By Bruce Ashford, Facts and Trends, 4-14-16.
As churches in America face an increasingly hostile and post-Christian culture, we must clearly define who we are and how we should approach our social and cultural contexts. As I see it, churches tend to choose one of four mindsets: Bomb Shelter, Ultimate Fighter, Chameleon, or Kingdom Preview. Only one of these applies truth in a biblical manner.
The Church as Bomb Shelter
In a post-Christian and sometimes anti-Christian context, many Christians view the church as a bomb shelter. The political and cultural elite as well as the broader population will increasingly castigate Christians’ beliefs about certain theological and moral issues…
Believers with this mentality have good intentions. They want to preserve the church’s purity, recognizing the church is under attack, and hold on to what they have (Revelation 3:11).
However, this mentality is misguided, arising from a timid fear of man. It is spurred more by secular wisdom than by biblical faith, by faithless fear than by Christian courage and vitality. The bomb shelter mentality views the church as a walled city rather than living stones, as a safe deposit box rather than a conduit of spiritual power.
The Church as an Ultimate Fighter
This mindset tends to view the church exclusively and comprehensively as fighters. The fighters’ weapons are beliefs, feelings, and values wielded in the name of spiritual warfare. Unlike those hiding in the bomb shelter, fighters venture forth into the surrounding culture, seeking awareness of its movements and creeds in order to assault culture with lethal force.
Believers with this mentality cling to the biblical principle of waging war against what is evil. They rightly recognize Christians must put on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:11), fight the good fight of faith (1 Timothy 6:12), resist the devil (James 4:7), and demolish every high-minded thing that rises up against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).
However, this mentality is misguided to the extent it wrongly applies the principles above. The fault of the ultimate fighter church is not that it wants to fight but that it suggests the entirety of the Christian life is nothing but war. Today’s social and cultural contexts are full of unbelievers, and those unbelievers are not only enemies of God but also are drowning men in need of a lifeboat…
Christians with a chameleon mindset tend to view their cultural context as neutral. They might disagree with aspects of it, but overall, they think of culture as an ally rather than a threat. They tend to interact comfortably and uncritically with the reigning social, cultural, and political trends of the day.
Unlike those with the ultimate fighter and bomb shelter mentalities, they incorporate the dominant culture easily into their lives and churches. These Christians tend to build churches that are institutional chameleons. Their churches change colors as the cultural context changes colors.
Christians with this mindset rightly recognize culture is something ordained by God, something that’s not inherently bad. They recognize God enables all humans everywhere to produce cultures that exhibit real aspects of truth, goodness, and beauty. However, this mentality fails to see the ways every culture and all aspects of a culture are warped and distorted because of sin.
When Christians adopt the chameleon mindset, they deny the Bible its rightful place as the standard by which every culture should be judged, and they forfeit the ability to be prophetic voices…
The Church as a Preview of the Kingdom
The best mindset for the church is one in which the church is a preview of God’s coming kingdom. In the midst of unbelief and even persecution, we determine to live our lives as seamless tapestries of word and deed. We proclaim Christ and the gospel with our lips (word), and we promote Christ and the gospel with our lives (deed).
In so doing, the church’s corporate life previews a future era when we will live together with Christ on the new heavens and earth, when we will flourish in our relationship to God, to each other, and to the rest of creation…