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Home Church Planting/Missional ‘Flirting with Aussie culture’

‘Flirting with Aussie culture’

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 ‘Flirting with Aussie culture’.

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Acts 17:16-31

David Calderwood

At the heart of what I want to say today is a very simple question: How do you identify yourself and relate to Australia and Australians?

At first thought this might seem like a question just for people like me, one of the 26% of people born overseas who migrated to Australia for a host of different reasons.

But at another level, this is a question for everyone here this morning, regardless of where you were born, and especially given that a large number of you profess to be Christian.

The answer will say lots about how you relate to Australian culture, the Australian way of life, the Australian worldview.

Do you think of yourself first and foremost as an Australian who happens also to be a Christian or do you think of yourself as a Christian who happens to live in Australia?

So the first thing we need to do is try and describe ‘typical Aussie culture’. The department of Foreign Affairs and trade website notes that many of the popular stereotypes of the typical Australian and Australian lifestyle are totally contradictory, making it impossible to give a precise definition of what it is to be Australian..

Culture is who we are and what we do together as a group of people. Australian culture is the sum total of how we think and act collectively, as a nation. It is thought, food, dress, sport, art, music, film, theatre, dance, speech, ethnic diversity, and more besides.

In other words Aussie culture is the dominant Australian world view in action. It is the shared attitudes, values, beliefs, and practices which are based in our common response to the big questions of life – where life comes from; what life means; who we are; and what is important to spend our time doing.

So, how should we, as Christians, relate to our culture? It is really the question of how we relate to ‘the world’. It is the question of ‘How to be in the world but not of it’ and about identifying points where we, as Christians, have been flirting with Aussie culture.

It is important to realise that we cannot escape our culture. We relate to our culture every moment of the day – at work, at play, watching TV, reading, listening to music, eating, dressing, living with other people, planning a holiday, and much more besides.

But generally we don’t realise how much our culture influences us, even as Christians. Evidence suggests that our culture is so much a part of our being that, most likely, it will have more influence on how we act as Christians, than the bible does.

We cannot avoid bringing our culture to church with us this morning. The challenge is to be thoughtful so that we can evaluate cultural influences against the bible, keeping those parts which are helpful to worship and fellowship and rejecting those which detract from it.

So how should we relate to our culture practically as Christians? Historically Christians have taken different approaches.

1. Separatist: In this view the world is so bad Christians withdraw as much as possible to maintain purity. EG:- the idea of monasteries and the withdrawal of Christians into separate communities. We see a soft version of this in Christian-only business networks.

2. Reconstructionist: In this view Christians aim to take back the culture by political means. EG:- The Christian right group, the Australian Christian Lobby using political power to get legislation in place to make sure society maintains and upholds Christian values.

3. Adventurist: Christians must become more culturally relevant, adventuring into fresh new expressions of Christianity for a new generation by rewriting music, our message, and how we do church. This is the current ‘Missional’ church movement.

4. Conversionist: This is the broad evangelical view. As people are converted the transforming power of the gospel will slowly but surely change our culture. But evangelicals are confused: is it enough to see hell-bound people recued by Christ or should we be trying to make our world ‘better’ here and now in terms of social justice and environmental issues?

So where does that leave us? All the above reflect different aspects of the person and work of Christ and give us a grid by which to relate to culture.

Christ is opposed to human culture and will ultimately judge it.

Christ is committed ultimately to reconstructing the world so messed up by sin in the new heavens and the new earth, but that is in the future.

Christ was willingly involved in human culture through his incarnation. He was culturally adventurous and relevant easily mixing with all sorts of people and in all sorts of situations.

And Christ is the Lord who not only demands that all must obey him, but actually works for and in people to facilitate that whole of life change which begins with conversion.

But Christ also focused on implementation of truth and justice and righteousness.

Friends all these approaches to culture have in common the idea of being counter-culture Christians. In the time remaining I want to look at a case study in being counter-culture Christians using Paul’s visit to Athens in Acts 17:16-31 .

Let’s now join Paul as he finds himself alone in Athens, the cosmopolitan, sophisticated cultural capital of the world in his day.

He wanders around taking in the sights: the magnificent architecture of the Parthenon; the scale of the Acropolis; and the dozens of temples – all of which display the intellectual, political, literary, spiritual and military history of Athens.

But notice his response, verse 16. He was analytical and critical: seeing & thinking with God’s eyes in God’s world.

His experience of Greek culture had a powerful impact had on him. He was deeply distressed as he recognised that he was seeing the practical expression of their worldview. This was a display of man effectively worshipping himself, while ignoring the one true God.

And Paul was driven to action, determined to challenge their worldview and restore the Lord to his rightful place in their thinking and living.

Likewise we need to recognise that all human culture is naturally anti-God. Genesis makes clear that the good life God intended, God’s true culture of the Garden of Eden, has now been lost due to sin and rebellion.

People now endeavour to build the good life apart from God and so culture is inherently opposed to God. Jesus experienced this from the start. “He was in the world, and though the world was made by him, the world did not recognise or honour him . . .”

Therefore we must not ‘worship’ Aussie culture because the underlying worldview is that Australians can have the good life apart from God and make ourselves great as together we invest our time, energy, and natural abilities to make our nation great.

This worldview has many different expressions. It is the self-made, hard-working Aussie country battler. It is the sophisticated, city-dwelling, consumerist, drive by desire for leisure.

It is the political left who agitate for supposed equality for all while demonising those who favour capitalism and a wealth based economic model. It is the political right who want to be free from any restrictions on how much money they make and how they make it.

It is the new religion of Anzac Day and Australia Day in which these are now more than celebration of events past.

These are the new rituals – external events trying to achieve something much deeper and much more symbolic, something spiritual that gives heart and a national sense of identity to our nation. They dominate the Australian calendar year as Christian church events once did.

The battlefields of Gallipoli, Belgium, PNG and Asia are the new sacred sites and the new places of annual pilgrimage.

Friends, we must be critics of our culture. We must be able and willing to judge our culture, weighing it against God’s word, and calling it away from disobedience. And that takes constant analysis because our culture is constantly changing its expressions.

Will I see my Aussie culture as God sees it? If I am to be counter-culture then I must challenge the system and the gods of the system.

That is to embark on a culture war on all fronts of Aussie lifestyle. Will you love Australia as Jesus does? Will you weep for it as Jesus weeps? Will you die for it as Jesus died? Or are you too busy soaking it all up yourself to even notice its inherent idolatry?

Second, Paul was patriotic: unashamedly advocating new loyalty to Jesus. I need to make clear that by patriotism I do not mean nationalistic fervour which is blind to the faults of a country, or openly boastful about that country being better than any other.

I’m speaking about true patriotism which is prepared to defend and promote the good values of a nation, and which is prepared to declare a true loyalty and follow through in action regardless of the cost.

In this sense Paul, as a citizen of Heaven, was a true patriot, v18, because he took his stand on the death and resurrection of Jesus before this potentially hostile crowd of philosophers.

Eventually he is invited to speak at the meeting of the Areopagus, a group of scholars whose job it was to guard and maintain the city’s morals, education and religion by making sure they had not missed out on honouring any god lest it bring misfortune to the city.

In other words Paul is speaking to those whose job it was to maintain their worldview. And with great courage and cultural sensitivity he gently tells them that Jesus stands over every culture and subculture, including theirs.

Verse 24, everyone and every nation is under the one true creator God.

Verse 25, he is not indebted to or in need of us, but all peoples everywhere are totally dependent on him for our next breath and everything else in life.

Verses 26-28, this same Lord also determines the rise, spread and collapse of nations and cultures, the reality of such impermanence in the world being designed to make people and nations find their security and confidence for the future in God rather than their culture.

Paul completely knocks out any thought of hiding behind cultural diversity arguing that all people belong to one human culture with the Lord as the defining point.

This is important when we think of evangelism and especially cross-cultural mission.

These days it is normal to speak of cultural differences which give opportunity for nationalism or cultural arrogance.

People argue for cultural integrity, meaning that every indigenous culture’s religious beliefs are equally credible and to be preserved at all costs. And this assumes that any and every indigenous culture is inherently good and beyond challenge by another.

But equally wrong is the equating of the gospel with Western culture. The Christian church has been terribly guilty of that in the past making the gospel a form of colonialism with western style buildings and dress being part of the gospel response.

In our own day it is part of the growing clash of civilisations between Christianity and Islam. Moslems often think that Christianity is Western lifestyle of affluence and promiscuity and want no part of it.

We must be sure that we are patriots of Christ and taking the culture of the Kingdom of God with us as we take the gospel to cultures which have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, including Australian culture.

Our loyalties ought to be to the king and country of our new citizenship – The Lord Jesus and the Kingdom of God. if we accept the argument of cultural integrity, then we allow people to continue in their sin towards judgement and we betray the truth of the gospel.

Because the gospel is the answer every culture seeks. Every culture is built on a notion of how to have the good life, security and identity as a people, how to understand our world and how to live well in it.

Paul tells the Athenians that all this is to be found in Jesus. The Greeks like every culture had a sense of being connected to something bigger to the eternal, to god. Paul now introduces them to the god whom in their ignorance they had not seen or recognised in the past.

In him is the good life and the things they seek, but he demands repentance and loyalty to Lord Jesus, proven to be Lord by his resurrection.

Near enough is not good enough for Lord Jesus. Religion, tolerance, multiculturalism, secularism – none of it is enough to impress God or avoid judgment. Only repentance and new loyalty to the Lord Jesus will produce a true and lasting culture.

Therefore we must be selective but relaxed participants: As members of our culture we will be involved as Jesus was involved in the culture of his day – carefully avoiding temptation, recognising its limitations, but enjoyably participating in the wholesome parts –food, the arts, sport, leisure, entertainments, travel, etc without allowing them to become idols.

And we must be opportunistic transformers: We are to live the ‘good life’ which we have in Christ, demonstrating to all the life-changing power of the gospel which we will naturally wish to share with them.

We are not trying to take over the culture by force, nor are we trying to withdraw from it. But by our faithful, quiet presence within it at every point, we are both preservative and agents for renewal.

We need to exploit the best part of our Aussie culture for the gospel and we need to appreciate that the best part of our Aussie heritage IS the gospel. Let’s not squander real and lasting culture as citizens of heaven, by adopting the false and condemned culture of Australia, in spite of all its promise.

Amen

Last Updated on Sunday, 29 April 2012 17:43  

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