A Separate Culture
“The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15)
These words were like a bolt of lightning from heaven. They fractured humanity and ripped it in two, imposing two separate kingdoms, two races, two cultures: the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of man. Too often, we fail to recognize the separateness of these two worlds. Today, as society drifts farther from the Kingdom, we share a challenge: can we rediscover what it means to be Christian?
The Amish have a practice called Rumspringa. Around the age of 16, the Amish youth are released into the secular world. They are near adulthood. It is time to choose one’s own path. Will they remain within their traditional community? Will they venture out and build a new life in the world beyond? Imagine a scenario. You have spent your whole childhood in a tightly-knit, faith-centered, and agrarian culture. You get on a bus, shut your eyes and wait, a few hours pass, the bus stops, you step out, plant your feet on the cement floor, and open your eyes — you are at the intersection of Seventh Street and Broadway, Times Square, New York City. What would you think?
What would our great-great-grandparent think if he or she stepped into our world today? How would any Christian feel if transported to our society from the 19th century, from medieval Europe, or from the communities of the first Christians?
We evaluate our lifestyle by comparing ourselves to contemporaries around us. What would happen if we evaluated our lifestyle by the standards and expectations of Christians from earlier generations?
How would we measure up?
“Now I am going to him who sent me…I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:5,7).
Jesus Christ ascended to heaven forty days after the resurrection. The disciples were left behind with their eyes strained up to heaven. This same spiritual strain represents our Christian journey ever since, a strain to lift our hearts to God, to tear our hearts from this world and anchor them in the world above. Christ spoke with urgency: “The kingdom of God is at hand.” Our career choice, the college we attend, our medical procedures, none of these matter so much. We have only two jobs: flee worldliness and pursue holiness.
“The Holy Spirit will prove the world wrong…[and] guide you into all truth” (John 16:8,13).
The Holy Scriptures describe a war between black and white: Cain and Able, the Egyptians and the Israelites, the Philistines and the Jews, Babylon and Jerusalem. This was turned up 100 notches when Christ ascended to heaven and the Holy Spirit descended to earth. The world is convicted. The righteous are illuminated.
Eλέγξει τὸν κόσμον. “[The Holy Spirit] will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.”
What the world sees as good, God sees as evil. The meaning is implicit. Secular ethics clash with Christian ethics. Secular attitudes jar with godly attitudes. We belong to a culture set apart.
America was once a Christian nation. It had its problems.Yet, by and large, it was founded on Judeo-Christian principles. There was a distinct Christian culture, which really was not so different here in America than anywhere across Europe or beyond. There was a shared ethos about marriage, dating, family, education, Sunday gatherings, and the smorgasbord of culture.
Yet, the west stopped being Christian, and the Church followed the world. We are all guilty. We have all accepted ways of thinking and behaving that are in the air we breathe. But we need to step back and reexamine.
“A time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God” (John 16:2).
Tolerance was once in vogue. It is no longer. Secularization was a slow and steady trickle over the last several decades. Today, it is a deluge. People around us will increasingly look at us as insane. If we do not vote for the same laws society wants, we will be despised. If we do not celebrate sexuality as pop culture celebrates, we will be persecuted. If we have different attitudes about healthcare, education, or any hot topics, we will be considered domestic terrorists.
In some manners, it has always been this way. In the 1970’s, St. John of San Fransisco was taken to court. His own parishioners sued him on the grounds of embezzlement. There was no evidence; there was no foundation — just hate and gossip. A heart unguarded quickly falls into delusion. All the saints are slandered and insulted. Christ endured the same. Like oil and water, the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world do not mix.
We have to prepare. If someone insults you, rejoice! If someone slanders you, rejoice more! We must be ready to be hated, while keeping hearts overflowing with peace and joy — because we belong to God.
Óδηγήσει ὑμᾶς ἐν τῇ ἀληθείᾳ πάσῃ - The Holy Spirit will “guide you into all truth” (John 16:13).
While the world moves in one direction, the Church moves in another. Bring your thoughts back to the Amish. With all their eccentricities, they remind us of an important principle. It’s okay to be different.
The Amish are not against technology. They simple choose to decide which technologies they want in their homes. Similarly, we cannot let the commercials and news stations, nor the politicians and education boards, determine our values. We must create our own culture — Kingdom culture.
Dare to be distinct.
“[You are] a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood…They stumble because they disobey the word…But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:5,8,9).
The Holy Spirit has been at work in the Christian Church for 2,000 years. It has its own sacred liturgy, its own uplifting music and art, its own ethics and values, its own calendar, and a unique lifestyle that celebrates everything true, good, and beautiful. Let the world be the world. We have a Kingdom to build.
Christ is Risen!