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"Cultural Christians"

Updated: May 7

Romans 12:2

By Drew Zuverink

"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and accaptable and perfect." (Romans 12:2)

My favorite definition of a cultural Christian comes from a book by Nadya Williams called, Cultural Christians in the Early Church. She defines the term as, "Individuals who self identify as Christians but whose outward behavior and, to the extent that we can tell, inward thoughts and motivations, are largely influenced by the surrounding culture rather than by their Christian faith or the teachings of Jesus."

In the United States of America, there is no shortage of cultural Christians. In his book, Live No Lies, John Mark Comer writes, "While 49% of millenials and 65% of American adults as a whole still identify as Christian, a recent in depth analysis by the Barna Group put the number of young adults who are "resilient disciples" at just 10%." It seems like half of America would claim to be Christian, but most of us aren't getting our values, ethics, or our way of life from scripture. Instead, we are getting those things from culture.

Take for example the issue of same sex marriage. In recent years our culture has shifted and it now celebrates homosexuality, even dedicating all of June as pride month. While the Bible is pretty clear that men having sex with men and women having sex with women is a sin, some Christians are aligning themselves with our culture's view on the issue. Instead of calling it sinful in the eyes of God, they claim that God has no problem with a committed, loving, same sex relationship. Those who do this would fit the description of a cultural Christian.

When it comes to homosexuality, affirming Christians aren't the only ones borrowing their values from culture though. Instead of celebrating it, some of us make fun of the LGBTQ community. Others of us are so grossed out by them that we treat them like modern day lepers, avoiding them at all costs. While these are completely different reactions to the same issue, they're still examples of being a cultural Christian. The values of making fun of or avoiding the people who's lifestyle we disagree with, come from culture and stand in direct contradiction to plenty of Biblical values.

All forms of Cultural Christianity are threatening to the church and ultimately harmful to people. The issue of homosexuality is just one example. There are many others such as how we approach politics, entertainment, finances, and more. By mixing in some ethics from scripture and other ethics from culture, we eventually lose the essence of the gospel - and thus our ability to be a faithful witness to the world. In other words, this is a really big deal. The purity of the church must remain intact, firmly based on scripture, and often opposed to culture. As Jesus said in Matthew 5, "You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt loses its taste (what makes it unique), then it isn't good for anything anymore." So unless we want to be good for nothing, we have to protect our uniqueness and resist the urge to borrow some of our ethics from culture.

The truth is, we all have tendencies to borrow values from culture instead of scripture. Unfortunately this means that we are all sometimes cultural Christians. That doesn't make it ok or any less damaging, it just means that we all need to regularly check ourselves and make sure that our values, beliefs, motivations, and behaviors are aligned with scripture.

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