It’s coming to be called Cultural Christianity. Although my pastoral battles with it are relatively recent, it is not a new phenomenon. William Wilberforce battled it, and wrote an excellent treatise against that “prevailing religious system,” masking itself as “real Christianity” in 19th century England.
Besides not being true biblical Christianity, what makes this cultural impostor so dangerous is its wide-spread appeal and cultural acceptability. Although it is not a threat to true Christianity, it is to the masses who seek its temporal salvation. For many, this Christianity is all they have known, and as such, it cannot be wrong; it is too widely accepted and practiced.
Cultural Christianity is not practiced by a shadowy group on the fringes of the faith. As Wilberforce described, it is the prevailing religious system. It is believed to be true Christianity, despite its obvious contrast with the historic faith.
Cultural Christianity has as its core value numerical church attendance for the benefit of the people who attend. This is in contrast with the biblical value of making disciples for the work of the kingdom and the glory of God. This is evidenced by the church growth obsession, and the phenomenon of the mega church within a biblically illiterate culture.
In order to facilitate its value of church attendance, Cultural Christianity has adopted the practice of attracting attenders by the beneficial programs they offer. These programs have moved beyond even the many gender and age specific ministries, to include health and fitness, recreation, and entertainment. This value is creating, inadvertently though it may be, a church culture in which people come to be served and not to serve or be equipped to serve.
Hopefully this short characterization is sufficient to give you a glimpse of the symptoms. I suggest they’re symptoms, because I believe the root of Cultural Christianity lies deeper than our practices. Our practice arises from our faith. I believe the cultural Christianity that we see is a reflection of humanity’s exchange, referred to in Romans 1.
Romans 1:22–23 (NAS): 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.
As a result of suppressing the truth about God, Paul says in this verse, that men exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image. While we do not make the same kinds of 1st century images that are mentioned in the following verse, we have indeed made the same exchange.
The god of Cultural Christianity is simply an image of the God revealed in scripture. He closely resembles the God of scripture, but he wants very different things from his people. The kingdom of the god of Cultural Christians is this present world, and all his blessings he bestows, are for the benefit of his people’s well being in this life. Since his kingdom is now, suffering has no place and along with it’s rejection go sacrifice and service. For this god, our happiness is His glory.
Of course these ideals are not true of the one true God of scripture. He asks a sacrifice and even suffering of His people, for His glory and for the love of His Son, who gave His life a ransom for many. His kingdom has not yet been fully realized; it awaits His Son’s imminent return. Only then will there be no more suffering. Until then, we count it all joy that we may share in the sufferings of Christ.
Oddly, none of these things I have mentioned are unfamiliar. Cultural Christianity is a result of suppression and not ignorance. In fact, Paul says that the great exchange of the incorruptible God for an image is simply the result of the suppression of the knowledge of God.
That we justify this prevailing religious system suggests the suppression. We simply prefer the image of god with which we are more comfortable. So we make the exchange.
We are all susceptible to Cultural Christianity and its trappings. Therefore, we must always return to the bible, and let it shape our image of God. When we do so, we will find Jesus. He is the exact representation of God’s being. His life of sacrifice, service, and yes, even suffering, becomes our example. As we draw near to Him, we will find grace and the truth about God that we have suppressed. He is the radiance of the glory that we have exchanged for an image.
So, we must make one more exchange. We must exchange the lie for the truth; and Christ is the truth. We must exchange the image we have made, for Christ, the image of the invisible God. And when we do, we will find what Wilberforce called, True Christianity.