Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The church shaping the world - or vice versa?

Regular readers know that a major theme of this blog is defending historic Christian liturgy against efforts to conform (or chase) the church to modern cultural norms and mores. The second segment on Tuesday’s Issues Etc. podcast was “Responding to evangelical clichés: The church must transform the culture.” Host Todd Wilken interviewed Bryan Wolfmueller, a fellow LCMS pastor, a regular Issues Etc. guest and host of the Table Talk Radio podcast.

Wilken stated the premise, the belief among evangelicals that “The church's job — or one of its jobs … is the transformation of the culture.” He argued that while the church seeks to change the culture, “very often in evangelicalism, it’s the culture that’s transformed the church.”

Referring both to the historic Catholic and modern evangelical process†, Wolfmueller argued that “when you try to avoid the culture, something opposite happens: you end up absorbing the culture.”

He continued:
“With contemporary worship, the idea is to be accommodating and accessible to the culture, so the culture is setting the agenda for how the evangelical church is worshiping. And now, more and more, it’s also setting the theological agenda. ...  The more you try to avoid the culture, in some profoundly ironic and related way, the culture has a strong influence on your doctrine and practice.”
Both men argue that the solution is the Lutheran doctrine of “Two Kingdoms,” which keeps separate the sacred and the secular in opposition to Roman Catholic Church and its historic assertion of temporal and spiritual authority. (Anglicans wouldn’t use this phrase, but clearly there is a distinction  in Anglican thought between areas where the Christian Church has a position and others where it does not.)

Finally, Wolfmueller argued that the work of Jesus is not to save (or destroy) the culture, but to save sinners. My recent work studying church planting has reminded me (again and again) that Sunday worship is only one of the responsibilities of the church, and so we can’t forget as (the b-school crowd would call it) this ultimate bottom line.

† This passage suggests a particularly ironic juxtaposition with his previous week’s discussion of evangelical clichés entitled “That’s Too Roman Catholic,” a criticism of Lutheran and other liturgical Protestants.

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