A Call for Cultural Engagement

A Call for Cultural Engagement

Christians differ on how much concern should be focused on the surrounding culture. Is it really worth engaging in a broken world? Should we just stay in our lane and “preach the Gospel” and not distract ourselves with societal entanglements?

Every generation has wrestled with these issues. Over the last couple of months, a Contemporary Issues Team under the leadership of Dan Jarms has been gathering to discuss just such questions.

From these discussions has emerged a list (not exhaustive, to be sure) of reasons we need to engage in culture. We also discussed ways to do so that are biblical and God-honoring.

Why should we engage?

First, there is not really a question of whether you should engage in culture. You already are. The question is whether you will do it in a way that makes a positive difference.

At Faith, we end our service with a Scripture reading and the words, “Church, you are sent.” This is not mere platitude. The saints have been equipped by the preaching of the Word and are now sent out to their various callings. Construction worker, you are sent. Teacher, you are sent. Medical professional, you are sent. Homemaker, you are sent.

Do you view your work as an opportunity to put Christ on display and bring excellence to your cultural sphere of influence? Tim Keller gives one example: What is the best way to honor God as a pilot? Land the plane and do it well!

“Cultural development was designed to help the world in general, and people in particular, to thrive and flourish.”

Secondly, the creation mandate calls us to cultural engagement (Genesis 1:26-30; 2:15; 9:7). Because of God’s blessing, mankind is commanded to be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth to discover its possibilities. Mankind is also ordered to subdue the Earth. The creative potential of the world is meant to unfold beyond where it was originally found. This cultural development was designed to help the world in general, and people in particular, to thrive and flourish.

Third, the Great Commission calls for cultural engagement. The creation mandate instructed God’s image bearers, untainted by sin, to fill the Earth and reflect His glory. But Adam and Eve failed to honor and obey God and found themselves cursed and estranged from God and one another. Because of them, all mankind was cursed by sin.

But through God’s grace and mercy, Christ removed the curse of sin from His own, and once again the call is issued to go out to all the Earth. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). At great personal cost, many missionaries leave their homeland to make disciples of Jesus Christ. The end goal is for God’s glory to fill all the Earth.

Finally, elsewhere in Scripture, we are commanded to love God by loving our neighbor, doing good and upholding justice.

In Matthew 22:34-40, the Pharisees tried to test Jesus by asking which is the greatest commandment in the law. Jesus’ response was to love God with all your heart, soul and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus clarifies just who our neighbor is (Luke 10:29-37). Our neighbor is anyone in our proximity with whom we can share God’s love and attend to their needs, both physical and spiritual.

In Matthew 5:16, Jesus commands his followers to “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Galatians 6:10 exhorts us to “do good to everyone, and especially to those who are in the household of faith.”

Throughout history, Christians have blessed the culture around them by building orphanages, founding schools, funding hospitals, digging water wells, feeding starving children, and ministering to the suffering and persecuted. Done in the name of Christ, these expressions of goodness result in giving glory to our Father.

How should we engage?

Now, we will turn to how we are to engage in culture. This is a vast and often debated topic, so it is best to zero in on some key biblical principles.

First, as we face opposition, remember who the battle is against. Ephesians 6:10-20 makes abundantly clear that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” We must put on the full armor of God!

The Apostle Paul writes this with the assumption that Christians are out in the world taking a public stand. Working for the good of our culture includes battling against evil forces that hold people captive and wreak havoc in our world. Following Paul through the book of Acts, we see this is true.

"Don’t be seized with contempt and resentment toward people and forget we are ultimately seeking the good of all, even those who oppose us."

But don’t misidentify the enemy. Don’t be seized with contempt and resentment toward people and forget we are ultimately seeking the good of all, even those who oppose us. Jesus makes himself clear in Matthew 5:44: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

The book of Proverbs seems a most logical place to turn for practical help with this. Its purpose is to instruct readers how to live wisely in God’s world, beginning with the fear of the Lord. It is bursting with principles about wise social interaction.

The following Proverbs verses are merely the tip of the iceberg, a few truths to consider:

  • “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2).
  • “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18).
  • “Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly” (Proverbs 14:29).
  • “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).
  • “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion” (Proverbs 18:2).
  • “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back” (Proverbs 29:11).

Two other passages are worthy of consideration. 1 Peter 3:5 exhorts, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do this with gentleness and respect.” Colossians 4:5-6 declares, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

Garry Morgan, in a previous Faith Weekly article, reminded us, “When we speak about people whose views we disagree with using derogatory, slanderous or disrespectful language, then declare to non-Christians, ‘God loves you,’ why would they believe us?” While we must confront error and lies with biblical truth, we do so with respect, leaving punishment to God’s perfect wisdom and justice.

Finally, praise God for His marvelous design of the church. Engaging the culture is a community affair. All of us are necessary, with our various gifts, skills and temperaments. We need the entire body of Christ to fulfill this mission, with each person playing a role. 

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