Is Christianity a culture changing ideology?
The Jesus way is to bring about change in a culture. Change in individual lives and change in society at large. Even the call to be holy and set apart is a means to an end - namely joining in Jesus' mission of making all things new.
Throughout church history, much of the cultural change and progress has come through Jesus followers.
- Advances in science and medicine were done by a large number of Jesus followers in the 16th-18th centuries.
- Some of our nations finest educational institutions and hospitals were started by Jesus followers.
- William Wilberforce and the abolition of slavery, and Dr. King were all motivated by the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.
Should our faith be kept out of social, civic, environmental thinking? Absolutely not. The first creed, “Jesus is Lord,” was at the very least a social, political and countercultural statement.
We dream that Jesus Center Church (JCC) would be a church in that if it ever relocated, the mayor and the city officials would mourn because JCC has been such an integral part of blessing and loving the city.
The short answer relates to one of the Q + R questions from a recent Sunday gathering:
What does it mean that our citizenship is in heaven? (Philippians 3v20) How does this play into our effectiveness here on earth?
That concept from Paul is very intentional and would have given the church in Philippi a reason to live out the Way of Jesus is such a way that Philippi as a culture and society would be transformed both in individuals giving their ultimate allegiance to King Jesus and through the work and service Jesus followers did in living out the Kingdom of God ethic in Philippi. Citizenship in the Roman colony of Philippi didn’t mean that one couldn’t wait for the day they went to Rome, but rather it meant that as a citizen of Rome, one was passionate about bringing the rule and culture of Rome to Philippi. In other words, our citizenship in heaven has little to do with longing for heaven after we die but rather informs how we are to live in the present as Kingdom citizens living out the peaceable, generous, loving Way of King Jesus in a culture of violence, greed, and self-centeredness.
In addition, Peter writes a similar line in one of his letters when he calls Jesus followers “exiles,” in this world (1 Peter 2v11). Some people take that to mean that “this earth is not my home, I’m an exile” therefore we really don’t need to have any involvement in seeing society and culture change as it relates to The Way of Jesus.
As one who was raised on the Jewish Scriptures, Peter is borrowing the language of exile from the Hebrew prophets. “Exile” referred to a specific time in Israel’s history when because of their repeated idolatry and injustice (so yes God expected Israel to live as a just society - seeking the welfare of the poor, refugee, widow, etc), God used the empire of Babylon to essentially destroy Jerusalem and take the Jewish people into “exile.” While in exile, God’s people are not sure as to how exactly interact with the culture of the day - namely Babylon. Jeremiah writes to them and says,
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
In other words, don’t escape, don’t withdraw, but plant a garden, build a home, get rooted and seek the flourishing of the city - even if it’s Babylon.
So in the language of Peter, we as “exiles” are to seek the welfare and blessing and goodness of our city and culture.
What does this look like? How does this happen? That’s what I hope and pray JCC can be a part of as we as his followers are continually being molded and shaped more and more into his likeness and image. But I will say a good place to start might be the following:
Jesus seemed to think that as people turned from their version of what life is about and trusted in him and his message that the Kingdom of God is at hand, that they would begin to be and live as the humans that God intends all of us to be, although imperfectly. Humans, empowered by His Spirit, that love even our enemies, humans that serve and give generously, humans that bless and serve the marginalized and poor, humans that live their lives in complete allegiance and devotion to King Jesus. Jesus commissioned his first wave of disciples to go make more of these types of humans. In doing so, Peter, James, John and later Paul and company began to start new Jesus communities throughout the Roman empire, that gathered weekly to celebrate and reorient themselves around this crucified yet risen King Jesus.
These small gatherings throughout the Roman Empire seemed to be one of the primary ways Paul and company sought to make disciples of King Jesus. As the teachings of Jesus and the apostles were taught, as bread and wine were broken and shared, as deep life-giving fellowship took place and as prayers of dependence and hope were prayed, lives were changed and more and more people began to give their ultimate allegiance to King Jesus. Overtime and in various cities, the culture was changed. For example, there was no longer a market for various idols to be made, as the city of Ephesus was being reached with the good news of Jesus (Acts 19). In later decades, the Roman official Pliny would comment as to why the followers of Jesus are caring for not only their own but even the sick and poor that aren’t. Roman society was being changed. Why? The risen Jesus was changing people. The Kingdom of God is here and is coming in the person of Jesus - and this is gospel, this is good news.
Do we bring the Kingdom or New Creation? NO, only Jesus does.
But as his followers, we are invited to live into this reality in the present day, a sign of coming attractions, that one day Jesus will completely make all things new.
The Bible starts in a garden and ends in a garden like city.
The Bible starts with creation and ends with the new creation.
And in the middle of all that is Jesus of Nazareth who invites us into this story of transformation and change.
Paul says that if anyone is in Christ -- New Creation! (the “he is a” is actually not in the Greek)
We are walking talking bits of New Creation in the present, living in light of the future reality in the here and now. The invitation of Jesus is to live into that future reality in the present, both individually and collectively.