On the Fringe

Culture is mainstream. It matters not what culture it is, in its place and its time, it defines human existence. There are myriads of sub-cultures in every group but even the most deviant sub-culture in some way reflects the general culture of any people.

That being said, there are neutral things in every culture. Every culture tends toward the survival of it’s participants. Every culture eats food. Every culture drinks water. Every culture fights disease according to its knowledge. Every culture has a vague view of god, or gods or spiritual reality. These things are more or less neutral. But when these basic needs are adequately met human depravity asserts itself in ways that are downright demonic. Society has the leisure to ramble and ramble it will. Especially is this true when a culture becomes unbelievably wealthy.

Notice for instance the sexual mores of America. In 70 years time we have moved from a culture that respected sex as something that was enjoyed in a marriage covenant between a man and a woman, to a culture that exploits sex as the personal right of every human being. In our present culture sex is presented as an end in itself, to enjoy in any context personally preferred. Sex has become the one great symbol of self achievement and satisfaction.

In the 1940’s most women wore clothing that would be considered prudish today. Most men had a healthy respect for women as a whole and the demarcation between a “loose” woman and a virtuous woman was usually, at least initially, demonstrated by the modesty, or lack there of, the woman exhibited. 70 years later many young women do not know the meaning of the word modesty. Our culture has changed.

When I was a young man, homosexuality was considered by most in American culture as at least morally wrong. More thought that it was simply disgusting. No more. Now the “conservatives” celebrate their daughter’s same sex “marriage.” It has always amazed me how the conservatives of one generation are so strong on an issue and yet, under the banner of conservatism, the next generation moves completely left of their fathers and yet claim the same banner.

I say all of this to emphasize a point. God’s church has never been the servant of any culture, conservative or liberal. As soon as it binds itself with the chains of cultural relevance it ceases to be the church of Christ. The church of Jesus Christ was never intended to be culturally acceptable. Always and in every culture true Christianity has been on the fringe. The only time the church has been effective in its ministry is when it has worked from the fringe.

Our Lord’s own ministry was a rebuke to the religious culture he was born into. Paul the great missionary Apostle, enraged most every culture he entered because his message was so counter-cultural. The attempt of Satan to make Christianity the religion of the state was a master stroke that made Christianity Christendom. Suddenly the church was culturally acceptable and the world entered the dark ages.

The Great Awakening and the revival movements of later days moved the church away from cultural atrophy to vibrant life. The culture of heaven can never be the culture of this world. The culture that has its roots in the god of this world can never advance the culture of Christ.

When Whitefield and the Wesleys moved out of the church buildings to preach in the fields, it was considered uncouth and below the dignity of normal Christian practice. And yet it set the stage for the abolition of slavery in the UK and it brought a nation to Christ. A hundred years later the cultural offense of the Salvation Army was to take the message of Christ out of gold gilded buildings to the street corners of the world.

Christ was not crucified in a golden temple with a crown of pearls on His head, but near a garbage dump with the stench of death heavy in the air. He wasn’t surrounded by angelic babies but He hung between two murdering thieves. His death was the ultimate betrayal and rejection of human culture without God. His resurrection was the first fruits of a new humanity in complete fellowship with God. But as far as this world is concerned He was on the fringe.

All the rage in religious circles these days is relevance. We must engage the culture from within or we will be rejected, and the Gospel will not be effective. I don’t think there has ever been a more destructive lie ever told than that one. The only way the culture will see Christ is when they see Him in a church that is on the fringe with Him. “Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach (Hebrews 13:13).”

I would encourage every person who reads this to forget cultural relevance. Seek heavenly relevance. The very essence of the meaning of the word holiness is “different.” Holiness is Christ likeness. I don’t believe you can be like Christ and be loved by the haters of God in this world. Quit trying. Fellow believers will recognize you and receive you. And if not here, someday…in a better world and a better culture than this one.

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