Friday, July 27, 2012

The Cultural Captivity of the Church

Dr. Roger Gilbert

Many years ago I read the phrase, “The cultural captivity of the church.” I immediately realized that there was a lot of truth in the statement. Across the years I have become increasingly aware that this is a far more complex condition than I could have ever imagined. One of the reasons that cultural captivity of the church is so complex is that all of us who make up the institutional church are products of our own culture. To add to the complexity, there is a diversity of cultures within even one church.

What is the cultural captivity of the church? One story I remember from the 1960’s helps define it. A young man in a Baptist church heard God’s strong call to be a missionary. He made his commitment, pursued his training, applied to the Foreign Mission Board, was appointed a missionary to Africa and served there faithfully. Through the years many individuals became Christians through his ministry. One of those young converts was a bright student who received a scholarship to pursue his education in an American university. The young man was very excited about this opportunity and very grateful to the missionary who had brought the message of Christ to his people. One of his dreams for his time in America was to go to the missionary’s home church and thank the church for the influence they had had on the missionary, resulting in his taking the gospel to Africa. His dream came true in that he was able to go to the missionary’s home church. He was profoundly shocked and disappointed, however, when he was met at the front door of the church and told he could not enter because his skin was black! How strange that the dominant perspective of the congregation could not see the contradiction between sending missionaries to Africa and prohibiting Africans from entering to worship. They were not servants of Christ but captives of their culture. Similar contradictions can often be seen in attitudes and positions supported by local churches, denominations and individual Christians.

If we are honest with ourselves, there is probably a bit of cultural captivity in each of us, myself included. Rather than majoring on finding this fault in others, a healthy stance might be to pursue discovering for ourselves the mind of Christ and see how we reflect or contradict the values of Christ. The Apostle Paul in Philippians 2:5 wrote, "Have this mind among yourselves, which you have in Christ Jesus." It is difficult to separate ourselves from our own cultural perspectives but with the guidance of the Holy Spirit we can begin to see through new eyes. Through a thoughtful and reflective study of the New Testament, especially the four Gospels, we begin to discover the fuller qualities of the “mind of Christ.” While this is not a quick fix but rather a life-long endeavor, it might well be the beginning of being set free from the cultural captivity of the Church.

Roger Gilbert is the pastor of First Baptist Church, Mount Airy, NC. This article originally appeared in their church newsletter, The Announcer.

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