For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings (1Cor. 9:19-23).
It can be said of Christian history that one generation’s cultural adaptation is the following generation’s tradition-entrapped religion. It was true of the Jews who were in previous generations faithful to Yahweh in their cultural adaptation, but who were in a subsequent generation in Christ’s day so ensnared by the cultural adaptation of previous generations that they were unable to recognize Yahweh incarnate and crucified him. And the same it is true of American Christianity where previous generations adapted to the culture of their time, and subsequent generations were then ensnared by the cultural adaptations of the previous generation.
It is a simple reality to which we assign the title, “tradition,” and it is merely the extrabiblical practices that might have once served a particular culture well but remained in practiced Christianity even when the culture changed. In the Baptist church (the church with which I am most familiar), it is seen in such things as church buildings with Grecian columns and steeples, in the wearing of suits, and in the singing of hymns accompanied by organs. And many of these things are not wrong in and of themselves, but when these things are given such weight that hinder the work of the Gospel in a new culture, they become idols and snares.
In the South particularly, these traditions are becoming more and more hindrances to the Gospel as a influx of different cultures are injected into what is known to many as the Bible Belt. Because of increased prosperity in the South and declining prosperity elsewhere in the country, people are moving to the South in droves. And because of this influx of new people and culture, many who grew up here are in culture shock, and they who are in the churches are holding onto their “old time religion” with a death grip. For rather than seeking to recognize the drastic changes in culture and adapting the practices of the church accordingly so as to “redeem” the new culture, they are instead fighting for what they call Christianity and are spurning all those who do not share their same background.
And while there has been an overreaction to culture and thus a loss of the Gospel by many who claim to be Christians in what is being called the Emerging church, most of the things over which the church in the South will not budge are things that are not Christianity but tradition. These traditions can be music style, meeting locations and times, food and drink, use of language, etc.–all things to which the Gospel gives freedom so that we might become all things to all people and thereby win some in the new culture by the Gospel. It is not a practice of making the church appealing to the culture, but it is a practice of removing all things that might be a barrier to the culture for the sake of the Gospel. For the Gospel will most surely be an offense to the culture, but it should be the church’s only offense.
Likewise, we in the American church need to rid ourselves of the mindset that Christianity has shaped Western culture, when in reality Western culture has had more of an effect on shaping our traditions which we regard as Christianity. The Great Commission is not about the spreading of Western culture and Capitalism, but it about the Redemption of souls from all nations, tongues, and cultures. It is about the Gospel, and it is not accomplished by erecting Western-style church buildings in India. We are not as superior a culture as we esteem ourselves to be, and we need to cast aside our traditions so that we might preach an untainted Gospel to our culture and to the nations. Just a thought.
Categories: Just a Thought