing to let go of my preferences and my cultural assumptions and live for the honour of Jesus and for the good of others. Amen