Countercultural Christianity, Part 1
Jesus Christ tells us that the gospel is for all nations. In His “great commission” (Matthew 28:18-20) our risen Lord commanded His church to make disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching them. Therefore, both the gospel and the church are trans-cultural realities, because they are trans-national realities that come to us as gifts from the transcendent God of all creation, the true and living God revealed in the Bible. The good news (gospel) of salvation through the crucified and risen Christ is not the exclusive possession of any particular people group or category of people. It is not exclusively for Jews, nor is it is exclusively for Gentiles. It is not exclusively for men, nor exclusively for women. It is not exclusively for whites, nor for blacks, nor for hispanics, nor for asians, nor for any other race or ethnicity of mankind. Rather, the gospel is a wonderful gift of God for all people without distinction, provided they respond to the gospel call with the repentance and faith Christ in His gospel requires. People who respond to the gospel message with true repentance and living faith in Jesus Christ are united together in one Body, the church, whatever their nationality, ethnicity, race, gender, family, or cultural background happens to be. As the Apostle Paul reminded the Christians of Galatia, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28, ESV)
So by its very nature Christ’s church is transcultural. But while Christ welcomes into His kingdom all kinds of people from all kinds of different cultures, backgrounds, vocations and walks of life, He also calls us as His Body to be a holy people. The primary biblical meaning of “holy” is not “morally upright” (although we should certainly strive to be that!); rather, it’s primary meaning is “set apart,” “different,” “distinct.” While we come from different backgrounds and represent different races, nationalities, and genders, through God’s amazing grace we are set apart as a “communion of saints (i.e., “set apart ones”)” to live holy lives of discipleship in the fellowship of His visible church. What this means is that Christ wants His church not only to be transcultural; it also means that He wants us to be countercultural. Insofar as the cultures that we come from stand in opposition to the authority of God’s Word and the sovereign Lordship of Christ (as all cultures do in various ways), we must stand against our cultures rather than following the accepted but godless norms, values and trends of our particular cultures.
In the American church context the church as a whole (whether we are talking about the “liberal” church or the “conservative” church in their various manifestations) has pretty much gone along with the culture and its trends. In the well-intentioned desire to contextualize the gospel (not a bad thing in itself!) and to be missional (again, not a bad thing in itself), the American church has often gone too far accommodating itself to ungodly cultural norms and trends. In the name of being “culturally relevant” the church has often become biblically irrelevant in terms of spiritual and eternal realities. In the name of being “missional” and “contextual,” the American church has often let the culture set the agenda at times when it has needed to be strongly countercultural.
In Part 2 I will suggest some areas where I believe the church of Jesus Christ today needs to be more countercultural and less accomodating to the current cultural climate. Stay tuned!