September 27, 2013

What is Cultural Christianity?

Our Lord taught us that there are two kinds of people: sheep and goats (Matthew 25:31-33). The sheep are his people. They follow Christ. They know him and hear his voice (John 10:3-5, 27). The rest do not (John 10:26). Though the goats will eventually face judgment (Matthew 25:41ff.), they are, even now, intermingling with Christ's sheep (Matthew 13:24-30), bringing grief to God's people and ill-repute to the name of Christ. This dynamic is evident, not only within the world, but within the church, for, in many places (like the American south), the church is largely indistinguishable from the world. When it comes to describing the nominally Christian religion of the Bible-belt, Gerald Bray is spot-on. Here's Bray on cultural Christianity:
Among the goats, there are many who attend church at certain times in their lives (for baptisms, weddings, and funerals) or for important festivals (such as Christmas or Easter) but that is as far as it goes. Some of them may pray or read the Bible occasionally, especially when they have a particular need, but they treat these spiritual resources like medicines in the cabinet—something to be used when required but otherwise kept safely tucked away in storage. A few may actually become members of a church and may get quite involved in it, even to the point of becoming ordained pastors and teachers. They may be idealistic and well-meaning, and believe that the church is an important vehicle for doing good in the world. Some of them may be quite spiritual in their own way, and use prayer as a means of expanding their horizons or getting in touch with their inner selves. They may accept Christian teaching as a help to them in this, but they do not submit to it as their unquestioned authority. They often welcome insights from other religions or belief systems, and if there are elements of traditional Christianity that they find inconvenient, they either jettison them or reinterpret them to the point where they are no longer offensive—or even recognizable. These people embrace the traditions of the church but their beliefs and behavior are a simulation of true Christian faith and not the real thing. This becomes clear when they come up against the sheep. When that happens, the goats often react by mocking the sheep and deriding what they see as the sheep's naivete. In extreme cases the goats may even try to drive the sheep out of the church because the presence of people who listen to the voice of the Shepherd and follow his teaching is a standing rebuke to their inadequate and superficial piety. [1]
May the Lord help us in times such as this when cultural Christianity has supplanted true Christianity and the goats have overrun the sheep.

1. God is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology (Crossway, 2012), pp. 18-19.

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