Set the Pace

The church is often criticized for being irrelevant to modern culture. But believers throughout history have been society's pacesetters.
Many people today are saying Christianity is just another American subculture. They point to Christian music, books, magazines and films and say that, at best, we are merely making carbon copies of secular culture. They argue that Christians aren't doing anything truly original or investing in culture in a way that is uniquely our own.

This is far from true! Already in the 21st century, Christians have made great cultural strides. Some of the best novelists, scriptwriters (stage and film), journalists, musicians and politicians on the scene are followers of Christ. Strong believers are breaking new ground in virtually every cultural arena.

Unfortunately, though, some of our churches seem to believe the myth that we are a subculture. They've heard over and over again that Christians are too awkward and too different from the rest of the world. They've accepted the idea that Christians are losers.

When they believe this, they no longer seek to be culturally informed or relevant. They stop trying to live a life of Christian excellence. Instead, they retreat too deeply into a purely religious world. Though they do a great job at prayer and Bible study, they lose the ability to relate to the non-Christian world.

Now is not the time to retreat. More than ever before, it is imperative that Christians continue to set the pace for our country. We need to stand out, strive for excellence and make our message known throughout contemporary culture.

The Bible says that as Jesus grew up, He "increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men" (Luke 2:52, NKJV). This is a model for all of us. We should not become so "spiritually minded" that we cannot relate to people. As Christians, we need to know how to acknowledge God in a pagan world and how to influence our culture for His kingdom.

It's time for the church to become the culture. In other words, we should not seek to be a subculture, and we should not seek to be a counterculture. Rather, we should seek to be culture itself.

Of course, there are ways we stand against culture. Christians are intentionally out of sync with the portion of society that wants looser morals, less spiritual authority and increased hyper-individualism.

But Christianity has always impacted culture head-on. Jesus was fully aware of the times in which He lived. In speaking against the dead religious dogma of His day, Jesus drew from a deep well of cultural insight to tell His parables.

Paul's sermon on Mars Hill recorded in Acts chapter 17 is a perfect model for proactive cultural engagement--Paul knew the philosophies of the Stoics and Epicureans even better than they did.

Christian history is filled with other examples: the writings of John Milton, the sculptures and paintings of Michelangelo, the poetry of T.S. Eliot, the essays of Martin Luther King Jr. and so on. Christians have always created culture better than anyone else.

God wants each person in the body of Christ to accomplish a specific purpose. He doesn't want any of us to retreat and back down because we think that we can't relate to the culture at large.

Simply put, we have the tools to strive for excellence in every area, to take the risks, and to continue to impact American culture for the glory of God. *

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