4 principles for the fusion of church and culture
Would Jesus wear skinny jeans and a cardigan while listening to Mumford? Or would he continue rocking the traditional Jewish garb of his day? Perhaps he would only wear Ralph Lauren and listen exclusively to K-love. Or maybe he would wear a suit and prefer hymns.
The modern day church is fraught with controversy surrounding the fusion of church and culture. Many well- meaning people from diverse perspectives land in a variety of positions on polarizing issues -- and rightfully so since there is no clear line between what is sacred and secular. I would propose that we stop making this distinction all together. Labeling some areas of our lives ‘sacred’ and others ‘secular’ is a new idea in the scope of things. It is a dangerous idea too because it practically forces us into double standards. It encourages us to live in an unnatural state of tension, nervously trying to put everything we encounter into a nicely labeled box.
In order to address this huge issue, I must zoom in on a part of it so I will address ‘art’ in this post. The tension is thick here. Many Christians are opposed to the creation and spreading of art that is not ‘sacred’? But this tension arises from a worldview that views art as primarily ‘secular’ and which seems to inform a large portion of the American church.
To zoom in even closer, I have chosen to look at the debates that often arise in a microcosm called “worship services”. Many people are hesitant to integrate ‘secular things’ into these services. Should the stage set and its people look similar to a Coldplay show? Or should the church be completely disconnected from the cultural norms? What principles should govern how we interact with these things? The 3 artistic expressions I address below will hopefully give us clarity on the larger issue at stake here: how integrated should the church be with the surrounding culture?
Many people believe theatrical lighting makes the worship service feel more like a show or performance than a genuine atmosphere for worship. I understand this. The objects of worship are not the instrumentalists on stage. Yet, I seriously disagree with the idea that colored light shows are secular. After all, who designed “blue”? Whose idea was it to give humans eyes to experience color? Why isn’t everything in black and white? Who made specific colors trigger certain emotions within us? Have you ever seen a sunset over water? The Northern Lights? When God imagined His canvas, it was covered with brilliant and radiant colors that stimulate something beautiful within us -- and God Himself set it there. Why should our eyes not be allowed to worship along with our hearts, hands, and mouths?
Music is other. It has the ability to connect us with God like nothing else can. Why? God designed it that way. Writing, playing, and singing music can be an extremely godly activity, yet some Christians are hesitant to allow creativity to flourish in this area. Some people get frustrated by the fresh expressions emerging on the scene and discount its validity by saying we are trying too hard to emulate the culture around us and should stick to the songs we already have. But why would we ever do such a thing? Our young worship leaders aren’t trying to emulate the culture with their new songs; they are authentically producing art consistent with the culture that has shaped their taste. It is impossible to escape the reality that we are all products of our culture. Not one single person is exempt from being shaped by the culture around them. One of the most important things a worship leader can have is a genuinely expressive heart – and we have to come to grips with the truth that their expressions will sound like they originated in 2013… because they did.
Everyone on stage during a worship service used to wear a suit. Now, you might catch someone wearing skinny jeans and a cardigan. I have gathered that some people think the reason this happens is because the people on stage are trying to be like everyone else in the culture. This might be true but only in the way that people who buy flat screen HDTV’s and new cars and who get their hair cut at the salon are trying to be like everyone else. If we go to someone’s house and they have a 23” black and white TV in the center of their living room, shag carpet, an 88’ Chevy Corsica in their garage, a bowl cut, and bell bottoms, we might assume they are rather confused about what era it is. Look around your house and notice how shaped by the modern culture you really are. Fashion is trendy and it changes with time. So it is reasonable to assume that the reason the people on stage are wearing whatever it is they have on is because it is what they have in their closet. It might even be the nicest looking thing they have in their closet.
There are plenty of things that aren’t sacred but none of them have been discussed in this post. Many of the things we consider secular are just abuses of sacred things. Most sin is a result of our abuse or idolization of sex, dominion, and plants – all gifts given to humans by God in Genesis 1-2.
2 // The less integrated the church becomes, the less influence we have.
I’m no longer talking about worship services – I’m talking about the church. You and I and the 2 billion others we share a body with cannot separate ourselves from the culture. We are the salt of the earth – we give it flavor! We are the city on a hill, broadcasting light to the whole world! To isolate ourselves is at best unnecessary and at worst paralyzing.
3 // Everything God designed was to help us engage with Him on a more profound level
God’s creation is supposed to draw us in. The world is a massive showcase of God’s majesty and love – and all of it should lead us into an awe and reverence for Him. When encountered correctly, all creation draws us into a deeper communion with our Father.
4 //The church should be at the forefront of innovation and creation.
We are intimately connected to the Cosmic Artist, the one who dreamed up and designed everything you and I experience and see. Shouldn’t we be the people at the forefront of producing impactful, influential, and original art? I think so.