Churches spend a lot of time analyzing and commenting on the nature and often the deterioration of secular culture. But how often do we consider what church culture should look like in our churches? Even more important what biblical prescriptions do we have that would influence the cultural makeup of the church? Finally, what we all should be striving for and seeking to promote in any church has to do with how a church’s culture can be said to be successful and healthy.
Every pastoral staff has a vision of what they desire to see in their church but that vision also has a mandate which is undetermined by what pastors, or members for that matter, desire to see. The biblical mandate for the church is preeminent. The objective for any genuine pastoral staff is to bring the church under the biblical mandate for what a church is supposed to be. Church culture must begin with the biblical theology of what churches are called to be setting forth in the church through the word ministry of the church, especially in its exposition. Paul gives Timothy (a young (timid) pastor) clear guidelines to implement in the church including how the people of God are to conduct themselves in the church of the living God:
1 Timothy 3:14–16 14 I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; 15 but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth. 16 By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh, Was vindicated in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Proclaimed among the nations, Believed on in the world, Taken up in glory.
The final goal of the local church that every pastoral staff should strive for is the spiritual, doctrinal, and moral purity of the church (cf. Eph. 5.27). The bible knows nothing of a church culture that does not seek for purity in these areas both corporately and in the lives of each individual member. The bible also knows nothing about individual members who are unwilling to participate in the health of the church. The dominant emphasis in terms of the direction of the church’s purity is on edification:
Ephesians 4:11–16 11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
This is Paul’s utopian vision for the church, “the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” In real live however, all utopian visions never work exactly as envisioned; that’s life in a fallen world. This is likewise true when it comes to church culture so much so in fact that church culture often looks more like cultural wars than the kingdom of God. Purity does not mean that we are to purge people that are not like us. Clearly, church membership should operate on the basis of shared theological beliefs (doctrinal statements, confessions, articles of faith etc.). But the church is comprised on people from different backgrounds, ethnicities, traditions, personalities, styles, fashions, and preferences.
In the context of the diversity of any church there nevertheless has to be unity in the midst of diversity. In fact, if we notice what the text says in Eph. 4, in terms of individuals finding expression for their diversity, that is always connected to the over all edification of the church. No one should see themselves as so patently unique that they do not fit the model given to us in Scripture; that would be nothing more than immature narcissism.
Within that unity however we will not escape the reality that unity does not means absolute univocal sameness in every respect. People and their convictions are different. But those convictions and matters of conscience always should yield to the greater good of the church and its mission and purpose. There is a time and place for certain convictions and liberties to be expressed and there are times when those liberties become the occasion for division and destruction.
However, to avoid the all too common pitfalls of division, church members should be cautious to focus on that which causes unity and growth not division and factions. This is what it means to be Christ-like. In fact, Paul said this was the very “mind” of Christ (NKJV):
Philippians 2:1–5 1 Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,
If there is one thing that will kill the local church its self-seeking (cf. Jam. 3.16). It is not that the church needs a dress code, or a personal Pharisee to follow everyone home; the church’s greatest need is humility and selflessness. The reason we know so much about the sting of the division is often rooted the fact that we know so little about the sweetness of self-sacrifice and self-denial.
Practically, the weeds of selfishness that often lead to cultural wars in the church grow strongest in soils of idleness, apathy, and selfishness. Idleness is a killer here. If you do not find yourself loving, and learning from those around you; chances are, you are standing back in unhealthy criticism of others. It is hard to criticize your fellow soldiers when you are in the foxhole together. The reality is that there are just too many reasons to go to each other for help than to go to oppose each other in criticism. There are children that need prayer, husbands that need leadership, wives that need submission and souls that need saving. Idleness leads to apathy and when apathy sets in we will fail to avail ourselves of the strongest means of grace God has given to us in the Christian life.
Gospel gravity means that we make sure we are grounded in the gospel in everything that we do. It is my way of saying the gospel should inform everything we do, say and think. Its not enough to “gopselize” our deeds; God always wants our hearts! But the gospel should lead our perspective in every aspect of our Christian lives where we are tempted to either call for liberty in our personal convictions or criticism in the liberties of others. Here we need to move everything which can be exegetically identified as sin off the table; sin is sin plain and simple! But, as Paul reminds us in several areas of Scripture (esp. Rom. 14), there are those issues that do not necessarily falls into the category of sin which can often cause people to disagree, stumble and divide. Whether its drinking, the kind of entertainment you watch, the clothes you wear, the music you hear or the places you go; the gospel should determine how we engage all of the above.
When the flesh finds petty reasons to leave a church, the gospel usually has a thousands reason why you should stay and persevere, when the flesh finds reasons you look down at the liberty of others, the gospel declares that they are free, when the flesh finds ways to be irresponsible on Facebook and social media, the gospel warns you with godly wisdom and fear. The gospel should have the power to change our perspective. Instead of thinking you have nothing to contribute; the gospel would tell you to serve your way into fellowship. The reality is that the gospel has the power to turn the most pharisaical, critical spirit among us in to the most patient and longsuffering believer that bears with others bearing in mind the extraordinary grace God has lavished up them. The gospel has the power to take the most insensitive, inconsiderate, self-seeking narcissist and turn them into a godly role model of modesty, manhood, and meekness for the glory of God in the church. The crucial question for us is simple, do we believe in the power of God to do this in our lives or do we, like so many in this pretentious age, deny the power thereof? The gospel is the power of God unto salvation but it is also the power of God to transform the culture of a church into culture of love, joy and peace in the Holy Spirit.
Soli Deo Gloria
Emilio Ramos is the preaching pastor of Heritage Grace Community Church. Pastor Emilio is committed to the expository and exegetical teaching of the Word of God. Emilio is also the author of Convert, From Adam to Christ and the founder of redgracemedia.com- a media ministry devoted to the glory of God’s redemptive grace through Jesus Christ. He and his wife Trisha live in Dallas, TX.