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I read many articles and books about what it means to be “the Church.” As a pastor of a new congregation I think that I need to continue to refine and deepen my understanding of what the Church ought to be. A concept that consistently pops up, particularly in blogs, is that the Church is “called” to be counter-cultural. This idea is foundational to what many refer to as the “culture war” that has been raging for decades in the United States. To be faithful to the Church necessarily demands that you are in a posture that is “counter” to the culture, at least that’s how the thinking goes.

I am growing unconvinced that there is such a call.

What I am more convinced of then ever is that the Church is called to create culture.

As I continue to study and read the Scriptures and work really hard to apply their truths to my life I am learning that the follower of Jesus is called into life. We are called into mission. We are called into community. We are called into culture creation.

There is a calling out of darkness and into the kingdom of the beloved son.

There are enemies: our flesh, the world (broken human systems, injustice, etc, not other people), and the devil. We strive against these by setting our minds on what is good, holy, and righteous. We do not strive against them through destruction but ultimately through creation.

Is the Christian called to be different? Yes. But is the Christian called to be “counter”? I don’t think so, at least not in the active sense.

What do I mean?

Generally speaking the idea of being “counter-cultural” refers to taking action against the culture. This action usually is described as rejecting the unrighteous world around us. Typically, you see this by the “do-not” list that is either overtly or implicitly taught.

We see the “counter culture” war waged through the efforts of well meaning Christians who boycott certain companies. These attempts at being “counter-cultural” spill over into the way Christians engage their relationships. “Oh you do or believe in such a such? Well, you know you’re going to hell. And I can’t be around you.”

Some friends of ours were at the Michigan football game this past Saturday. Outside of the stadium there was a man and woman with a megaphone berating passersby with the message that they were going to hell and there was no message of grace. These people were clearly counter-cultural and they were also counter-gospel.

The Christian is not called to be “counter cultural” by taking action against the culture within which they live.

Christians are called to pursue a life that is marked by holiness. This means they are taking action to become something different. The identity of a Christian is not marked by what they are against but what they are for. The Christian is ultimately to pursue holiness.

As we pursue holiness we will necessarily have lives that look different from those around us. The holy life is marked by the consistent development of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. Paul writes, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)”

Paul emphasizes a change in thinking because it is by the renewing of our minds that actions change. When we begin to set our minds on the things above then we will begin to offer ourselves as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1).

The Christian is called to be holy (which means set apart). As we pursue this calling we will look different than our culture in some ways. Yet, we will also reflect it in other ways. We will reflect our culture in the ways that it is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, and excellent. We will look different from it in the ways that it is untrue, dishonorable, unjust, impure, and unlovely.

As Jesus’ ambassadors to the world we are not called to be against his creation. We are called to engage it. As we engage with culture our hope is that we will create something true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, and excellent. We then trust that God will redeem those aspects of the culture that are untrue, dishonorable, unjust, impure, and unlovely.

No, we are not called to be counter-cultural. We are called to create culture and to be agents of redemption within it.

About the Author
Daniel Rose is a husband, dad, and pastor of The Antioch Movement in Ypsilanti, MI. He writes at The Subversive Journey and you can can connect with him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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Is the Church called to be “Counter-Cultural”? was originally published in The Subversive Journey on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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