Christianity is a subculture among every greater culture in which it finds itself. Jesus taught that “narrow is the way that leads to eternal life and few find it”. The implication is that there are more people that haven’t found Jesus than those who have. In any given city, there will be more unbelievers than there will be Christians. Therefore, the Church is a subculture of the greater community in which it is found.
Then within the Church Universal in any given city, there are different churches, with different philosophies of ministry, different doctrinal emphases, and a different flavor in music, dress, etc. Each individual church is a subculture of a larger subculture.
I am not suggesting that any Church should conform itself to worldly standards to be more relevant or relateable. Jesus taught us otherwise…that following Him would actually separate family members. Every Christian knows that or ought to know that. Following Jesus puts you in a subculture of the great community you live in.
For me, that’s all OK so far.
Here is my concern…
The Church in its purest form is already a smaller piece of the pie in any given culture, but I find that we often “Gospelize” non-Gospel issues, making ourselves even more unrelatable and marginal than we naturally are or are intended to be.
We have strong opinions on lesser issues, and we go soft on major doctrinal issues and commands. In my opinion, church leaders or congregants sometimes over-emphasize such issues as home schooling, vaccinations, politics, or support for Israel. We fight over issues like drinking alcohol or church membership. We hang Israeli flags in our foyers, and then wonder why people of Arab ethnicity are uncomfortable in our churches. We are blind to the fact that our churches aren’t multi-generational, and if we do see that, we hate making changes to welcome people of others age groups. We forget about loving our neighbors as ourselves.
The phrase is true: “like attracts like” and we usually choose to gather together with people that share more preferences than one might imagine.
The negative result with this can sometimes be a silent or spoken disapproval of others that are not like us, even from Christian to Christian. It’s not wrong to have strong opinions; it is wrong to over-emphasize secondary preferences.
If we insist on living with the idea of “like attracts like”, we inadvertently reduce our approachability and relatability to others that might simply want to worship God and hear a good Bible study. We chase them away with our silent or spoken disapproval.
We become a subculture of a subculture of a subculture, and then we wonder why “no one wants to come to our church”.
I believe that the solution to the “overculturizing” of our churches is to have increasingly less absolutes both corporately and individually. I like to use the phrase “vanilla church”. When you eat vanilla ice cream, it is suited for any kind of topping you might want add. I want our church to be as vanilla as possible regarding all secondary issues, but I want us to be deep and strong in the main truths of the Bible.
Being more vanilla on secondary issues means that we need to be more flexible with negotiable things. It means we forsake personal preferences that matter only to us and our friends. It means allowing people to all scoop from the same bucket of ice cream, but having a wide variety of toppings for individual taste. (Forgive the food analogies. It’s how I think)
Instead of overculturizing our churches with secondary and tertiary issues, let’s major on the majors, and let people be free to “work out THEIR OWN salvation with fear and trembling”, without the fear of the disapproval of others in the next pew.