I’ve recently been thinking more about how Christianity impacts our culture, and how culture impacts our view of Christianity. The variety of external religious expressions throughout church history can illumine this. Another way to look at this is to explore current expressions of devotion to Christ around the world. These other expressions may at times be a mirror by which we see ourselves more clearly.
I’ve lived half of my life here in the United States, but have also been blessed to participate in Christian worship services in Japan, Russia, China, Philippines, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, and Israel. So call me biased, but I believe these experiences help me understand a little on what is unique to “American Cultural Christianity”, and that includes values which can be elevated to the status of idolatry. Let me humbly submit to you that the idolatry that tops the list for us is “Freedom”, also known as “My Rights”.
If we are not careful, the values in our cultural perspectives can skew the supreme values which should guide and direct us in the Word of God. To begin with, how would you view the following scriptures:
Galatians 5:13 “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.”
1 Peter 2:16 “Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.”
1 Corinthians 9:15, 19 “But I (Paul) have not used any of these rights…I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast. Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.”
1 Corinthians 6:7 “The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?”
Considering the values contained in the above scriptures, do you see how a Christian would need to put the value of personal freedom under the higher, Biblical values of Holiness & Submission to the Gospel? That we in Christ have been “set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”? (Romans 6:8)
Did you know that the Biblically-based, Christ-centered local church is God’s gift to you to help you grow out of self-centeredness into Christ-likeness through the expression of mutual “servanthood”? (“Oh, but We don’t like the term ‘serve’, we prefer ‘volunteer’!”) Indeed, our church is full of messed-up individuals who are collectively learning how to honor Christ in service to Him and each other, even if that means being convicted of sin and challenged to a Higher Standard on a regular basis!
This goes against the common, cultural values that would much rather avoid such terms as “Judging”, and “Church Discipline”. (Church discipline is intended for those in the church who are living in unrepentant sin, not those who are seeking to overcome it) I think of a Florida woman around 2008 who was undergoing the process of church discipline for sexual sin (from Matthew 18:15-17), who instead decided to leave, go to Fox News and complain about how this church made her sin “public”. (though it was initially handled privately)(also in 1 Corinthians 5:1-13)
Christ died to set us free from our bondage to sin! That’s why it says in Galatians 5:1 “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” It is freedom FOR holiness, to be growing in Christ-likeness which impacts all eternity!
Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:10-12 )
I can already hear this protest, “But a good and loving God would never limit the freedom of His Creation; Love requires Freedom!”… To which I would say, “A good, loving & just God would have to exercise control over evil, and His Grace limits our freedom to destroy ourselves, “sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Hebrews 1:3)
Yet there comes a time when God “gives them over” to their sins and lusts (Romans 1), and chooses to remove His Hand of Mercy for those who persist in their rebellion against Him. Before we quickly remove ourselves from this equation, let me ask, “Do you know how desperately we personally NEED His sustaining Hand, against the world, our flesh, and the devil?” Only by His Spirit can we say, as Paul does: “To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” (Col 1:29)
So I joyfully proclaim from 1 Corinthians 7:22-23, that I am “bought with a price”; I am “Christ’s slave”!