Speaking of Church and Culture

Tim Brister —  October 11, 2007 — 2 Comments

[For context of current discussion, see my posts here and here.]

Phil Ryken at Reformation 21 blog asks the question,

Does Scripture call the local church (by which we mean the local church as the local church, not as individual Christians) to the work of cultural transformation?

There is a sense in which the answer to this question must be “no.”

The church’s primary calling is to preach the gospel and to worship God in the ministry of the Word, the sacraments, and prayer. While the worship of God and the proclamation of the gospel have a transforming influence on the surrounding culture, this does not happen directly, but indirectly, as the people of God live out the implications of their faith in every aspect of life.

Yet there are also ways in which the answer to this question must be “yes.”

In its priestly ministry of intercession, the local church prays for the needs of its community — all of the areas where the surrounding culture needs to experience the transforming influence of the gospel. In its prophetic ministry of preaching and teaching God’s Word, the local church disciples its members to fulfill their various callings as parents, teachers, artists, students, politicians, business people — callings that have culture-transforming power. In its diaconal ministry of mercy, the local church offers practical service in the name of Christ — service that transforms the lives of the poor, the homeless, and the elderly, as well as children, prisoners, and internationals. In these ways, at least, the local church is called to the gospel work of cultural transformation.

A church that regards such transformation as its primary goal may well miss its more fundamental calling to glorify God in preaching the gospel. Yet a church that minimizes the importance of its legitimate calling to cultural transformation may fail to do the full work of discipleship or of bearing full witness to the kingdom of God.

Whatever you call it–missional, cultural transformation, priestly/prophetic/diaconal ministry–this is part in parcel what it means to be kingdom citizens who live between two worlds. Lest we think this is some novel idea, we would do well to revisit some of the writings of Abraham Kuyper, Carl F.H. Henry, Francis Schaeffer, and David Wells.

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  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    “In its diaconal ministry of mercy, the local church offers practical service in the name of Christ — service that transforms the lives of the poor, the homeless, and the elderly…”

    When I look at the NT, it seems like the early church didn’t help the poor. They helped their poor. Is my analysis correct? If so, why did they do it that way, and should we do it that way or should we be broader in our charity?

  • Jim Pemberton

    Cultural transformation is a by-product of the conversion of souls, not the least of which is the transformation of one’s perception of culture.