Ian McKerracher

The Church: Dominant, Sub-, or Countercultural?

By Ian McKerracher

As part of the dominant culture, the role of the Church was well-defined for everyone involved. It was a role that lasted, off and on, for the better part of one and a half millennia. The Church was to be the conscience of the culture and the arbiter of morality and ethics. This role was valid for most of the past centuries of the Western worldview, since the time of Constantine, who enabled the Christian Church to bear the task of formulating orthodoxy and orthopraxy. If you wanted to know what was right or wrong, you could go to the Church and get an answer to your questions.

When the Church wandered from that role and sought a voice or a part to play in the wider culture, she tended to do very poorly. Cast into the role of a military power, many times she spawned religious wars and power grabs. Cast into the role of Science Journal, many times she opposed the best science of her day.

Bear in mind that all this was accomplished with the Church as a significant player in the culture. In today's climate, there is a renegotiation going on between the Church and that same wider culture: especially in North America, but also in Europe and whereever the touch of Western civilization has landed. This is what those in the Church who are looking back to the "glory days" are balking at. The renegotiation is trying to relegate the Church to a much-diminished role. They no longer want the Church to be the arbiter of their morality. They want to do their own thing without any outside interference. They want the Church to be confined to a limited subculture status.

The question is: Should the Church submit to that diminished role? Should we just accept that the culture around us is no longer listening to us, and so we should enter into a new phase by looking after our own interests just like all the other factions of society do? Do we just go quietly into that good night?

I want to say that there is another way: a third way between being a major player in the dominant culture (a role no longer available to us anyways) and being an inwardly focused subculture only concerned with the issues that the greater society allows us. This third way is being a counterculture. In the role of counterculture, the Church actually begins to revert to its original model provided by the pages of Scripture. It appears to me that the place for the Church is and always has been here. We were not designed to play the role of dominant culture, as evidenced by the great failures of the Church in the past. We also are not just one of many of the subcultures scattered throughout our world. The Church has a unique position in the culture—or should have.

For the Church to pursue this role, it is imperative that the Church start becoming the church! We should ask ourselves: if there was a group of people who have the Spirit of the Living God inside of them, what would they look like? How would they be different from the surrounding culture? What would their priorities be?

One sure-fire way to answer these highly charged questions would be to look at the culture outside and away from the Church, and begin to do the opposite things. I am not suggesting that the Church be "oppositional," thinking that would make us more attractive. That idea certainly has not been very successful any time it has been attempted. Attitude is everything, and being a jerk is still being a jerk even when you have the Truth. Let's just remember that those outside our congregations don't have the overwhelming reality of the Living God inside of them, and so they would act in a way that shows they are not being informed by Him. If the dominant culture, including those in political power, in educational power, and in the power of the media, are not being influenced as freely by the Holy Spirit as Christians should be, then the way they conduct themselves and the pursuits they deem valuable should reflect that difference. We could just observe their attitudes and actions and assume that we should look different.

Flower_Power_demonstrator
Flower_Power_demonstrator

We have had many countercultural groups over the course of history, with whom we can make comparisons and be instructed. They appear and disappear like waves on the historical ocean, and sometimes leave us with the faint smell of salty fishiness in the background of our collective consciousness. The hippies of the last century were much more than a weird fashion show with great music. They were countercultural in the true sense of the word. They redefined, for themselves, the notions of success, relationships, and personal autonomy. At the time, the Vietnam War provided a focus point for them to counter. Conventions of hair length were turned on their heads, along with dreams of picket fences in the suburbs, paid for by a personal commitment to a corporation for life. Those same hippies had children, who are now the "Occupy" people trying to change the social contract, or the social justice warriors that stride through the Internet, cutting a vast swath of vitriol, fueled by a sense of the unassailable rightness of their causes. These are examples of negative countercultural movements, which have suffered (or will suffer) the ignobility of being dashed upon the rocks of reality as their ideas become mainstream.

The Church has a history of very positive countercultural actions over the course of her story. Though many of the chapters of that glorious story have have been besmirched in modern times by a media hostile to religion, there are episodes of Church history where she rose to the occasions of her greatness by being present and accounted for to bear the weight of serving the victims of the poor policies of the dominant culture. With a true and robust redemption to offer those victims, the Church shone like a beacon, cutting through the fogginess of the anti-intellectualism that founded (and still confounds) the collective insanity that characterizes a life outside of God's good graces. Whether it is waiting in a boat below bridges where women cast their unwanted babies; gathering money and resources to help the poor at home and abroad; or providing care for disenfranchised, hospitalized, or incarcerated people, the Church was doing social justice long before it came in vogue to demand it from others. And she did all this with a clear-eyed vision to be an instrument in the Hand of the Master Builder of the Kingdom of God: to be involved in something infinitely larger than itself, a Kingdom where Love rules!

It doesn't take long for anyone focusing on those kinds of questions and looking at the latest rendition of the Church to realize: we aren't that, in whatever way we apply Scripture as a map to define what "that" is. Church-wide repentance is a great option! I heartily endorse it as a way to return to the original scriptural mandates set upon us by our Lord. As for the politics, bureaucrasies, and other power centres of our world: let the dead bury their dead. Let's follow Jesus.


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Why Apologetics?

blaise-pascal.jpg

By Ian McKerracher

Why should the average Christian, sitting in the pew, study apologetics? Are there not "experts" in that field, just as there are theologians and youth leaders and other graduates of theological seminaries and colleges, all working in their area of interest for the betterment of the body of Christ? Why should I become a Christian apologist?

The question reveals a very significant shift in the way Christianity is done in recent renditions of the Church. It denotes a subtle error in the thinking, the worldview, of Church leadership in the last hundred years or so. The error is the equating of the term "believer" and the term "disciple." It is the latter that we are to go into all the world to make. It is the former that we are making. What is the difference between these two entities? That question reveals the reason we need apologetics!

quot;Jesus Christ is an obscurity (according to what the world calls obscurity), such that historians, writing only of important matters of state, have hardly noticed Him." —Blaise PascalAs I look around the North American Christian church, I see the pews filled with believers. They believe a vast spectrum of things, some of which are Christian, some not so much. I remember watching a person, sitting in the pew, kissing and fondling her Bible. What doctrine would lead to such a behaviour, I wonder? I have heard of believers making animal noises as worship to God. I am sure that others could bring up memories of all sorts of behaviours that have little connection to historical or biblical Christianity. Christian research companies like the Barna Group and Pew Research have sounded a very concerned trumpet of imminent danger based on the horrific level of biblical illiteracy in the modern church, and have been answered with a collective image of church leadership with their fingers in their ears, all yelling "LA LA LA LA." Why that is so is anybody's guess, and I would suggest that it is for a spectrum of reasons, including the enormous amount of work it would take to reverse the trend, the unflattering reflection in the Church of anti-intellectualism gleaned from the surrounding culture, and, perhaps, a little bit of rationalization about how easy illiterate people are to lead.

What does it take to make a believer? Basically, it is mostly an appeal to the emotional side of a person's soul. "Jesus is extending his nail-scarred hand towards you, right now! Won't you respond to his love and let him make you whole?"; "If you were the only person on earth, Jesus would still die for you." You, you, you . . . The hearers of these triggers feel something stir inside of themselves and mistake it for God. While most of us are hard-wired to feel emotions, and I am not trying to dismiss the full, holistic experience of salvation, one based only on emotion will become difficult to live in a sinful world, and impossible to uphold for a lifetime. This sort of evangelism has at least two likely outcomes. One is a lifelong search for the emotional high experienced at salvation and witnessed by going from church to church to attend meetings, conferences, or special speakers. The other is a dismissal of church or even salvation itself as a sham, and Christians as fakers when they fail to measure up. These are not things upon which God can build the infrastructure of discipleship, individually or collectively.

How do you make disciples? This is the question of the hour. It requires Christians to be inconvenienced, to be called upon to pay a cost, and to sacrifice their comfort. These are not things that our culture or our school system or even, in many cases, our families or churches teach us to do. Making disciples will get in the way of your stuff, cost you your money, and interrupt your life. But it is the calling of us all. No more can we handle the new people coming into our churches as if they are fragile or fickle. The new people who are just learning what spirituality should look like will have a myriad of questions, and they need their friends to answer them. Those friends will need the undergirding of apologetics to do their jobs. It is not the job of church leadership to provide the close fellowship of disciple-making. It is the mandate of the people in the pew!

That is the fundamental change looked for between making believers and making disciples. The first is psychology; the second is biblical spirituality. Once the disciples populate the pews again, the Church can expect to return to the healthy transfer of godly wisdom from the more mature to the less, effectively making them both disciples. It is very true that we all "become what we behold," and the new saint in the church who has responded to the promptings of the Holy Spirit will be easily and quickly brought to their own maturity, being surrounded by a "great cloud of witnesses" from whom they can glean what a Christian looks like.

It will all start with the church leaders being confident in the workings of that same Holy Spirit. The members in the pews will all feel the confidence to pursue their own well of knowledge. They will not be afraid to be transparent and open to questioning. They are fully engaged in the pursuit, not only of God, but also of excellence in their lives and in the lives of those they lead. The things that they do, their disciples will do, and the disciples will turn around and will demonstrate the walk in the Spirit to those who come after them (2 Timothy 2:2). That's why the saints in the pew need apologetics.


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