Cultural Christianity

Some time ago I was having a conversation with a lady in our community about current events. She shared with me how fearful she was concerning the economy, and was wondering if she would be able to provide for herself. I asked her what she thought the solution to the problem might be. She replied, "well I’m a Christian and I think that the only hope is in Christianity". Now how she could legitimately reconcile her fear with Christianity is beyond me, since fear and Christianity are not compatible, but I’ll leave that for her and the Lord to work through. I then proceeded to ask her about her Christian faith, only to have validated once again what I’ve heard so many times before. In a somewhat reserved and yet candid manner I asked her if she could define for me what the Christian life is, and how do we live it? After a long pause and a stare in her eyes as if someone had put her in a trance she responded timidly "well I’ve never been asked that question before and I’m really not sure how to answer that". I then said "do you mean to tell me that you believe Christianity is the answer and you can’t tell me what it is"? How can you possibly know how to live the Christian life if you don’t know what it is? Unfortunately this is not at all uncommon in the Christian community. The question is; how did we get to such a place that we have embraced a sacred system of belief, and yet when questioned about its viability we default to shameless ignorance? I believe the answer may be in what I would call cultural Christianity.

Before we can explore and understand cultural Christianity, we must first examine the foundation and function of cultural religion. It is my conviction that cultural religion is the birth parent of cultural Christianity. Cultural religion is first and foremost rooted in paganism, and masquerades itself as a form of godliness (2 Tim 3:5). Cultural religion relates to man as its source and center of its existence. Such is the case with many eastern religions that teach their religion is superior to all others. Even though the world may witness its hypocrisy, and failure to deliver on its promises, people around the globe are so enamored with its appeal; they are willing to give their very lives for its defense. So how is it that intelligent thinking individuals are so easily deceived by something that is so foreign to truth? It is my opinion that the answer is in what I would call religious culture. Yes, it is true that Satan is a master deceiver, however I believe that he often uses cultural religion as one of his tools for deception. On many occasions, I’ve heard well meaning members of the clergy say that we need to change our culture with the truth of Christianity. I find no such admonition in scripture. Cultural reformation has never been mandated by God, or His word. It is the ministry of the Holy Spirit to regenerate (save) the lost soul, and to reform (sanctify) the believer. Sad to say that cultural religion has either blinded the eyes, or at least dimmed the vision of the simplicity of Christ, and the revelation of Him in the believer.

The sociology of religion began with Adam and Eve, when they chose to become their own god. Since that time man gravitated to movements, and cultural religious systems, that have been far more about man than God. It is interesting to note that every religion, denomination and movement began with a man as its founder. It has been said that in order to establish a religious following it would require the following six components:

  • A place for meeting.
  • Some kind of commandments or rules.
  • A priest or leader.
  • A secret or something that only a few can know.
  • A ritual with some kind of significance.
  • A need or something that the worshipers can give to.

It is easy to see that cultural religion is not only bias, but also self-promoting and self-protecting. Jesus confronted the religious culture of the Jews, and they plotted to kill Him. The culture of Judaism was filled with external rituals, laws and sacrifices, of which no man could possibly attain. The problem was not in Judaism itself, for it was ordained of God for the Hebrew people under the Old Covenant. The problem was the fact that the Jews had taken something that was sacred, and turned it into something that was secular and cultural. They were deceived into thinking that they possessed something of spiritual virtue, when in reality they only possessed a religious form. (Mark 7:6 "This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me") Think about it for a moment. Every child that was born in a Jewish home grew up under the teaching of Judaism. Now there is nothing wrong with that, except that many embraced Judaism as a religious culture, and yet rejected their own promised Messiah. In like manner, many children around the world embrace a particular religion because they were raised in a religious culture that essentially gave them a religious identity. Even in what we call Christianity, we are often identified by denominations or associations. We often live out of an identity given to us by a religious culture. All of us, who have been called by the name of Jesus Christ, need to understand that we have our identity in Christ Jesus, not in an organization, denomination or religious culture.

Cultural Christianity, unfortunately, has many of the same characteristics as cultural religion. Evidence of cultural Christianity can be seen in every direction, and is growing in acceptance and practice. I have often wondered why we refer to certain geographical areas of our country as the Bible belt. Perhaps it is because these areas have been bastions of Bible teaching and conservatism? Now that may be considered a good thing, unless it has evolved from that which is birthed in the person of Christ to a religious culture. Cultural Christianity emphasizes the temporal far more than the eternal. God has become the big benefactor in the sky, which created heaven and earth just for man and his happiness. It is primarily driven by the fleshly appetites and reasoning of carnal minds. Cultural Christianity has become a massive religious system, which is endorsed by the clergy and embraced by believers and unbelievers alike as an accepted norm for living. It is riddled with religious rituals and myriad forms of worship. Its structures and laws of government are such as to leave even the most zealous follower feeling overwhelmed and defeated. No matter how one might want to define, dissect or analyze Cultural Christianity the fact remains that, it is just religion. Col 2:23 says "These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh".

Now I would like to return to the question that was asked at the beginning of this article. What is the Christian life and how do we live it? Let me begin by saying that Christianity is not a religion, moral lifestyle or obedience to Biblical disciplines. The Christian life can not be lived by personal determination or self effort of the believer. No matter how zealous the believer may be he can not generate life, he can only receive it. The believer must understand that Christianity is Christ and Christ is Christianity. Christianity is the very life of Christ as He is expressed through the life of the believer. We have seen many perversions and counterfeits of Christianity, but the true or authentic reality of Christianity is Christ and Christ alone. Jesus said in John 15: 1 "I am the true (or authentic) vine". It should be the desire of every believer to experience true (or authentic) Christianity. Many will quickly refer to all of their spiritual successes to validate their religious system, and its value. Such fallacy will one day be revealed to be hay, wood and stubble. Jesus said of such in Matt 7:22-23 "Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name, cast out demons in your name, and done many wonders in your name? And then I will declare to them, I never knew you, depart from me, you who practice lawlessness". The simplicity of Christ would perhaps seem insufficient to some; however, the scriptures remind us in 2 Pet 1: 3-4 that everything that pertains to life and godliness is given to us by God in Christ, for we possess His very nature. Therefore, Christian growth is not attaining or becoming more, but rather growing in a greater awareness of who we are and all that we already possess in Christ. The believer, who understands his identity in Christ, has little interest in religious culture, for he knows that the culture is ever changing, and offers only a lifeless religion in a dying world. Jesus said "I am the way, the truth and the life". Cultural religion is not the way, it is a lie and it only brings death. I choose Jesus who is my life (Col 3:4).

Ken Grief is the founder and executive director of Christian Living Ministries, Inc. He has served in this present position since August 1998. Prior to his current ministry he served as senior Pastor in Livonia, Michigan.

Ken currently lives with his wife Jeanie in Prairieville, Louisiana. His ministry includes that of teaching, counseling, writing and relational discipleship ministry.

More about Ken and Christian Living Ministries can be located at clmlife.org.