Are We Out-Of-Touch With Culture, Or Out-Of-Touch With The New Testament?7 min read
It is a fact: we live in a new, weird world. A world of “selfies” and “memes.” “Google” is a frequently used verb. Jay Leno has been replaced by Jimmy Fallon. Thirty-three homosexual “marriages” were performed on stage this year at the Grammies. Twerking is a thing. What Kim Kardashian does matters for some reason. And she named her daughter “North.” Then John Travolta named someone “Adele Dazeem.” Ebola was going to destroy the world, and then it wasn’t. There are “beliebers.” ISIS. Entire jetliners can still go missing. Racism is evidently making a comeback. Bill Cosby is no longer viewed as a funny, upstanding family man. We landed a 4-foot-wide box on a comet 317 million miles away. And we’re all about that bass.
The age of private health insurance, incandescent light bulbs, Norman Rockwell, and Andy Griffith are increasingly distant memories.
Our religious landscape is rapidly changing, too. Less than half of all Americans (49%) now attend some sort of “church assembly” once a month. And a growing number have completely stopped attending “church” (33%) or never attended “church” to begin with (10%). Why are people deciding to leave religion?
Decisions people make today aren’t based upon logic and reason so much as they are feelings and the perception of ‘fairness.’ We are leaving a modern world and entering a post-modern one. More and more people are asking, like Pontius Pilate, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). To a growing number of Americans, what is true and right are irrelevant if taught in an impersonal, impassionate, and indifferent way.
Our changing culture is abundantly evident when contrasted with the church today. Granted, the church has always been counter-cultural. Even in the first century, Christianity was “spoken against everywhere” (Acts 28:22). Jesus and His message and mission will always be hated by the world (John 17:14). Therefore, the church today should expect to be spoken against (2 Tim. 3:12).
But why are we spoken against today? We need to be persecuted specifically for our righteousness (cf. 1 Pet. 3:13-17), not because we are out of touch with culture or God’s Word. The church needs to be spoken against because of what it is – the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15; cf. Acts 6:41) – not because of what it is failing to be.
The church today must know the needs of the culture if it wishes to adequately spread the gospel. How does our immediate culture think? What are the strengths and shortcomings of culture? What is our culture missing? What does our culture value? It is entirely possible (and all too common) to be so in touch with our doctrine, traditions, politics, and church buildings that we do not know how to communicate the gospel in a relevant way. The inverse is also true; it is entirely possible (and all too common) to be so concerned with being culturally relevant that we lose our dedication to the apostolic pattern.
Perhaps the best way to be “in touch” with the needs of our culture is by becoming more like the church as found in the New Testament, and less like the church as it has traditionally been in America. Consider the following:
We are out-of-touch if we think of “missions” as an isolated church department primarily concerned with sending money to foreign, impoverished countries. All Christians are missionaries (cf. Acts 8:4), and we are living in an increasingly post-Christian culture. The church will continue to shrink if members do not live their lives according to Christ’s mission – “to seek and save the lost” (Acts 19:10). The lost are our next-door neighbors. It’s time we start treating them like they are lost.
We are out-of-touch if we think it is the job of the preacher or church leadership to do a majority of the church’s work. All members should be workers – each using their talents for the Lord (Rom. 12:3-8). We rob God when we expect others to do our work (cf. Eph. 2:10).
We are out-of-touch if we think of our theology as “liberal” or “conservative” (and the two sides fighting against one another) instead of Biblical. The desire to be conservative, liberal, traditional, etc., should always take a back seat to being true to Jesus Christ and His New Testament. The “conservative/liberal” mentality is not found in the Bible, but what we do find is a warning against anyone who departs from pattern of sound words (2 Tim. 1:13) and the teachings of the apostles (2 Thess. 2:15; 3:6).
We are out-of-touch if we think we can appeal to our postmodern culture with impersonal, modern, formulaic methods. The postmodern mind is not interested in modernistic, logical reasoning. Yes, salvation depends – and will always depend – on the logic of God’s Word and finding truth by reasoning through the Scriptures. After all, God paying the price for our debt is intrinsically mathematical. He expects us to reason through the Scriptures. But a growing number today are increasingly unwilling to listen to your message unless they first know you care about them personally. Feed them, cloth them, laugh with them, look after them, have a conversation with them, and make yourself vulnerable to them. Then they will listen.
We are out-of-touch if we think of our church buildings as ‘sanctuaries’ where people must act reserved and dress formally. Of course, our times of worship and teaching must be done “decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40), with excellence (Col. 3:23), and with deep respect for the Lord (Psa. 2:11). But the attitude that our assemblies must be stiff and formal is a relatively new development in the church. Our postmodern society sees this as pretentious and is subsequently repulsed by it. We must cultivate an atmosphere of a spiritual family – a family that has all things in common (Acts 2:44; 4:32) and demonstrates a very personal love for one another (John 13:35; Rom. 12:10-11).
We are out-of-touch if we think of Christianity from a political perspective of having to regain power and influence in society. Attending church should not feel like a political rally or an NRA convention. We should avoid the “take back America” mentality, just as I doubt there was a “take back Rome” mentality in the church during the first, second, and third centuries. While government must legislate morality, laws – at the end of the day – do not save souls. Souls are not saved when sin is outlawed (things simply become more comfortable for the righteous). Our time is better spent planting the gospel in the hearts of those in society, because when the heart is changed, everything else follows suit (Matt. 15:18-20).
We are out-of-touch if we think that we must keep our faith and our passion to ourselves. Faith shouldn’t be stoic. We need to be actively encouraging one another to greater faithfulness (Heb. 3:13). We need to be confessing our sins to one another (Jas. 5:16). We need to be expressing our joy in the Lord to one another (Eph. 5:19). Worship should not be restricted to a few hours a week – we need to be known for our worship throughout the week (Heb. 13:15).
We are out-of-touch if we think that most people in our culture are members of a denominational church, understand the Bible, and believe in the Christian God. Our culture is increasingly “post-Christian,” and thus increasingly confused. We need to stop assuming our neighbors have the same perspective of God and His Word as we do. For example, very few people actually acknowledge the Bible as the Word of God, the Bible as finished (Jude 3), complete (2 Tim. 3:16), and the sole pattern for Christianity (2 Tim. 3:17).
Our cultural backdrop makes it easier for us to see our Biblical shortcomings. There is a reason why the Lord’s church is shrinking today. Perhaps it is because we have not adapted our methods to meet the needs of our culture. Perhaps we need to do a better job being the New Testament church instead of being the “traditional” church, the “popular” church, or the church “we grew up in.” It is indeed possible to be remain both doctrinally committed and culturally relevant – and when we achieve this balance, the church will grow.
 “The Number of Churchless Americans Has Jumped by Nearly One-Third in Just 20 Years.” Barna Group. <https://www.barna.org/churchless#.VIhKDWTF8zE> Accessed 12.9.14.