Countercultural Christianity, Part 3
In my last post (“Countercultural Christianity, Part 2”) I suggested that God’s people need to seek to be more biblical, and thus more countercultural, in two specific areas: (1) Sexual ethics; and (2) Gender roles and Family Life. In this post I continue to discuss areas where I believe the church needs to be more countercultural; but these final two items have more to do with the church culture in particular:
In general, the church culture within the American church says something along these lines: “We need to be more innovative and creative in the area of worship. After all, as long as we are sincere, we can worship God any way we please, and with whatever innovations and methods we choose, as long as we stay away from things that He has expressly forbidden in His Word (like idolatry, for example). No more of that “boring,” ho-hum stuff like preaching and sacraments administered by an ordained pastor; no more old fashioned hymns and ancient creeds and liturgical prayers! Instead, we can liven up worship by doing things like replacing preaching with drama, doing liturgical dancing, having a “youth Sunday” where the children run the service, using pizza and pepsi for communion elements, lighting candles as an act of worship, having a special “blessing of the animals” service, replacing corporate praise with a rock concert featuring celebrity Christian musicians, barking revivals, and so forth. After all, God will accept anything we choose to offer to Him, as long as it is offered from a sincere heart! And we don’t need to be so “serious” in worship. After all, God is such a non-judgmental ‘nice gentleman’; hey, He just wants us to relax and kick back in His presence so He can shower all His blessings upon us! So, let down your hair, lift up your hands, and give the Lord a “high five!””
But God’s Word says, “Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.” (Leviticus 10:1-2, ESV; emphasis added) There is no indication in the immediate context that Nadab and Abihu were insincere when they decided to offer God their “innovative” worship of unauthorized fire before the LORD. But though their worship may have been well intentioned and sincere, the result of offering such “innovative” worship was deadly, for they worshipped God with their own ideas instead of according to God’s rules. God’s Word also says this about man-made religious regulations (which could include “innovative” worship practices not prescribed in God’s Word): “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” (Colossians 2:23, ESV; emphasis added) The term “self-made religion” is translated in the King James Version as “will-worship,” indicating that the practice of worshipping God according to our own desires and choices, instead of according to God’s prescribed ordinances, involves the idolatry of worshipping our own choices, our own will. And finally, God’s Word says in Hebrews 12:28-29: “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (ESV; emphasis added) Divine worship which is pleasing to God and acceptable in His sight is worship which is reverent and filled with a sense of holy fear and awe, and which is offered only through the mediation of Christ. Frivolity, casualness, giddyness, light-heartedness, and a “laid back” attitude have absolutely no place whatsoever in corporate worship. Yes, acceptable worship is truly joy-filled and edifying; but it is also reverent and serious-minded, for we serve a seriously holy, awe-inspiring God who is supremely serious about His own worship! God’s people must stand against the “uber-casual” attitude that pervades our culture when it comes to how we approach God in worship. There are times and places and contexts when being casual is perfectly appropriate; but Divine worship is not one of them.
(4) Membership Standards
In the American church culture today the practice of responsible, loyal membership to the church of your choice has fallen on hard times. Many churches are far easier to join than your local civic and community organizations. In some congregations all you have to do to join the church is to go forward after the service and indicate you would like to become a member, and perhaps make some very basic profession of faith. No in-depth catechesis or membership training is required. Often no questions are asked by the leadership of the church about why you left your previous church, or what is motivating you to want to affiliate with this particular congregation. Some churches today don’t even have formal church membership, so you couldn’t “join” them even if you wanted to. In general, the American church culture today seems to be saying, “Joining a church and being a responsible, loyal church member are optional things. As long as you have a personal relationship with Jesus, church membership is entirely optional. It may even be spiritually harmful!” But God’s Word says, “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls…And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:41, 47b, ESV; emphasis added) As a result of the Apostle Peter’s preaching of the gospel on the Day of Pentecost, a great multitude came to repent and believe in Christ. What did Peter do? Did he tell them, “Well, now that you have made a decision for Christ, read your Bible, pray; and, oh yeah, you might also want to think about being baptized and joining the church. But, hey, that’s totally optional; it’s entirely up to you. After all, you have a personal relationship with Jesus! Baptism, church membership, diligent use of the means of grace, being part of a local expression of Christ’s Body, all that stuff is good, but don’t feel obligated if you’d rather do something else with your time.” No; instead Peter commanded them to be baptized (among other things, a sign of membership in the visible church), and he exhorted them with many words (Acts 2:38, 40). We are told that those who were converted were added by baptism to the visible church — a church which obviously kept some form of membership statistics, since Luke calculates that about three thousand souls were added. When God saves us through faith in Christ, He also unites us to the universal Body of Christ; and that universal Body of Christ manifests itself at a local level through local biblical churches which maintain a faithful Word and sacrament ministry. Believers belong in the church, and ought to make uniting with a faithful church a top priority in their Christian lives.
God’s Word also says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.” (Hebrews 13:17a, ESV) In the context of this passage the author of Hebrews is speaking of spiritual leaders in the church. If you are not a member of a church, then how can you obey this command of Scripture? The words of this passage assume some form of church membership.
I am sure that there are many many other ways that God’s people today ought to be more countercultural and less accomodating to the culture. I hope these specific examples have helped to stimulate your thinking on this subject. Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us strive to be countercultural in the positive sense. More importantly, by the grace of God let us strive to be biblical; for if we are indeed being biblical, we will no doubt be countercultural in the things that matter.