a biblical commitment demands cultural relevance

Much has been said and written in recent years, offering up all kinds of criticism of modern day Churches for trading off adherence to the Gospel of Jesus Christ for contemporary methods of communicating it. Interestingly enough the overwhelming majority of this criticism comes by way of other Churches. Typically it comes from Churches that are not growing criticizing Churches that are growing. After all, if a Church is growing, they’ve got to be doing something wrong don’t they?

I have a tendency to go the other way on this one. In fact, I’d go so far as to say if a Church isn’t working hard to be culturally relevant, it isn’t working hard to remain true to the Scriptures! You can’t be radically committed to the Scriptures without being radically committed to communicating the Scriptures in a culturally relevant manner.

It’s an easy statement to make because God has always communicated his message to people in a culturally relevant manner. Language, the time, place, ethnicity, gender, community, governance, and more has always been taken into consideration as the message of God was communicated to a particular audience. The Apostle Paul, a master missionary, knew this about the heart of God and understood that the Gospel must be contextualized to each specific culture. Check out this 4 step model…

#1 Take time to understand the culture of your audience.

“…for as I was walking along I saw your many altars…” Acts 17:23

#2 Be positive, not negative, about the culture of your audience.

“So Paul, standing before the Council, addressed them as follows: ’Men of Athens, I noticed that you are very religious…” Acts 17:22

#3 Use the culture of your audience to connect with the heart of your audience.

“His purpose in all of this was that the nations should seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and exist. As one of your own poets says, ‘We are his offspring.’” Acts 17:27-28

#4 Relationally speak truth to your audience.

“For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.” Acts 17:31

Posted in Leadership

8 Responses to “a biblical commitment demands cultural relevance”

  1. CG January 11, 2011 at 8:48 am #

    Romans 12:2 “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Sometimes a church can go too far in wanting to “fit in” with what is culturally hip for the benefit of the unsaved and the new Christians that they lose their purpose–that the “church” is a body of BELIEVERS who come together to learn and grow so that they can go (individually), preach the gospel, and make disciples of all nations. Because “the church” is there to equip its members, then the local churches should mimic the culture of its members, whether that means singing Bach, Chris Tomlin, Fanny Crosby, or some other type of music–it’s whatever fits the local body’s style. The modern church should not try to force a change in style to be more attractive to non-believers.

  2. David Scott January 11, 2011 at 10:23 am #


    I love this passage. As an evangelist at heart, it is one of my 2 favorites modeling evangelism (the other being John 4). I think you hit the nail on the head in a succint description. Well done.

    CG- As I read your post, I was reminded of something that I heard Alan Hirsch say: God has a mission and longs to use the Church for that mission, but the Church is NOT the mission (a paraphrase). While smaller gatherings of believers can more easily focus on “spiritual meat”, I think that for current so-called “mega-churches” the best vehicle they have for evangelism is their worship services. The difference is that smaller groups have a more realistic change that most or all of their group believes. For a “mega-church” (forgive the word, I hate it, but we all know what it refers to), there are so many people that it is hard to pinpoint where everyone is, so small groups become the vehicle for going deeper. I wonder if that may be the source of some tension between smaller and larger gatherings of believers. Perhaps for smaller gatherings, evangelism is more easily mobilized outside the walls and for larger gatherings, it may be easier to keep ourselves accountable to evangelize by using the momentum of people coming in.

    All in all, good discussion primer Paul

  3. David January 11, 2011 at 10:30 am #

    The Gospel is attractive in and by it’s self. It is relevant to all people and cultures by design. However, Paul set the example when he said he becomes all things to all people so that he may win some. It’s not style as such, type of service offered, but how do we love people better, be accepting of others, and yet present the Gospel in such a way that it communicates the Love of Jesus, and provides the answer to a broken, sinful and hurting people.
    Methods and style are only tools to help restore people to a relationship with our Holy Father thru Jesus our Redeemer. As Christ Followers we need to cross Cultural lines and offer people a picture of the Redemtion found in Jesus. If that means identifying with the hurting, sick, outcasts, or the affluent, rich, and self centered of our culture, we have a mandate to do so.

  4. paul alexander January 11, 2011 at 11:15 am #

    I think it’s interesting that when missionaries go to new cultures it’s assumed that they will learn the language, customs, dress, etc. in order to contextualize the Gospel to a people group (the missionary Hudson Taylor was a great example of this). Why is it that we have such a hard time thinking this way in our own culture?

  5. CG January 11, 2011 at 11:44 am #

    David Scott, I disagree. I attend a “mega-church” and lead a Cell Group. The Cell Group concept is to build deeper relationships with other believers NOT the vehicle to “go deeper” for “spiritual meat”. I am a Christian, a lay-leader, and I facilitate a Bible Study in the Cell Group, but I do not “teach”–I am not a qualified scholarly Biblical teacher–that is the purpose of individual study and a Sunday morning message from a minister who has gone to seminary: a message on deep issues that might not always be “feel good” messages but teach the Biblical truth and equip us to go out and evangelize. Our church IS growing, and growing by leaps and bounds, by people that are hungry to grow deeper; we are NOT trying to become like the world around us.

  6. CG January 11, 2011 at 11:57 am #

    Paul, true. When we go as missionaries into another culture, we should try to assimilate. When we go out and evangelize in our own communities, we should try to assimilate (like Bill Hybel’s Just Walk Across the Room). Once we have spread the gospel and evangelized, the new Christians should grown and learn to be Christ-like. They come TO the church (the body of believers)to learn how to be Christ-like. Christ takes them out of the world they WERE living in–we should not try to keep them in that world.

  7. Emily January 11, 2011 at 8:26 am #

    Paul–Thank you for giving words and a theological base for what I’ve been thinking and feeling and praying about for a while. Beautifully thought provoking and something I’m excited to share with others in our congregation.

    CG–As one of the “ministers who have gone to seminary” who you describe, I hope to challenge your notion that you are not qualified to teach the Bible. That idea makes me think back to times when the church wouldn’t even let parishioners read scripture–because the priest was the only one with access to God. We are all teachers and ministers. We all have relationships with God. I may have gone to school for it–but that doesn’t make me any more “right” than anyone else. This journey is about learning and growing together!

    Peace and blessings to ALL!

  8. Ward Townsend January 12, 2011 at 10:25 am #

    Emily, Well put!! Hebrews says we are “a priesthood of believers” and Jesus is our “Great High Priest”. CG – We ALL have direct access to Jesus and God the Father, and unless I’m mistaken, I believe scripture teaches it is the HOLY SPIRIT that leads us into all truth, not any man. Yes Papa uses men to teach us, but it is EACH our individual mandate to learn to grow, and lead others (discipleship). How can we disciple others if we cant hear our Shephers’s voice for ourselves? We are all on a journey to deeper relationship with Papa. It is truly sad when we abdicate our own responsibility to hear and grow with the Father in our OWN relationship, to ANY man that stands in front an audience once a week. Cell groups are a wonderful TOOL to help individuals grow, but they are not the SOURCE of that growth. The MOST successful cell groups I have ever been a part of have all been CENTERED around each individual learning to hear from God directly FOR THEMSELVES! THAT is where the Ultimate Relationship begins… How can you have any meaningful relationship with someone you do not talk with (notice not talk TO). : )
    Paul – excellent word. Apostle Paul was a MASTER at using whatever there was in the culture to promote the gospel. He EVEN used IDOLS to promote Jesus (The statue to the “Unknown God”). Jesus ALWAYS used the culture to communicate the truth. I agree that we have to watch and ensure we do not “water down” our message, but “everything in the world was created by Him, and belongs to Him” so why not use HIS possessions to communicate HIS Love?? I’m with ya!!
    Good discussion all!!

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