It’s become common among many Christians to blame all kinds of problems on the culture. “We mustn’t let the culture influence the church.”
But is that possible? Is that even desirable?
Consider some of the ways culture has impacted the way we “do church.” To begin with, all of our worship service—the preaching, singing, prayers, sermon, and even Scripture readings—are in English. But the Bible wasn’t written in English. Anyone who speaks more than one language can tell you there are some words that just don’t translate well. That’s why in numerous Bible classes and sermons the teacher will explain
“the original meaning of this word…”
Or the fact that we meet in “church buildings.”
Of course the earliest Christians didn’t have church buildings to meet in—they met in homes. It wasn’t until the third century that we have any evidence of a building specifically designed to hold Christian worship services.
Or the fact that we meet on Sunday mornings.
In the first century, Sunday was a work day, just like any other day. People would go work, then gather together after work with their Christian brothers and sister for worship. Sunday morning didn’t become a time of worship until the fourth century.
And what are you wearing today as we gather for worship? Take a look at a picture of a worship service from just 100 years ago and you will see people dressed very differently on Sundays than we do today.
Let’s talk about singing. Most of our songs are in four-part harmony. That’s wasn’t in use for the first 1500 years of the church. And of course PowerPoint for projecting songs has only been around for a couple of decades.
What about the Lord’s Supper? For most of history, wine was used for communion. It wasn’t until the late 1800s when Dr. Thomas Welch invented a process for pasteurizing grape juice so it didn’t ferment that grape juice was commonly used. Individual cups weren’t used for the Lord’s Supper until the early 20th century—and it didn’t become common until the Flu epidemic of 1918. In fact, whether or not it was biblical to use multiple cups during communion was a hot debate topic in the Churches of Christ in the 1930s.
Today a 25-30 minute sermon is pretty standard for most Churches of Christ. But it wasn’t always that way. Alexander Campbell would often preach for hours. People expected something substantial from their preacher. And the idea of offering an invitation at the end of a sermon? That wasn’t commonplace until the revivals of the 1800s.
Likewise, Bible classes weren’t a standard part of the Sunday gathering until the last half of
the Eighteenth century.
The examples could go on and on. The fact is, there is not a single thing that we do when we gather for worship that isn’t shaped by our culture. Sometimes this is for the good (I really like heat and air-conditioning!) Sometimes the purpose was good, but it had unintentional con-sequences. For example, putting the Scripture on PowerPoint helps us all focus on the same passage—but over time we may become less familiar with finding scriptures in our own Bibles.
So when we talk about the culture influencing the church, it’s not as simple as should it or shouldn’t it. Culture in and of itself is not good or bad. It just is. The important questions are: In what ways is culture influencing the church? And are these influences largely positive or negative? Answering those questions demands wisdom and discernment.