CCU Blog

The Church: Biblically Informed or Culturally Influenced?

Screenshot 2018-08-28 09.47.14It has often been suggested that if you gave a man on a deserted island a bible and asked him to read it from Genesis to Revelation, he wouldn’t come away from that exposure to God’s truth with the same view of Christianity that many have today.

For example, addressing our understanding of the Holy Spirit, Francis Chan writes,

“Perhaps we’re too familiar and comfortable with the current state of the church to feel the weight of the problem.  But what if you grew up on a desert island with nothing but the Bible to read? Imagine being rescued after twenty years and then attending a typical evangelical church.  Chances are you’d be shocked (for a whole lot of reasons but that is another story).  Having read the scriptures outside the context of contemporary church culture, you would be convinced that the Holy Spirit is as essential to a believer’s existence as air is to staying alive.  You would know that that the Spirit led the first Christians to do unexplainable things, to live lives that didn’t make sense to the culture around them, and ultimately to spread the story of God’s grace around the world.  There is a big gap between what we read in Scripture about the Holy Spirit and how most believers and churches operate today.” (Francis Chan, Forgotten God, p. 16)

The observation regarding the radical incongruity between modern Christianity and a simple reading of the New Testament points to the powerful influence that our cultural setting can have on our perception of biblical norms.  We tend to assume that what we have grown up with is the way things are.  God typically has to introduce significant disruption in our lives to open us up to consider a different perspective or possibility.

Thinking About the Church of the City

Another firmly entrenched area of our Christian experience based on cultural bias has to do with the way we understand and “do church”.  A fresh reading of the New Testament for the purpose of informing our understanding of how the Church is to function will quickly reveal a far different picture of the church than what most individuals and communities are experiencing.

The undeniable teaching of scripture is that Christ’s followers are members of each other through their intimate association with Jesus.  The New Testament clearly teaches one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one body, one bride, one temple, one new man, one loaf, one family, one Church.  Do you see the essential unity of the Body of Christ implicit in each of those metaphors?  Christ’s followers are to love one another … forgive, honor, be devoted to, pray for, be kind to, accept, agree with, be patient with, submit to, encourage, bear with, live in peace with, show compassion toward, live in harmony with, extend hospitality toward, not judge, and not grumble against one another … all as an expression of obedience to Christ’s commands.  These commands are not to be exclusively carried out in the context of a local congregation of believers but are incumbent upon the broader body of Christ in the city.

Jesus prayed that the visible unity of his followers would convince a watching world that Christ was sent from the Father and that they were loved by God (John 17:22-23).  The Apostle Paul addressed the bulk of his epistles to the collective Body of Christ in Rome, Corinth, Phillipi, Ephesus, Colossae, Thessalonica, and the region of Galatia.

The clear teaching of Scripture regarding the nature and function of the Church communicates something far different from what we typically see throughout our communities today.  What will it take to begin meaningful change?

Courageous Humility

Courageous HumilityIn his book, Forgotten God, Francis Chan asks the probing question, “Do you have enough humility to be open to the possibility that you have been wrong in your understanding of the Spirit?” (p. 46).  In a similar way, it has become part of my life message to invite the Body of Christ to embrace a spirit of humility, courageous humility, to be open to the possibility that we have been wrong in our understanding of the Church.  McDonald’s, Burger King, Carl’s Jr., Five Guys, and In-n-Out all sell variations of the same product but they are competitors, not teammates.  Rather than functioning as a united visible expression of the presence and love of Christ in society we have allowed our transformational impact to be compromised by being culturally conformed into independent religious franchises.  Local churches frequently act as competitors, not teammates.

Disruptive Reformation

Reformation is essentially a movement of realignment to a standard and is nearly always disruptive.  In 1517 the need of the Church was to realign itself with the biblical teaching on the servant nature of leadership and the core truths of the gospel.  The outcome of the Reformation was twofold, a gospel movement was birthed that has resulted in untold numbers of people coming to faith in Christ over the past 500 years, and the Church was divided in a way that has yet to be healed.  Disruptive reformation.

I believe the Church stands at the threshold of another movement of realignment prompted by God’s Spirit.  Today, the need is for God’s people to rediscover their essential identity and unity as members of Christ’s Body and radically embrace the behavioral and relational implications of that revolutionary truth.  This disruptive reformation of the Church will be fueled by a desire to align with Christ’s command to love one another.  It is my prayer that this motive of love will minimize the disruptive trauma of this movement of realignment.

  • It will mean that pastors discover that they are not only called to serve a particular gathering of believers, but they are also called to lead and influence the spiritual vitality of the Church of the City.
  • Pastors will be awakened to the fact that one of their primary divinely given job responsibilities is to “build up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith” (Eph. 4:11-13).
  • It will require local congregations to embrace their role as part of the larger Body of Christ in their community, allowing their senior pastoral leadership the freedom to engage citywide responsibilities as well as local shepherding.
  • This reformation of unity will call for the spectrum of giftedness within the Body of Christ to creatively facilitate racial solidarity, the celebration and honoring of multi-cultural expressions of worship, and the practical challenges of visible unity in global cities.
  • Gifts of compassion, mercy, generosity, and helps will partner with gifts of administration, wisdom, and leadership in order to create new strategies for the united Church of the City to address systemic social issues like homelessness, drug abuse, teen suicide, human trafficking, and fatherlessness.
  • Pastors within communities will partner together, forming Advisory Councils in order to provide strategic oversight and coordinated distribution of efforts and resources.
  • The Body of Christ at large will be mobilized like never before to become agents of change, service, compassion, and gospel saturation.
  • It will mean that Church Denominations and Associations will experience significant disruption as they assess whether or not their policies, programs, and structures are in alignment with the ecclesiology of Jesus.
  • Denominations and Associations will also experience the shift of local church focus from being part of a national organization to congregations embracing their strategic role as part of the City Church of their community. Denominations and Associations that fail to become supportive resource agencies for City Church unity will find themselves decreasing in influence and relevance.

Next Steps

Screenshot 2018-08-28 09.46.52

If the Spirit of God is igniting a passion within you for the unity of the Body of Christ:

  1. Acknowledge what God is doing and become even more attentive to his promptings. He has set you on a course to accomplish his purposes for his glory.
  2. Begin reading Paul’s Epistles with a journal at your side and a pen in your hand. Ask God to enlighten the eyes of your heart to the unity of the Body and to give you insight and wisdom as to what role he wants you to play in your church and your community as an Ambassador of Unity.
  3. Share this article with your friends, begin a discussion group, and start praying with others for the health and vitality of the Church in your city.
  4. For further reading: City Church: Working Together to Transform Cities(Urban Ministry in the 21st Century) (Volume 5) 
    by Kelly Malone et al.   Link:

Note: The mission of City Church Unite is to strengthen the spiritual vitality and visible unity of the Church of the City.  We pursue this goal through building relationships of trust among local ministry colleagues, facilitating community-wide prayer gatherings, and hosting catalytic events. We would be honored to serve you and your community in any way we can.

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