Christian Culture Is Not Found in the Bible

And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. – Acts 11:26

The word “Christian” is nowhere used in the Bible as anything other than a noun. However, in American culture we constantly use “Christian” as an adjective or adverb to describe things such as music, movies, books, character, charitable acts, and so many other things. The great danger in this is the temptation to replace our genuine faith in Christ with traditions steeped in culture rather than God’s everlasting truth.

To be a Christian does not mean you must wear khaki pants, polo shirts, get verses tattooed on your body, or listen to music by Steven Curtis Chapman. To be a Christian is not equal to being a conservative American, white, black, or anything else rooted in a temporal society rather than the eternal God.

Christians have and will continue to be a part of varying societies with very different cultures. And as long as those cultural practices are not sinful and contrary to Scripture, than a Christian can be a part of any culture and not a part of other cultures and still be a real Christian. In fact, God wants us to be Christians in different cultures and societies so we can reach others.

Christianity itself, however, must never become cultural because when it does, the focus is removed from following Christ and is turned towards living a certain lifestyle.

To equate Christianity with something other than being a disciple of Jesus Christ is to risk fooling yourself that you can be saved by anything other than receiving the grace of Jesus, repenting of your sin, and following him. When Christianity becomes cultural it becomes tradition rather that a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus warns against tradition when he states (Matthew 15:6-9):

So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. 7 You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:
8 “‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
9 in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”

To say this music or movie is “Christian” is not sinful. To use the word “Christian” as an adjective or adverb is convenient and helpful to some degree to give people a warning of what to expect. But we must be on guard from letting our pursuit of Jesus turn into a cultural, traditional practice that we do “because that’s just what we do here at [you fill in the blank].”

If we are to avoid forsaking our true faith for cultural practices, it is imperative that deep down we know what it truly means to be a Christian. To be a Christian means being Jesus Christ’s disciple.

You can be a Christian in your culture, but you can’t make your culture Christian. It may seem like a subtle difference, but throughout history anytime the church has turned from Christ and towards traditions, the consequences have been devastating.

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3 thoughts on “Christian Culture Is Not Found in the Bible”

  1. I do agree with you in general, Mark. Yes, Christianity should not be identified with a culture and so far Christian faith survived many cultures. In fact, cultures came and went (think of Victorian England, or ancient Byzantine) but Christianity is still here, thank God.
    On the other hand, the relationship between Christianity and a given culture it lives within is not clear-cut or straightforward. Christianity was itself revealed through cultures that God uses as vehicles; Hebrew language and culture, then Greek language and culture. Every culture enriches Christian faith (think of C.S.Lewis’ books in English or ancient Coptic churches and their hymns) in some ways but also creates some danger for it like the Eastern Orthodox (Russian) churches’ whole sale support of the Soviet Union and its actions.
    So we believers are called to negotiate the cultural practices we adapt. But I appreciate your post because in nowhere else I have seen religion being merchandized so much as it is in the US (think of US culture and capitalism turning Christianity into yet another tool to make money). In non-Christian societies their religion is connected to culture too, but in America it is an art and is taken to extreme.
    So yes, Christianity should not be identified with a culture it lives within but they kind of mix and blend too.
    Anyway, timely post.

  2. Could you give me a modern example of the church making the sort of mistake you warned against in this post? (Cults don’t count here.)

  3. Sure, one modern example would be a certain Bible translation or a certain style of music. To say that Christians only use this type of language or us this type of music is false. Language, word choice, and music style are all cultural things which Christian truth can permeate through.

    I hope that helps a bit,

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