I remember my Dad saying to me (I can’t quite remember verbatim but they were words to this effect):
Almost everything we do is culturally defined. Almost everything in the church is a cultural expression of the thing we are trying to do.
For what it’s worth, I think he is absolutely right. The overwhelming majority – nigh on everything – we do in the church is culturally bound.
I have been speaking lately about the Homogeneous Unit Principle in relation to the church. Do we plant churches that seek to target particular people or should we be looking to plant genuinely multicultural, diverse churches? From what I can figure out, everybody (by and large) claims they want to do the latter. In practice, we often end up with the former.
I suspect the reason we end up with HUP churches, despite claims that we want to plant culturally diverse churches, is because we lose sight of the fact that almost everything we do it culturally defined. We make assumptions about our culture and inadvertently link what is culturally appropriate for us with the biblical outworking of whatever the thing happens to be.
Now, sometimes, our culture might have a more biblical understanding of whatever biblical imperative we are trying to act upon than others. But there will also be examples of where our culture has a particularly poor biblical understanding of a given imperative. But because those things are natural to us, culturally assumed things that almost nobody we know questions, they can be very hard to unpick. This is true regardless of the culture we come from or whatever the dominant culture of our church happens to be. It is only when we recognise that almost everything we do is a cultural manifestation of whatever the thing is that we can begin to assess whether our particular outworking of it is, indeed, legitimately biblical.
If you are struggling to see what I mean, let’s take something as basic as sitting down. Surely, there is nothing culturally specific about that? But, of course, there are cultural factors at play. For most Brits, we naturally assume that sit down means, sit on a chair that is facing whomever you are speaking with or hoping to hear from. But in other cultures, sit down might mean sit on the floor. In other places, chairs might not be in view but benches or pews. Even something as basic as sitting down, cultural factors are at play.
But if something as basic as where you sit can have cultural implications, just think of the wealth of other stuff we do within the church too that are also culturally bound. Almost everything we do has cultural implications and, if that’s true, everything we do will communicate something culturally. Music, for example, may be morally neutral, but it isn’t culturally neutral. How we speak, dress, interact and engage in any element of our church life will have cultural implications.