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A Work in Progress: Walking with Jesus

Culture Clash

on February 26, 2013

For the last couple of days I’ve been reading about the Council at Jerusalem, in Acts 15:1-21. Paul and Barnabas had fallen out with other factions in the church who were arguing that the new Gentile converts still had to adhere to traditional Jewish practices, for example circumcision, in order to be saved. Paul believed passionately that this was contrary to the gospel of grace. In his letter to the Galatian believers he writes:

“Listen! I, Paul, tell you this: If you are counting on circumcision to make you right with God, then Christ will be of no benefit to you. I’ll say it again. If you are trying to find favour with God by being circumcised, you must obey every regulation in the whole law of Moses. For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace. But we who live by the Spirit eagerly wait to receive by faith the righteousness God has promised to us. For when we place our faith in Christ Jesus, there is no benefit in being circumcised or uncircumcised. What is important is faith expressing itself in love.”

(Galatians 5:2-6, NLT.)

This led me to ponder what we are tempted to add to the gospel. We too can get bogged down in our church culture. What additional demands do we make of people, that make it difficult for them to worship with us, and to become part of our church families?

Perhaps we expect people to look a certain way, to fit in with the rest of us. We might demand a certain (possibly unrealistic) level of behaviour from the children in our church, not making allowances for the child with special needs that we may not be aware of, or the kids of a young mum new to church who aren’t used to sitting still and being quiet. We may, deliberately or otherwise, make those with demanding jobs feel guilty for the lack of time they can devote to church life.

We not only frown on what may be permissible, but we allow what should be forbidden- people not relying on  Jesus alone but placing their trust in other things, for example material wealth and possessions. And that brings us back to Paul’s point. It’s all about Jesus. His grace is enough, and we can’t possibly add anything to it.

Let’s pray for discernment, to examine our church cultures carefully and ask ourselves some difficult questions. Do we do things this way because the Bible says we should- or because that’s how we’ve always done it? Does that person’s attitude offend Jesus- or just my delicate sensibilities? Are our priorities the same as those of Jesus and the early church (preaching the Gospel, making disciples, meeting the needs of those around us) or are we more concerned about our own comfort? Do we have a ‘one size fits all’ approach to church or are we prepared to meet different groups of people where they are?

Let’s pray too that we may not  put any stumbling blocks in the way of our fellow travellers, but instead that we may journey together, a mottley crew of all ages, sizes, backgrounds, cultures, experiences and viewpoints, until we reach our final destination.

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