Does Culture Affect the Church?

In preparation for my sermon this past Sunday I was struck with the question “How does the culture affect the church?” Now, it’s not that I haven’t asked the question before, but because I was preaching an introductory message to help set the stage for our new “Hand Delivered” series on the Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia Minor in Revelation 2-3, (breathe here!) I was forced to ask myself that question again. In a number of the letters to the churches the local conditions had affected the church.

  • In some cases it was the religious systems in those regions: In Ephesus and Pergamum there was the presence of the Nicolaitans – apparently a false teaching that included the practice immorality. In Smyrna there was what is called the Synagogue of Satan – apparently Jews who opposed the Gospel.
  • In other cases it was a certain personality that held the church in its grip: Jezebel in Thyatira.
  • In another case it was the luxury and comforts of the lifestyle: the wealthy, rich and in need of nothing Laodiceans.

So, I ask the question. How does culture affect the church? How has it affected your church? Here are some categories to help the discussion:

  • Regionally - Does living in the USA have an affect on how we view church or even how we approach God? Does the fact that our church, CVFirst, is located in California, and in particular the liberal camp of the Bay Area, i.e. in the shadows of San Francisco and Berkeley, affect how we do or view the church?
  • Ethnically - Is your church demographic primarily White, African, Asian, Arab, Latin American, etc.? Or, is it a melting pot of the sum or those parts. How does that affect the church?
  • Economically - Is where your church is located affected by the changing economy? What side of the tracks is it on? How does that affect who you are as a body of believers?
  • Vocationally - White or blue collar? Does it make a difference?

I know that the list isn’t complete, i.e. educational level, gender issues, sports oriented, etc.

It is my observation that we are far more affected by our culture than we truly realize or want to admit.

What do you think?

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5 Responses

  1. I found Sunday’s message to be quite thought provoking…Yes, I think being in the United States absolutely colors our view of the church and Christ – I just finished reading the Sisters In Service book “Daughters of Hope” and it was enlightening how people truly suffer and struggle for their belief in Christ when my biggest turmoil lately is how to tell my friends, extended family and coworkers that I disagree with gay marriage…I also feel that on a more local scale – the CV vs Hayward debate is a real one…We live in Hayward, when our oldest daughter was attending a CVFBC high school event she heard a modern version of the Good Samaritan parable where the thugs were from Hayward. There were other factors, but the fact remains she didn’t feel comfortable there any more and didn’t go back. She didn’t feel that she fit in…

    I’d also be less than truthful if I said I thought that our population at CVFBC couldn’t use a little more diversity. It’s just a little monochromatic, but I think that has more to do with geography than anything…

    I’m looking forward to the rest of the series and I was very thankful for the fact that you reminded everyone to look at themselves first! Can’t wait to hear more :) Thanks Rod!

  2. Wow, I guess I haven’t thought too much about the relationship between the universal church and the local body of believers. I haven’t heard your sermon last week (I have some catching up to do), but I’m going to go out on a limb with some observations/questions of my own.

    Culture certainly affects the church. To let culture dictate the interpretation of the Scripture or doctrinal beliefs, is wrong (all too common and primarily unintentional, but wrong nonetheless). However, is it wrong for culture to help form an identity (or effective ministry) of a local body of believers?

    I believe
    -the Gospel is universal and not specifically ‘tailored’ to a certain culture.
    -The Body of Christ (univeral church) spans all cultures
    -Distinguishing between doctrinal issues and cultural preferences is important
    -in studying the Scriptures in historical/cultural context

    My experiences-
    -My church is very close to the University of Buffalo. We have an educated, somewhat transient (professors and international students) and multicultural crowd. We have a Sunday school class in Japenese taught by a retired missionary. All of these factors, affect how our worship services are organized, how we are ministered to and what types of ministries we focus on, etc. . .
    -We occassionaly worship together with a sister church on the east side of Buffalo. They believe the same things we do, but their services involve a whole lot of amens, dancing in the isles, and an overall overtly passionate atmosphere. Our services are much more reserved. We enjoy our time together and chuckle over our cultural differences (racial) even though we live 20 minutes from each other. We truly celebrate being brothers and sisters in Christ and enjoy the fellowship together.

    I guess missionaries must deal with this issue routinely as they strive to bring God’s Word to a community rather than a culture.

    Side note-Isn’t this an overall theme in the Northern California Coalition in helping strengthen the Russian church rather than plant American churches?

    OK-sorry to ramble on, I haven’t organized my thoughts yet (its a woman thing) :-) Working on it.

  3. Sara – I too am looking forward to the series. I am excited about what God is already showing me about myself and am looking at each letter as a separate letter from Christ to me. I have many struggles just like anyone else, but what I often wonder is “am I doing something that offends God in some way that I am not aware of simply because my culture has conditioned me to think that it is o.k.?”

    Take the Global warming frenzy that has been pumping through our country recently – especially here in CA. How easily being “green” is in vogue, but is it really honoring to God? Maybe we are all being deceived by rhetoric, even from well intentioned people. 50 years from now will solid Bible believing Christians look back at our “greenness” or lack thereof and think, “how could believers do that?” or “how could they not do that?”

  4. Sarah – Good to hear from you…and since you rambled on I’ll make my reply short :0)…

    Certainly you are correct in saying that the Body of Christ spans all cultures, but the local body will always face the question of culture. In fact it must if it is going to be relevant.

    And even in your illustration about the sister church, you are welcoming a distinct culture that has its own ups and downs, politically, socially, economically, etc.

    So, yes, missionaries do have to face this, and yes, our ministry in Russia must take this into account. The USA is not the model culture for the rest of the world to emulate. Thankfully, our culture has some merits and is laced with a Judeo-Christian ethic, but there are beautiful things about other cultures too that we should be willing to learn from.

  5. It’s totally a question about whether we consider ourselves aliens and travelers through this world or if we’ve let ourselves be convinced that the culture among which we live in is who we are. I think it’s realism: “truth is whatever you can see in front of you and nothing else.” If we’re too wrapped into a culture that we don’t allow God’s conviction to penetrate our “identity” then culture is our idol. Pride is the backbone to our desire to seek an identity for ourselves within a culture.

    I can’t wait to learn from this series.

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