What is culture anyway?
Etymologically, the word culture comes from the Latin verb colere, which refers literally to agriculture, tilling the ground in order to grow things. “Culture is not only what we grow what we make, both with our hands and with our minds. It incudes our houses, our barns, our tools, our cities and towns, and our arts and crafts. It also includes the systems of ideas that we build up: science, philosophy, economics, politics, theology history, and the means of teaching them, education: schools, universities, seminaries. Indeed it includes all our corporate bodies and institutions: families, churches, governments, business enterprises. And culture also includes our customs, games, sports, entertainment, music, literature and cuisine.” The Lausanne covenant says culture is “an integrated system of beliefs, values, customs, and institutions which binds a society together and gives it a sense of identity, dignity security, and continuity.”
So what does Christ have to do with culture?
If our previous posts 1-4—detailing Christ’s role as High Priest (Part 1), Christ’s duty as Worship Liturgist (Part 2), and his effect on the Cosmos (Part 3) and the Church (part 4)—are correct, then Christ indeed has something to say about culture. To deal with this issue, the famous H. Richard Niebuhr developed five models for how Christ deals with culture: (1) Christ against culture, (2) the Christ of culture, (3) Christ above culture, (4) Christ and culture in paradox, and (5) Christ the transformer of culture. The question for us to answer, is which one is most Biblical?
I think of it like a car. In the Christ against culture model, culture is driving one way and Christ is standing in the way desperately trying to hold it back. This portrays Christ as weak. In the Christ of culture model, Christ is moving in the same direction as the car, and it portrays Christ as tortured teen ager giving into peer pressure; tolerant and syncretistic to our sinful ways (he becomes like who he’s around). In the Christ above culture model, Christ works a higher way above and outside the car, but this can produce a view of God that’s deistic and removed. The Christ in paradox is the view that God gets inside the car with us and is sometimes the driver and sometimes the passenger (Jesus take the wheel comes to mind…sorry). This is the eternal schizophrenic God. Lastly, in Christ the transformer of culture model, he takes the old heap of metal in that car, he obliterates it, reshapes it, makes it new and completely redeems it. This last model is what I believe to be most consistent with the Christ of the Bible.
Christ’s leadership in the world is kinda’ like an auto mechanic…no not really…
The bottom line is that Christ is in control of culture. He’s not interested in trying to fix it, he’s interested in making it new. Somehow, and in some way he does this through our culture’s habits, forms, desires, and our dysfunctional shapes. You see, back in our Part 1’s discussion we looked at Jesus as our “minister” in Hebrews 8:2. Ironically and curiously, the same word used for Jesus in Hebrews is used in Romans 13:4 by Paul in referring to the secular and evil authority’s of our world.
Yes, that’s right; those in worldly cultural leadership have been granted some authority by God to work their rhythms, liturgies (forms), shapes and ideas into the soil of God’s world. They are in fact “liturgists” and “worship leaders” of sorts. All that is done in culture cannot be disconnected from worship. Everything is worship. Though the world is wrong is how they use God’s world unto the worship of their false gods of power, sex, and money, Paul clearly sees that God works in and through their work to bring about his purposes. Paul’s instruction to us is not to reject it, but to trust God IN it, and to do our part to love and serve our leadership in hopes that they will honor the God behind the scenes doing all the real work.
The trouble with our culture is ironically the same problem with much of church thinking today; we fail to acknowledge Christ’s supreme ministerial Worship leadership over the cosmos, church and civic society. We all trust too much in our work. We believe that our work somehow produces something. The reality is that the “work of the people”—the liturgy of culture—is really God’s work “for, in and on the people.” To trust any human’s work would be synonymous to a man trusting an ant to drive his car. This is foolish. However, a man may mow around an ant for its benefit. The only redemption an ant has is not in its own trivial offerings, it resides in the graciousness of the one that allows it to work, will, and survive.
Redeemer’s of culture:
The conclusion to this series is this: the real task of worship leadership takes place in God’s kingdom by Jesus, and he works his liturgies into the fabric and soil of fertile earth. We are his agents. We don’t summon worship, we don’t lead worship, we don’t do worship, nor do we even desire worship without our King’s intervention. He has chosen to exalt himself in all areas of the cosmos, in all the members of the body of Christ, and in all spheres of culture. We should therefore praise the one that makes all things new, and join with him in his work. If we do any “worship leading,” I now can logically and joyfully say, that the majority of it is not going to be on stage from behind a guitar!