Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A spectre is haunting the West...

...the spectre of Christianity. All the powers of old self—selfishness, fear, hate, indifference—have entered into an unholy alliance to exorcise this spectre.

Where is the left wing that has not been decried as "rampant liberalism" by its opponents in power? Where is the opposition that has not hurled back the branding reproach of "closed-minded Christian", against the ruling right wing, as well as against its reactionary adversaries?

Two things result from this fact:

  • The Christian Church is already acknowledged by all powers to be itself a power.

  • It is high time that Christians should openly, in the face of the whole world, make known their views, their aims, their tendencies [with honesty] and meet this nursery tale of the spectre of Christianity with a manifesto of the faith itself.

To this end, I will put forth what I have come to understand about the relationship between Christianity and Western Culture in their divergence and commonality of language and purpose.

The Terms:


Christianity has long been known among the West—saddled with the forming and authoring of nations and constitutions. Long has the spattering of brands and sects of this ancient institution peppered the landscape of the Western world
In this third millennium of Christianity three things have become disturbingly clear:

  • The specifics of it are more lore than tenets to the greater population.

  • The character of Christ and the reputation of his 'followers' are too often at odds.

  • In private the message is 'go' but in public 'mum's' the word.

'Christianity' refers to an institution of faith in one God, creator of everything, who provided redemption for 'His' creation by becoming a man, dying on a cross, and defeating the grave. All who put their faith in him are justified in God's sight and sanctified by 'His' Holy Spirit. It is through this distinct event that Christianity is more than just belief, for faith without action is death. Action is faith expressing itself through love—active love for the community of Christ and lost humanity.


Culture, as categorization, is highly ambiguous. We are to believe that it is a common goal, or perhaps a set of values; a proximity or family ties. Culture can be as broad as the entire global and historical scope of humanity. In the same breath it can be parsed down to the individual. Such frames of reference guarantee the paradoxical task of defining broad reality and truth from within paradigms and filters of perspective.

By definition, 'culture' is alive. Its cultivation is progressive though mostly unconscious. It represents humanity moving from an origin toward a goal. That goal is determined by the journey. The journey is where we are now. Our fate, then, and the delimiting of culture is a unity of personality expressed in community. It is the shape and values of community, therefore, that navigates humanity and not all roads lead to 'Rome.'

The Problems Rethought:

Christianity and Culture as Indistinct

Christianity intersects culture at all levels of perception and classification. Indeed, we cannot understand Christ outside of culture which is intentional in the Incarnation. However, the goal and direction of Christians and the wider culture are ultimately divergent.

How, then, has the flock dissolved into the landscape? Why, then, is 'Christian' synonymous with 'American' or 'Canadian?' Where did the heirs of an eternal kingdom fall unconscious like the sleepwalkers around them? Indeed, what hope have we to offer the lost if none can tell us apart?

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world! Rather, be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and understand what God's will is—His good, pleasing, and perfect will. The same will that brought all into existence and carries us past the end. Christ-followers, I implore you, live and move and have your being as children of an eternal promise. Not wandering, by ourselves or as an organism, but set on a purpose, calling those who would listen to do the same.

Christianity and Culture as Disconnected

It is purpose, therefore, that carves the division between Christianity and Culture. Separate paths with separate ends—different vehicles and navigation. Who, then, could condemn the enmity so readily present between faith and the world? Should not our ties be superficial at best? Heaven forbids!

Have we so assuredly broken communication with surrounding culture? As strangers in a foreign land, do we refuse the vernacular? Why, then are we here? Would not retreat have come long ago? It is that separate means and end that hold us here. Our purpose, the thing that defines us, is the very reason for our habitation among the peoples of the world!

Be, therefore, all things to all people that by all possible means we might save some. It is the good news of Christ that sets us apart and for which we are all things. To the French, be French. To the German, be German. To the English, be English. If there are poor, bear the burden of poverty. If there are wise, gird yourself in shrewdness. Be clear in social belief and understanding, not shirking in avoidance or assuming success.

It is for this reason we have been given Christ the word, and for that word we have been hated for we, like that word, are not the same as the world. Hence, we should not abandon the world but pray we do not lose hope.

Syncretism and Symbiosis

Christianity and Culture are both distinct and necessary in regard to one another. Christians must live with eternal purpose that dictates both their character—nonconformity—and their empathy—love for people.

As with the Incarnation of Christ, we have not existed apart from culture nor are our origin and conclusion of this world. To what degree, then, can these two entities of faith and wider humanity exist?

Separation and enmity are clearly impossible and unfaithful. But to what alternative can we turn? In blending these polarities it is too easy a thing to annihilate their identities and create a new substance. This is the danger of syncretism. If, then, we can neither rage against each other nor dissolve identities what can be done?

The answer, as I see it, is in an allusion of nature. When two organisms live in such close proximity that they cannot be easily separated it is termed symbiosis. The clear difference between symbiosis and syncretism is that though interdependence is inextricably woven into the symbiotic relationship, the members’ identities are preserved.

Thus, we must be aware of those areas of interdependence for which the symbiotic relationship is of greatest value. However, we must always be on guard to protect the distinct identity of our faith in this foreign land.

The Church:

Church Universal

This is the body of our lord Christ already past, holding firm in the present, and owning the future. We are not separated by the ages, languages, or classifications of our persons. Indeed, we are what Culture was meant to be. Baptism is our public declaration of this family of faith. In communion we meet in remembrance of our Lord's sacrifice. As part of the Church catholic we may not go through life obsessed with petty and temporal things, rather ancient and eternal glory.

Local Church

It is as an outstretched hand of the body of Christ—the Church catholic—that the local church stands. We are the ambassadors of a longstanding culture with everlasting endurance. The church must hold to the ideals of this faith community, protecting and promoting them. But never are we to be a cloistered group or secret club who only exists to preserve identity in the shadowlands. Yes, we are set apart. However, distinction is found in our lifestyle. Our lifestyle is born out of character. Our character must be shaped by love. That love is to reach out as an ancient and benevolent hand.

Individual Disciple

There is no rulebook of personality, but there is character to be attained to. There is no dictation of styles and preferences, but there are better ways to communicate Christ than others. 'Everything is permissible' but not everything is beneficial. Should we sin that grace would increase? Foolishness! We are free from the bondage of sin and the law, but real faith is not dormant. It is a faith that is alive—more so than any culture—it breaths life.

Therefore, hope in the eternal promise. Be aware of where we have come from and, indeed, a part of that heritage. Here and now set out for the task of Christ that we might accomplish the work of the future kingdom in our days.

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus Christ. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything he has commanded us. And surely he is with us always, to the very end of the age.

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