Challenging Christian Culture

“Dying,” Morrie suddenly said, “is only one thing to be sad over, Mitch. Living unhappily is something else. So many of the people who come to visit me are unhappy.”
“Why?”
“Well, for one thing, the culture we have does not make people feel good about themselves. We’re teaching the wrong things. And you have to be strong enough to say if the culture doesn’t work, don’t buy it. Create your own. Most people can’t do it. They’re more unhappy than me–even in my current condition.”
“I may be dying, but I am surrounded by loving, caring souls. How many people can say that?” –  from “Tuesdays with Morrie“, by Mitch Albom


Christian culture doesn’t make me happy. To be sure that we’re on the same page – I’m using this definition for culture: “the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group”.

On ‘customary beliefs’ – I find myself in a Christianity that’s full of conflicting customary beliefs. I’m not sure what to believe – or why it’s okay to not believe some things and a deal-breaker to not believe other things. It’s not just the main battlefields of the armies of Calvinism vs the militias of Arminianism; but there’s also countless smaller debates – skirmishes on any number of topics that constantly rage on seemingly without end. There’s no peace – and the only unity exists so long as the other people on your side believe exactly as you do – otherwise they’re not worth the time of day. If you associate with them, their ‘bad company’ will corrupt your ‘good character’ or worse, ‘damage your faith’ and turn you away from the truth.

On ‘social forms’ – Christianity has become bound to hierarchies in hierarchies built upon domination and subordination. It’s one of the big debates going on now – but apparently the Father/Son relationship is one of authority and submission, so husband/wife relationships are also built on authority and submission, as well as church leaders / the congregation are to exist in a pattern of authority and submission. Somebody always leads, somebody always follows or else the whole house of cards will come tumbling down. But for those of us who read the Bible understanding mutual respect and love as the nature of all relationships – we can see the tendency to over-promote authority and submission as the human tendency to seek power and control over others. A hierarchical God, seriously? How does that really work? God, Christ, Holy Spirit, various ranks of angels, wasn’t Jesus made a little lower than the angels? Then people – but also in various ranks – in the churches it goes like Pastor, then varying degrees of associate pastors, Elder, Deacon, husbands and men in general, wives and women in general, children. Then as family units, the order goes God, Christ, Man/Husband, Woman/Wife – nobody seems to notice the absence of the Holy Spirit and children, but it’s not like they were that important anyways.

On material traits – We like our stuff. Our t-shirts, our sermons, our books – we’d fill up whole libraries of books and just keep on writing more of them. We’ll sell you any number of Bibles in any color of any translation with any number of special features – maps, timelines, study notes – we’re a stuff-oriented faith these days. We have mountains of it, and faith will move it for a an extra shipping and handling fee. Figure in the seed/faith prosperity gospel and you have a stuff-oriented teaching that pretty much never delivers on it’s promises because it impoverishes vulnerable Christians in order to enrich greedy Christians.

We’re not at all like the original culture Christianity had – they were all brothers and sisters (no hierarchies), they were more concerned with the Holy Spirit’s power than their own (Jesus didn’t send Him to us so that we could ignore him), and we didn’t really care about stuff (we held everything in common and gave to others as they had need.) We didn’t police each other’s theology and were plagued with false teachers – but that’s par for the course in a saturated religious market-place where idols and false gods are so plentiful that new converts are bound to mix-up the details.

But when I’m at church – especially at the SBC churches – I’m in a culture that doesn’t make me happy. I’m in a culture that says that I’m beneath them (hierarchies aren’t so great for those at the bottom, but the ones at the top get the nice view – or so I hear, I wouldn’t really know.) I’m flooded with Bible Studies that don’t really study the Bible itself (I still don’t know why I’d study some woman’s autobiography instead of God’s word – I certainly wouldn’t choose to learn from it or teach it.) I’m in a church with changing theology that crashes in from all sides like a tumultuous sea and I’m drowning in these really complicated theological beliefs -ism and -tion words that seem nothing like what I read in the Bible. It’s certainly not like how Jesus taught on the tough things.


So here’s the deal. Culture is what we make it – we can make it better and/or we can make it worse. It’s up to us to write the books and the songs and the studies, to organize ourselves and to re-write the rules so that nobody is left out or perpetually at the end of the line, to steer us in the right direction as to putting more value in people than in stuff. So I’ll do my best to make up my own culture.
I think I’ll base it off of Jesus’ teachings – he and his upside-down, inside-out family of believers who live out a few basic principles:

  1. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you; do not treat others in ways you would not like to be treated.
  2. Love your neighbor as you love yourself; everyone is your neighbor – even your enemies. Love yourself – take care of yourself so that you can take care of and love others, too.
  3. See a need, fill a need – it’s not enough to throw money at a problem and hope that fixes it; give your time and skills. Educate yourself as to what needs are present in your community and work together to fill them with others.
  4. Friendship, not finances – Christianity should never be a money-making scheme; relationships are more important than excessive wealth. True prosperity is taking care of others.
  5. Level playing field – Christianity isn’t a spectator sport where only a few are authorized to play the game and a great many are only allowed to watch from the bleachers; every player is needed in the game. Nobody rides the bench. There’s only one team captain – J.C.
  6. Same page – there are worse things than not being on the same page; no more policing each other’s beliefs. Learn to embrace diversity of thought and style while maintaining unity of spirit – one Spirit moves through us all – taking us all on our different journeys together.
  7. Empty chair – too many groups get too comfortable with their small circle, there always need to be an empty place at the table, and empty chair reminding us that our group isn’t ‘whole’ or ‘complete’ yet. We should welcome new-comers and embrace the changing group dynamic that they represent.

Does Christian culture make you happy? If not, what principles would you teach in culture 2.0?

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12 thoughts on “Challenging Christian Culture

  1. Good list, thanks. I think we are exactly like early Christianity, some churches get it and are following Jesus, some are following themselves and some are somewhere in between. People are messy.

    Principles — only one really, Follow Jesus, not the pastor, church or denomination, just Jesus. (not that any of those things are bad — just priority)

    If we truly follow Him and not the world, even the Christian world, then all other things will fall in line.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I see so many people misled by pastors whose interpretations of Scriptures seem to emphasize all the wrong things. Sometimes I wish that pastors weren’t known for their names or ministries – but were a number, like 12 or 72 – then again, people would still tend to follow their favorite number – cult of personality seems to be a really big problem in the circles of Christianity I’m used to. I see so many people who seem to have lost the ability to read what the Scriptures say unless they say what their pastor tells them what to look for. An example is the tendency to just know that the serpent in the Garden of Eden is Satan, but he’s not identified as such until Revelation – so sometimes he’s given more of a role in Genesis than what’s written.

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      • Yeah, I hear you but again I don’t think this is anything new. Paul talks about the church arguing about whether they are the party of Paul or Apollos or Peter and how that misses the entire point. He also commends the Bereans for double checking what he is saying against the Scriptures.

        It is understandable that we form attachments to certain people and teachers, but we should always be pointing others to Jesus not following our desires to make it about ourselves.

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  2. A thoughtful and balanced post
    I’m catholic, by choice. It’s is the way I communication with God.
    I am not entitled to tell anyone else how they reach God.
    Nor how to tell anyone how they should live their lives, unless they are causing pain & misery and using hatred as a tool.

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    • Thanks! I find that most regular people I know who are catholic are kind, caring people. But I happened to watch Spotlight the other day and saw how the hierarchy of priests failed to protect the most vulnerable of all. I realized how power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and spiritual power corrupts spiritually.
      There’s an evangelical church that did pretty much the same thing, just on a much smaller scale – https://www.washingtonian.com/2016/02/14/the-sex-abuse-scandal-that-devastated-a-suburban-megachurch-sovereign-grace-ministries/ – so I know that the problem isn’t in Catholic teachings or Evangelical teachings – but in the social form of authority / submission. I worry that if it’s not called out for what it is, it’ll continue to plague the church with untold pain and misery.

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      • There can be quite a gap between congregation and priesthood in the Catholic church. The ordinary churchgoers seem to have a much better grasp of the real world than some of the ‘entrenched’.
        We currently have a pope who is forward looking.
        Wherever you seem to go there is this tendency for organisations to try and cover up errors and worse.

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      • Since I speak a little Spanish, I had the opportunity to listen to him officiate a service in Spanish when he came to America for a visit awhile back. Since I’m not Catholic and unaware of the particulars, I wasn’t sure what to think. I think that while forward looking can be a good thing, it will eventually be time to be forward-acting and how the church rises to that challenge will say a lot about which leader is the true one.

        Liked by 1 person

      • If you look at both examples, the problems follow the poor doctrine.

        The Catholic church puts the Church, structure, and the head higher ups above everything else in the world, even the people. The Bible bows before the Church in the Catholic world because the Church is the repository off truth rather than the Bible.

        So when the Church and the more important people were in a jam, the less important people suffered and the Bible was ignored because it was less important than Mother Church.

        SGM, though not nearly as widespread and apparently in dispute is alleged to have taught a similarly authoritarian version of doctrine and elevated the pastors to mini priests.

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      • So in an attempt to teach authority and submission, misinterpretation resulted in the worst way. I wonder if that can also be said about a husbands being the head of their wives, who are to submit to them in everything. The SGM churches were also compementarian.

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  3. Yes, essentially though it is more that the teaching is off to begin with resulting in bad things.

    The Catholic Church’s doctrine on the priests/bishops/cardinals is just man centered so it results in bad results. SGM is alleged to have taught an authoritarian brand of leadership with superstar pastor thrown in so when bad things happen, again the sheep are sacrificed to protect the supposed shepherds. I say alleged cause I have no experience with them so I am going off one article.

    I don’t think you can apply either to truly biblical authority and submission issues. Leadership in the church are supposed to lead by serving and self sacrificing and at the same time as they are shepherding are equal to those they are leading. Jesus came to serve, not to be served. Though husbands are called to lead their wives they are are supposed to do it out of love like Christ loved the church, to death, and sacrificially and gently like Jesus leads the church. The contrast is supposed to be with the gentiles who lord their authority over people and puch them around, but some churches make that hard to see.

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    • I always thought of Jesus’ kingdom as upside-down and inside out. Jesus had all the authority of being God, calling down natural disasters, summoning legions of angels to conquer his people’s foes, and do anything at all. Some were looking to Jesus to show up, be crowned king, overthrow the Romans, and get a share of the glory of being on Jesus’ side when he does it. He gave every single bit of it to wander around the countryside as a poor rabbi, teaching anyone and everyone within earshot, partying with the outcasts and the poor and he kept on undermining the Pharisees’ power and that’s why they kept on trying to get rid of him. Had Jesus just played ball and endorsed them, they would have treated him as their golden boy. But Jesus’ inside-out and upside-down kingdom showed them that their hearts weren’t ready to give up their beloved power and authority – so the majority of them lost everything. Only a few – like Nicodemus, recognized that he’d have to give it all up ‘be born again’ in order to truly come into life. Children are born as blank slates, no authority – nothing. I think so long as people see that authority/submission is the most important thing, they’ll miss out on the only most important thing – Jesus.

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...Anyway, that's just how I feel about it ... What do you think?

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