Cultural Fundamentalism or Cultural Evangelicalism?

From Theologically Driven. Posted with permission.

Over the past decade it has been popular to distinguish between “cultural fundamentalism” and “historic fundamentalism.” Cultural fundamentalism is regarded by its critics as very, very bad. It consists of folksy/outdated traditionalism that has drifted from its quaint, innocuous origins and has entered a bitter, skeptical stage of life—complete with theological errors of a sort that typically attend aging, countercultural movements. Historic fundamentalism, which focuses more on basic theological issues, fares a little bit better, but only a very little bit. Critics puzzle over those who accept this label, marveling that anyone would risk associative guilt by lingering near those nasty cultural fundamentalists: “Why not get with the program,” they ask, “and become a conservative evangelical?”

Part of the reason, I would venture, is that conservative evangelicalism itself appears, to all but those blinded by its euphoria, to be yet another cultural phenomenon—a new iteration of a broader movement (evangelicalism) that, let’s face it, has a track record easily as jaded as that of fundamentalism. True, the conservative evangelicals of today are a bit more conscious of theology and mission (that’s how the life cycle of ecclesiological “movements” begins), and their culture is more up-to-date; but it’s just a matter of time until the present iteration of evangelicalism grows old, propped up only by the same nostalgia that today keeps Billy Graham crusades and Bill and Gloria Gaither homecomings on cable TV (except that these will be replaced, for a new generation of elderly evangelicals, with John Piper recordings and Keith and Kristyn Getty sing-alongs that allow folks to relive the glory days).

Recently Darryl Hart, a notable critic of conservative evangelicalism (a.k.a. the “New Calvinism” and “Young, Restless, and Reformed” movements), wrote a scathing exposé of today’s culture-heavy evangelicalism. Speaking specifically to his own confessional concerns, he made the obvious point that the major attraction of the “New Calvinism” and the “Young, Restless and Reformed” movements wasn’t primarily theological (the “Calvinism” and “Reformed” part) but cultural (the “New, Young, and Restless” part). Calvinism, he observed, has been faithfully preserved for centuries in confessional churches (like the OPC of which Hart is a part) that guarded it far more carefully than the confessionally unconstrained evangelicals ever could. No, the major attraction of the “New Calvinism,” Hart opined, was that it offered something that the Old Calvinism didn’t, viz., “the sorts of celebrity, technology, mass crowds, and enthusiasm upon which the young sovereigntists thrive.” The “Gospel Allies” (a derogatory label Hart uses for the conservative evangelical movement) deliberately denigrate the Old Calvinists for one prevailing reason: They’re not new. And since they’re not new, they have little appeal for the young and restless crowd. The “Gospel Allies,” on the other hand, stay new by brokering alliances with cool, edgy, avant-garde, and (mostly) Reformedish celebrities like Driscoll, McDonald, and Mahaney, who, granted, might fall over the edge with which they flirt—but it’s worth the risk.

So what comes next? Well, if history is our guide, the generational cycle of cultural ecclesiology will soon move to its next phase, what I call ecclesiastical “niche-making.” The fundamentalist version of this is well documented. The 1940s and 50s revivalist culture (the best snapshot of which is found in its music) was all new and fresh and culturally edgy in its day. But now it is the realm of churches populated by 80-year-olds who can’t figure out why there are no “young people.” It’s happening again with the Patch the Pirate generation. Patch and Company were all the rage in the 1980s and early 1990s, but now they’re old news. Still, by publishing their magnum opus, Majesty Hymns, a coalition of Patch-culture churches lives on, populated mostly by those who were parents of small children during the 1980s. Now they’re beginning to wonder why the “youth group” is so small.

But evangelicalism is no different. Visit the various evangelical churches in your neighborhood and you’ll find Gaither churches, romantic but theologically vacuous churches from the golden age of CCM, and now Getty/Townend/SG churches (hint: this is where that missing generation has gone). I have little doubt that this cycle will repeat, because there is little in place to break the cycle. The pattern for all of these groups has been to push the cultural envelope until they create their niche, then settle down to enjoy it.

The possible conclusions, then, appear to be twofold: some churches will (1) do nothing and become culturally backward, ingrown congregations that reminisce together until they eventually die of old age, while others will (2) transition to the next cultural cycle and thrive for another 25 years or so. But is this the way it’s supposed to be? I think not.

The answer

The answer, I would suggest, is faithful ministry in confessionally bounded churches committed more to the spirituality of the church than they are to the socio-political and cultural relevancy of the church. By striving, self-consciously, to be as culturally transcendent as possible, I would argue, we can cultivate timeless, transgenerational bodies that do not need to reinvent themselves every quarter century to remain solvent. It will not be easy—after all, culture has told us for a hundred years that this is not the way church is done. But it’s definitely worth the effort.

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Ted Bigelow's picture

"By striving, self-consciously, to be as culturally transcendent as possible, I would argue, we can cultivate timeless, transgenerational bodies that do not need to reinvent themselves every quarter century to remain solvent."

Here’s my question. Assuming the ecclesiology of the NT is sufficient for how churches are to understand themselves and how to relate to this world, where does all the analysis and hand-wringing effort to be culturally relevant (or in this case, "culturally transcendent") come from? 

 

 

Ed Vasicek's picture

I like what I read.  I think his analysis is right on, and  his conclusion clear and true:

 

The answer, I would suggest, is faithful ministry in confessionally bounded churches committed more to the spirituality of the church than they are to the socio-political and cultural relevancy of the church.

True, I would prefer the word "doctrinally" rather than "confessionally," which, to me, is another fad-term from the new "reformed" movement, at least for those of us who are fundamentalists and not reformed (as a whole).

"The Midrash Detective"

Ed Vasicek's picture

Ted Bigelow wrote:

"By striving, self-consciously, to be as culturally transcendent as possible, I would argue, we can cultivate timeless, transgenerational bodies that do not need to reinvent themselves every quarter century to remain solvent."

Here’s my question. Assuming the ecclesiology of the NT is sufficient for how churches are to understand themselves and how to relate to this world, where does all the analysis and hand-wringing effort to be culturally relevant (or in this case, "culturally transcendent") come from? 

 

Ted, I think there is some mandate for this in I Corinthians 9:19-23

19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

I Corinthians 11:16 suggests that there may have been differing customs in differing churches:

16 If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.

In addition, we see the innovative nature of the church in the Book of Acts (e.g., Acts 6:1-7).  Any foreign missionary will discuss the need to adapt to the culture.  The question is how far?  The neutral things of a culture (language, to some degree, dress, etc.) are one category, but the term "culture" often refers to what the Bible calls the "world."  And therein lies the difficulty, making a distinction. IMO fundamentalists have been too stubborn and hidebound about cultural matters while many "hep" evangelicals cave in even where the Bible speaks (e.g., the role of women).  This is not an exact science, but being fad-driven is a sure sign of a wrong foundation.

 

PS-- Ted, the link to your website is misspelled.  I think you want "church."  It reads: www.gracecurchministry.org .  Please add an "h."

 

"The Midrash Detective"

Jim's picture

http://stuffoutloud.blogspot.com/2010/11/cultural-fundamentalism.html

In other words, when people think “fundamentalist,” they don’t think “defending the gospel” or “partnering for ministry.” They think cultural issues.

Of course there are exceptions. I had dinner this week with a well-known and highly-respected man, whose name every reader here would know (and would say, “How did you get hooked up with him?”). He actually did reference fundamentalists as separatists. But in my experience, he is the exception.

But what most people ask about is cultural issues, because that is what people think fundamentalism is. Now, one might attempt to make the case that the Bible version is not cultural, but theological. I think that is partially true and partially not true, but I don’t want to deal with that argument here.

You see, they know exactly what a cultural fundamentalist is … It is a fundamentalist who is known first for his stands on cultural issues. He is not known for loving the gospel, sound doctrine, theology, and the church, though he may do all those things. He is known for cultural standards.

Is that fair? Complain away, but that impression did not come from nowhere.

You see, cultural fundamentalism exists, and in it, people care less about what you believe and more about what you do and don’t do. Again, complain away, but that impression does not come from nowhere.

Jim's picture

https://web.archive.org/web/20120112074042/http://systematicsmatters.blo...

Fundamentalism and Cultural Conservatism
Fundamentalists have a reputation for being culturally conservative. I'll let others quibble over whether cultural conservatism is a sine qua non of fundamentalism. It's a worthy discussion, but that's not my point today. What I want to discuss today is the meaning of cultural conservatism. In my experience, when the label "cultural conservatism" is raised, the specter that most often comes to hearers' minds is the absurdity of conserving a peculiar culture, usually American culture from somewhere between the Great Depression and the immediate aftermath of World War II. That this vision of cultural conservatism has thrived in fundamentalist circles is an unfortunate reality: you can still visit the 1940s in many fundamentalist churches today. And that is a tragedy.

This vision of cultural conservatism, however, is not the kind of cultural conservatism that fundamentalism has always practiced. George Marsden makes this point clearly in his Fundamentalism and American Culture and especially his Reforming Fundamentalism. In many cases, he observes, early fundamentalist culture was more folksy and populist than their modernist rivals because, as a grass-roots movement, the fundamentalists had lost much of their high-culture machinery to the modernists (after all, when they lost the church builiding, they also lost the pipe organ--which in some cases was worth more than the building!). Marsden further observes that the early new evangelicals were sometimes more straight-laced and staid than their fundamentalist brothers precisely because they were pursuing acceptance among modernists who had retained a rather "high" culture.

The early fundamentalists did, however, develop a certain reserve about culture based on robust concerns about depravity and true worldliness. Where the new evangelicals had adopted something of a non-critical "Christ of culture" mindset that pragmatically assumed neutrality in culture for the sake of re-engaging it, the fundamentalists began to be more critical of culture. The early fundamentalist response, however, was not (and still is not) monolithic. Some adopted a simplistic "Christ against culture" stance, dug their heels into 1947, and resisted all cultural advance from that point forward. But others adopted something of a "Christ and Culture in Paradox" stance that viewed culture with measured distance, anticipating and abhorring what was evil in culture, but clinging to what was good. Now there were (and still are) practical similarities between the cultures reflected in these two visions of fundamentalist culture, but not identity.

What concerns me about the "conservative evangelical" tent is a tendency to abandon both kinds of cultural conservatism and to embrace a sort of non-critical cultural ambivalence reminiscent of the new evangelical model. In their haste to jettison the simplistic and unhealthy cultural conservatism of "Christ against Culture" fundamentalism, there has also developed among conservative evangelicals a certain repugnance for the critical cultural conservatism of "Christ and Culture in Paradox" fundamentalism. And I fear that the result of this tendency is the loss of some of the practical antithesis that the Gospel anticipates.

It is for this reason that I continue rather stubbornly to plead for cultural conservatism in the church today.
 

Comment: Having been born in the 40's ... it's always fun to go back (wayback)

Jim's picture

Larry talked about the questions posed to him about fundamentalism over pizza and beer (not Larry's beer!)

Out away from the ghetto of fundamentalism (the schools, seminaries and churches) ... out in the neighborhood where I live  or where I work , the term itself is nearly universally negatively perceived. The questions about whether someone went to a Bible College (I know NONE at my employer), whether a woman wears pants (hello ... it gets to -20 here!), and drinking (almost everyone I know drinks in moderation), and Bible versions and inane and irrelevant.

Meaningful questions (all have come up in the last several weeks):

  • Robin Williams and suicide. Was he insane? (I didn't watch the Emmy's last night but I did see the Billy Crystal tribute clip on the AM news. "But while some of the brightest of our celestial bodies actually are extinct now, their energy long since cooled, but miraculously because they float in the heavens so far away from us now, their beautiful light will continue to shine on us forever and the glow will be so bright it'll warm your heart, make your eyes glisten and you'll think to yourselves, Robin Williams, what a concept". (Comment: just yesterday over coffee a co-worker asked if I believed in ghosts! Last Tuesday at dinner at Red Lobster a relative asked me about suicide)
  • Work life balance
  • Marriage issues
  • Issues with aging parents
  • Ferguson (spoken quietly but people are talking about this!) & race related issues
  • ISIS and radical Islam (here's a real conversation starter that enabled me to provide a Catholic co-worker the book "Delighting in the Trinity" (b/c answers the Muslim view of God)

Point is that if we want to engage people and have an entrance into their lives, we need to have answers to the questions they are asking.

Ron Bean's picture

I thought that this was article was interesting. There is a segment of the YRR that seems to always want something new, to the point where they seem to have no stability in how they worship. To some the style of worship is in a constant state of flux. Changes in lighting, staging, worship team composition, and liturgy are prone to create uneasiness. The continual introduction of new music results in congregations that are unable to keep up with the repertoire and thus turn into audiences rather than participants. On the other hand, we have segments of Christianity who are stuck in their favorite culture of worship. Some like the hymns and worship of the Victorian Era, some of the Revivalist Era, some of the Gaither Era, and some of the Garlock/Hamilton/Wilds genre. When I  visit churches, I can often predict their culture by their hymnal. (The worst one being "Soul Stirring Songs and Hymns" which suffers from a dearth of the latter. A church needs a repertoire of hymnody, not just for the musicians but especially for the congregation. While a rut is just a grave with the ends knocked out, familiarity is not all bad. It's been my experience that people, while needing to be stretched, also find comfort in the familiar. Some fundamentalists resist change. Some of the YRR are addicted to it. We need to embrace change but without letting go of what is good. Corporate worship is all about participation! We want people singing and praying with us not listening to us. We also want them participating with their heads. There are people who worship the same way week after week and have no idea what they're doing or what they're singing.

 

 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Larry Nelson's picture

 

Jim quotes above from one of Mark Snoeberger's earlier articles:

"you can still visit the 1940s in many fundamentalist churches today. And that is a tragedy."

Snoeberger's assertion may apply in many aspects, but one that particularly strikes me is that fundamentalism often seems to lag behind evangelicalism in adopting new technologies.

Consider the vitriol that commonly came from fundamentalism a few years ago against the use of "screens" (i.e. video screens) in church auditoriums.  Churches that have them use them for powerpoint projection, song lyrics, and video announcements, among other things.  I haven't seen any recent opposition to video screens, and in fact I've seen numerous instances in which fundamentalist churches are now using them.  (At my church, during a remodel about three years ago, we installed twin 14 X 7-foot rear-projection screens.)

How about lavalier microphones?  (The small, wearable, wireless ones that give a speaker freedom of movement.)  When these were first gaining in popularity in churches, I remember my own pastor (at that time) once disparage them as if they were a sign of apostasy.

This one may sting: what about people using their iPads or iPhones to look up Scripture during services, instead of carrying a Bible to church?  I know fundamentalists today who become indignant at the very thought.  Yet bound Bibles were themselves once the height of technological innovation (in the mid-15th century, that is, after Gutenberg invented the printing press).

Passing the plate during the offering?  At numbers of churches, that's becoming anachronistic.  An increasing percentage of regular church attendees today give electronically, in various forms.

Teaching elementary Sunday School can also be an eye-opener.  I know 10 year-olds who carry smart phones.  A 1st grader last year excitedly told me about all of the books she had recently read---on her Kindle.  Kids today are very tech-savvy, and teaching them using methods that may have been helpful in the past (flannel graph, anyone?) would now likely elicit yawns.

What's my point?  The younger the church attendee, the more a technologically-lagging church may look like the 1940s to them.  And the more that the means of delivery seems out-of-date to them, the harder it may become for churches to get them to connect with the message. 

 

Ted Bigelow's picture

Hi Ed,

Even if 1 Cor. 9:19ff were teaching cultural adaptation, it would be teaching personal adaptation - i.e., Paul alone, instead of ecclesial adaptation. That is why 1 Cor. 11:16 is more promising, referring to the practice of churches. But even here Paul rebukes a practice that may have been culturally relevant to Corinth but is out of keeping with "the churches of God" - a phrase referring to churches spread across several culturally diverse realms. And since the head covering matter was not a practice in keeping with the churches, it was rejected even if a culturally relevant issue (cf. 1 Cor. 14:33-40).

As for 1 Cor. 9:19ff, if we hold to a 'cultural adaptation' understanding of that passage rather than a 'permissible religious' adaptation (of Jewish practices), what could Paul mean by "I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified" (1Co 9:27) but that he remains qualified for ministry based on the success of his cultural adaptation?

As for Acts 6, I've not heard that discussed in terms of cultural adaptation before.

The neutral things of a culture (language, to some degree, dress, etc.) are one category, but the term "culture" often refers to what the Bible calls the "world." 

Wouldn't the Corinthians have likely argued that the length of hair, or the wearing of veils, was all culturally neutral (1 Cor. 11:1-16)? Are tattoos neutral? How about Facebook, or television? Singing? And if you don't have an apostolic word on how to differentiate between worldly and culturally, who decides for the churches? Each one decides for itself? Paul would have rebuked that as per 1 Cor. 14:33-36.

The larger issue is what we say we believe, and what we actually believe regarding the sufficiency of Scripture for ecclesiology, as it is also for our personal lives (Mat. 4:4). If (since) the New Testament is sufficient to teach us in both precept and example the doctrine and duties of all churches of all times and in all cultures, why are we trying to figure out how our churches should or should not adopt culture apart from it, in the hopes of making longer lasting churches?

 

Thanks for picking up on my misspelling. 

 

Larry Nelson's picture

 

I actually forgot what was perhaps the most glaring techno phobia of fundamentalism for quite a while: the internet.

I'm thinking of a famous quote from a prominent (hyper)fundamentalist that carried a lot of weight in a particular segment of the movement for many years.  He essentially said that the internet was evil, and that Christians had no business ever using it.  (I'm not going to bother to try & Google his exact words.) 

Fundamentalism (to some degree) chose to pass on utilizing a medium by which young, tech-savvy fundamentalists were gaining increasing exposure to the writing & sermons of conservative evangelicals (who by and large were not averse to utilizing it).

Might this have contributed to the exodus of many young fundamentalists?

       

alex o.'s picture

While on vacation last spring I attended an evangelical Anglican church. I loved the service and thought they did every thing by the book. Great hymns sung by a congregation of all ages and backgrounds united to take a stand for the Lord. They had various and extended readings of scripture which I find lacking in many churches today (I do not believe that since everyone now has a copy of the bible that it means the command to "read" has been abrogated. Faith comes from hearing and hearing of the word of the Lord. Of course this is not a mechanical thing).

The message was spot on, informed and relevant. The special music was violin and organ duet performed brilliantly (not that it has to be brilliant but this was).

My beef with historic fundamentalism is that it is mostly ignorant ranting confidently stated. Also, the institutions of Fundamentalism harbors control freaks by my personal experience and observation. The worst is the Hyles crowd but they are not exclusive. Whenever this fact of overlording is brought up, the response typically is: oh, you just want to sin. Again, this is ignorance and a faulty understanding along with a sort of mysticism of 'private revelation' that they are the few 'pure ones'. This promise of 'purity' has become a gimmick which lures and traps the unsuspecting.

Evangelicalism to me is more biblically informed. This fact transcends any cultural considerations.

Though some of the "Fundamentals" (as I remember the articles) were o.k., some were lacking. To me, the problem started when this universal movement began to be institutionalized. At the very beginning it was characterized by racism and legalism (alcohol prohibition initially that soon snowballed to include more and more things). Institutions might be necessary along some lines but the standards were drawn far too tightly. It is better not to cooperate institutionally if it is more restrictive than the bible.

I am almost against music in the assembly. Where is it in the scriptures? One verse! "addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart."(ESV). One would be hard pressed to see this imperative directed toward the assembly. The context certainly does not speak of meeting together to exercise this command. This may be speaking about admonishing one another in an indirect manner using established psalms and hymns. Paul gave Timothy explicit commands what to do when meeting together: reading, exhortation, and teaching. Yes, prayer, Lord' Supper observance, koinonia is spoken about also. Where is concerts? For all the scholars out there: please examine this area of the church's practice.

Being a Baptist, I want to find support in the bible for how to assemble together with other believers and not just go along with the crowd. That English Reformed Church was more baptistic than any Baptist church I have found.

"Our faith itself... is not our saviour. We have but one Saviour; and that one Saviour is Jesus Christ our Lord.  B.B. Warfield

http://beliefspeak2.net

DavidO's picture

That English Reformed Church was more baptistic than any Baptist church I have found.

!

Jim's picture

I am very conservative with worship music and am a member of a church that is as conservative as I.

What I see is a "our worship is better than their worship" among some in our circles.

We attended a fine Bible church while on vacation - pastored by a grad of TMS (MacArthur). What we found:

  • Casual dress
  • A small combo band ( guy on a guitar, another guy with a small drumset, and a pianist). The lyrics were displayed on screen
  • The worship was absolutely Christ glorifying - the lyrics were theologically rich
  • The message was over 50 min long (I'm used to about 30 min)

My wife remarked that there would be some in our circle who would find the music abhorrent ... but only because of their closed-mindedness and prejudices.

This small church didn't have the depth of music ability and # of attendees to field a choir. But it was worship

 

Jim's picture

http://www.philchristensen.com/subpage30.html

A Response to Dr. Frank Garlock's Teaching About Praise

Garlock puts all his theological eggs in one basket.  The premise would make Francis Schaeffer spin in his grave:  Garlock teaches plainly that music is not a-moral.  Its character is moral.

What's the difference?  A knife is a-moral.  It's neither good, nor bad.  Depending on who's holding that knife, it can do things that are either good or evil.  It can accomplish good things by freeing the bonds of a captive, or slicing a tomato for a sandwich.  But - in the hands of a fiend - a knife can also murder the innocent.  It's a tool.

In Frank Garlock's world, however, music is NOT just a tool.  Music is a powerful entity that - in itself - is either holy or evil.  He teaches that music is moral or immoral by its very nature, and cannot be neutral.  The sound itself is here to either help you or to hurt you.  There's no middle ground.

He attempts to support this truth by associating it with the character of God Himself.  Garlock reasons that since (a) God is musical, and (b) God is moral, therefore (c) music is moral by nature.  That's Frank's Theorem.

(Note: for fun, try Frank's Theorem with any other two random attributes of God, and see how it works.  Here's one to get you started: (a) God is kind, and (b) God is unchangeable.  Therefore (c) kindness is unchangeable.  Kids, you can try Frank's Theorum at home: (a) Rudolph is a reindeer, and (b) Rudolph has a red nose.  Therefore, (c) all reindeers have red noses!  Donner and Prancer might disagree, but I digress.)

Frank's Theorem gives birth to Frank's Bottom Line: There are only two styles of music:  (a) the style which is is moral and "acceptable to the Lord" and (b) the style which is immoral and "unacceptable to the Lord."  It's a simple binary system.  His personal mission statement is found in Eph. 5:10: "Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord."  For those who don't agree with what he's proven, he's obviously adopted the next verse in context: "And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them."

So the battle's on; we'll either accept what Garlock's "proven" or be "reproved."  With no middle ground, his definition of unacceptable music is any style that smacks of "worldliness."  He will also define this.

To avoid being reproved by Frank Garlock, we'll have to:
1) agree with his premise about the morality of music,
2) accept his definition of "worldliness," and finally we'll
3) penitently adopt the styles of music he authorizes

Ed Vasicek's picture

Ted Bigelow wrote:

Hi Ed,

Even if 1 Cor. 9:19ff were teaching cultural adaptation, it would be teaching personal adaptation - i.e., Paul alone, instead of ecclesial adaptation. That is why 1 Cor. 11:16 is more promising, referring to the practice of churches. But even here Paul rebukes a practice that may have been culturally relevant to Corinth but is out of keeping with "the churches of God" - a phrase referring to churches spread across several culturally diverse realms. And since the head covering matter was not a practice in keeping with the churches, it was rejected even if a culturally relevant issue (cf. 1 Cor. 14:33-40).

As for 1 Cor. 9:19ff, if we hold to a 'cultural adaptation' understanding of that passage rather than a 'permissible religious' adaptation (of Jewish practices), what could Paul mean by "I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified" (1Co 9:27) but that he remains qualified for ministry based on the success of his cultural adaptation?

As for Acts 6, I've not heard that discussed in terms of cultural adaptation before.

The neutral things of a culture (language, to some degree, dress, etc.) are one category, but the term "culture" often refers to what the Bible calls the "world." 

Wouldn't the Corinthians have likely argued that the length of hair, or the wearing of veils, was all culturally neutral (1 Cor. 11:1-16)? Are tattoos neutral? How about Facebook, or television? Singing? And if you don't have an apostolic word on how to differentiate between worldly and culturally, who decides for the churches? Each one decides for itself? Paul would have rebuked that as per 1 Cor. 14:33-36.

The larger issue is what we say we believe, and what we actually believe regarding the sufficiency of Scripture for ecclesiology, as it is also for our personal lives (Mat. 4:4). If (since) the New Testament is sufficient to teach us in both precept and example the doctrine and duties of all churches of all times and in all cultures, why are we trying to figure out how our churches should or should not adopt culture apart from it, in the hopes of making longer lasting churches?

 

Thanks for picking up on my misspelling. 

 

Ted, I don't see it that way -- at least not as much as you do.  The fact that only a few areas of not adapting to the culture in Corinth are mentioned speaks volumes.  The church, for example, spoke Greek.  The mother church in Jerusalem may have, or perhaps Mishnaic Hebrew (as I believe) or perhaps Aramaic (as many others believe).  Language is very much cultural and is in itself  a cultural adaption.  Styles of dress no doubt varied within boundaries.  I am not denying boundaries, but I am denying that we are to imitate the early church.  We are to obey the commands God has for the church; prescription yes, description not necessarily.  

Whether we admit it or not, all of us embrace adapting to the culture or times.  Otherwise how is it that we men wear pants instead of a robe?  Why do we sing in 8 note octaves?  Why do we sing in 4 time?  Why do we have organs, pews, bulletins, church buildings, etc.  Church buildings are particularly cultural adaptions.

I think it is fair to say that cultural adaptions that are contrary to Scripture or somehow displace the prescriptions God has given us are suspect.  Others simply make ministry more effective in the culture or times. Video projectors are a case in point.  They are an adaption to the times and to Western attention deficit issues, but they enhance teaching.  We have the boundaries of the Word, but we have much freedom and discretion within those boundaries.  That's why we have elders and learn from others, go to seminars, etc.  The Word does not tell us to have AWANA.  It doesn't.  It tells us to teach the Word to all.  AWANA (as just one example) exists apart from Scriptural precedent, but we are free to adapt to our culture. 

I think the real issue (and difference) is MODERATION.   Those of us more closely tied to the Bible are more moderate and cautious in our cultural adaptions. But we all do it; it is a continuum. 

"The Midrash Detective"

Ted Bigelow's picture

Hi Ed,

You aren't seeing my point, which is the sufficiency of Scripture in ecclesiology versus the adoption of culture to make church relevant. Quite clearly, Scripture never teaches in both precept and example how we are to analyze culture and employ it in moderation. It isn't even contemplated and therefore in infinite wisdom God did not tell us whether we should be culturally transcendent, culturally moderate..., or even culturally relevant.

So in what sense is anyone closer to the Bible than others who are more extreme in their adaptation of culture in their church? Are you sure you aren't merely defending your own perception of how your church functions in distinction from others you have experienced in your lifetime, because in the end, all we can say is "our church is more conservative/liberal/contemporary/traditional" than others we've known? Isn't the whole discussion of culture and churches itself dependent on there being multiple church choices where we live, and that we employ limited and quite possibly faulty cultural observation to defend our church as preferable to others around us?

My point isn't that we ignore culture, an impossibility for us both as individuals and churches. Ignoring culture is itself a cultural proposition. My point is to go beneath Mark's assertion of developing culturally transcendent churches, and now your assertion of culturally moderate churches, to acknowledge that Scripture says nothing about churches and cultural adaptation, transcendent or otherwise. You'll not find any exegesis in Mark's article, but you will find assertions about how churches are to function vis-a-vis others. I suggest we all lose the idea that we will can make such assertions on how much or how little culture to adapt since we are all ignorant by God's own perfect wisdom in Scripture on how to do it. Instead, let's accept the Bible as God has 'once-for-all' revealed His will for how churches ought function and believe.

I also encourage you to wrestle with the fact that Paul disallowed a practice in the Corinthian church that appears to have been culturally acceptable in Corinth, but actually went against what all the other churches of God practiced (cf. 1 Cor. 1:2, 1 Cor. 11:16). On what basis do you suppose Paul rebuked it - that it wasn't culturally moderate, or that it violated principles for every church in every culture for all time?

Kevin Miller's picture

Ted Bigelow wrote:

Even if 1 Cor. 9:19ff were teaching cultural adaptation, it would be teaching personal adaptation - i.e., Paul alone, instead of ecclesial adaptation.

But since Paul was STARTING churches in various areas, wouldn't personal adaptations automatically become ecclesiastical adaptations in the various areas that had churches? Otherwise he would start out doing one thing, and then he'd have to tell people, once they had a church, that they had to do things differently than how they started.

Quote:
That is why 1 Cor. 11:16 is more promising, referring to the practice of churches. But even here Paul rebukes a practice that may have been culturally relevant to Corinth but is out of keeping with "the churches of God" - a phrase referring to churches spread across several culturally diverse realms. And since the head covering matter was not a practice in keeping with the churches, it was rejected even if a culturally relevant issue (cf. 1 Cor. 14:33-40).
Is Paul actually rebuking the custom itself, or is he rebuking contentiousness about the custom? If he is rebuking the custom, which custom is he rebuking - the practice of wearing head coverings or the practice of NOT wearing head coverings?

Larry Nelson's picture

Jim wrote:

What I see is a "our worship is better than their worship" among some in our circles.

. . . . . . . .

My wife remarked that there would be some in our circle who would find the music abhorrent ... but only because of their closed-mindedness and prejudices.

Psalm 47:1 (ESV): Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!

Psalm 150 (ESV): 1 Praise the LORD! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens! 2 Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness! 3 Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! 4 Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! 5 Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! 6 Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!

Today, fundamentalism doesn't really know what to make of the psalmist's exhortations here to praise God.  Clapping? Shouting? Tambourines? Dance? Cymbals?

----------------------------

If a style of worship hinders us from worshipping God, the problem lies not with the style, but with our hearts.

 

 

Ted Bigelow's picture

Hi Kevin,

But since Paul was STARTING churches in various areas, wouldn't personal adaptations automatically become ecclesiastical adaptations in the various areas that had churches? Otherwise he would start out doing one thing, and then he'd have to tell people, once they had a church, that they had to do things differently than how they started.

Yes, excellent point. 

In my original post to Ed I followed up with this:

As for 1 Cor. 9:19ff, if we hold to a 'cultural adaptation' understanding of that passage rather than a 'permissible religious' adaptation (of Jewish practices), what could Paul mean by "I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified" (1Co 9:27) but that he remains qualified for ministry based on the success of his cultural adaptation?

You wrote,

Is Paul actually rebuking the custom itself, or is he rebuking contentiousness about the custom? If he is rebuking the custom, which custom is he rebuking - the practice of wearing head coverings or the practice of NOT wearing head coverings?

I don't think there is much debate that Paul is rebuking the custom and not alleged contentiousness over the practice in Corinth. At least for me, I am unaware of his stating that the practice was causing contention among them. Nor am I familiar with anyone arguing that Paul is rebuking the practice of not wearing head coverings, although you may.

Paul never uses the word for 'veil" in the passage, which is strange if that what he is either commending or rebuking. I think the veil, like the hair, is incidental to Paul's argument. I take the rebuke to be with women praying/prophesying in church service (1 Cor. 11:5, 13), something that applies to all churches of all time. Apparently ladies back then wore a wrap-around veil under the jaw and up around the top of the head that had to be undone and for a women to speak loudly and publicly. Bible scholar Joachim Jeremias describes the veil of a Jewish woman at that time (Hans Conzelman writes that this was also worn by Gentile women):

“Her face was hidden by an arrangement of two head veils, a head-band on the forehead with bands to the chin, and a hairnet with ribbons and knots, so that her features could not be recognized.”

The word "uncovered" is a derivative of "apokalupto" but with a literalness of "uncover down" (κατακαλύπτεται). One writer suggests this supports the thesis that Paul is admonishing the women not to let down their veils during worship (http://www.galaxie.com/article/wtj35-1-03). I would agree with that.

 

 

 

alex o.'s picture

In the 1600's Isaac Watts sat in a service and was put off by the previous generation's music forms. You know the rest of the story how he composed many great hymns. As believers we want to pass our Christian heritage on to the next generation (of course putting the Lord ahead of families if it ever came to a choice between the two. The best way to love others though seems to really know and love the Lord first). One way to remove the variableness of styles which change is to emphasize the timelessness of the truth of the bible.

I do not think we have to go back and look like the first century synagogue to do this either. Obviously the Spirit empowered church can live itself out individually and not become too provincial in the process. Individual participation seems to be a feature of NT life in the church which has been expressed in music (some is probably fine). How about the believers expressing their faith weekly in the remembrance of the Lord's supper? Jesus' explicit command to perform this identifying memorial seems like a good way to spend Sunday mornings taking some of the entertainment out of our services (and therefore relegating the congregation to spectators), it would seem a biblical thing to do.

"Our faith itself... is not our saviour. We have but one Saviour; and that one Saviour is Jesus Christ our Lord.  B.B. Warfield

http://beliefspeak2.net

alex o.'s picture

Many times I've heard it said that some styles of music are sensual and promote...well, you know. Wouldn't this be great if, in a legitimate relationship which has lost some of its 'fire' we could just put on some jungle rhythms to rekindle the flame? It just doesn't work like this, does it? 

I would not be opposed in some circumstances if music were used as outreach or youth group activities or afternoon concert series if done correctly. The weekly assembly, in my thinking though, should feature more reading and textual exposition.

"Our faith itself... is not our saviour. We have but one Saviour; and that one Saviour is Jesus Christ our Lord.  B.B. Warfield

http://beliefspeak2.net

Jay's picture

Jim wrote:

http://www.philchristensen.com/subpage30.html

A Response to Dr. Frank Garlock's Teaching About Praise

Garlock puts all his theological eggs in one basket.  The premise would make Francis Schaeffer spin in his grave:  Garlock teaches plainly that music is not a-moral.  Its character is moral.

What's the difference?  A knife is a-moral.  It's neither good, nor bad.  Depending on who's holding that knife, it can do things that are either good or evil.  It can accomplish good things by freeing the bonds of a captive, or slicing a tomato for a sandwich.  But - in the hands of a fiend - a knife can also murder the innocent.  It's a tool.

In Frank Garlock's world, however, music is NOT just a tool.  Music is a powerful entity that - in itself - is either holy or evil.  He teaches that music is moral or immoral by its very nature, and cannot be neutral.  The sound itself is here to either help you or to hurt you.  There's no middle ground.

He attempts to support this truth by associating it with the character of God Himself.  Garlock reasons that since (a) God is musical, and (b) God is moral, therefore (c) music is moral by nature.  That's Frank's Theorem.

(Note: for fun, try Frank's Theorem with any other two random attributes of God, and see how it works.  Here's one to get you started: (a) God is kind, and (b) God is unchangeable.  Therefore (c) kindness is unchangeable.  Kids, you can try Frank's Theorum at home: (a) Rudolph is a reindeer, and (b) Rudolph has a red nose.  Therefore, (c) all reindeers have red noses!  Donner and Prancer might disagree, but I digress.)

Frank's Theorem gives birth to Frank's Bottom Line: There are only two styles of music:  (a) the style which is is moral and "acceptable to the Lord" and (b) the style which is immoral and "unacceptable to the Lord."  It's a simple binary system.  His personal mission statement is found in Eph. 5:10: "Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord."  For those who don't agree with what he's proven, he's obviously adopted the next verse in context: "And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them."

So the battle's on; we'll either accept what Garlock's "proven" or be "reproved."  With no middle ground, his definition of unacceptable music is any style that smacks of "worldliness."  He will also define this.

To avoid being reproved by Frank Garlock, we'll have to:
1) agree with his premise about the morality of music,
2) accept his definition of "worldliness," and finally we'll
3) penitently adopt the styles of music he authorizes

If that looks familiar, it should.  Garlock is only one of a few different musicians to espouse that understanding and argument for music.  I could list a few others, but don't want to revisit the music wars.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Mark_Smith's picture

Jim, can you think of the name of any of the music that was sung at this church you visited? It had to be great for a "nut case" like you (using your definition of nut case as "odd person") to accept it given your conservative music tastes. I am truly interested in the names if you can remember.

 

 

Mark_Smith's picture

Mark says that the answer is for ministry in "confessionally bounded churches". Can someone clarify what that means? When does a statement of faith in Jesus Christ become a "confession" as Mark is meaning?

Ted Bigelow's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

Mark says that the answer is for ministry in "confessionally bounded churches". Can someone clarify what that means? When does a statement of faith in Jesus Christ become a "confession" as Mark is meaning?

Perhaps I can help. "Confessions" are doctrinal statements written by leaders of numerous churches that have met over a lengthy period of time to deal with one or more theological crises of their age. A "Statement of Faith" is the theological position of the leader(s) of a particular individual church or religious institution, also defined at a point in time.

While you could argue that a statement of faith is a confession and would be quite correct, it would pass over the historic use of the term and suffer from a lack of wider appreciation among others outside your church.

Mark S. recommends confessions, which are a bugaboo for Baptists since ecclesial autonomy runs counter to them. Nor does he address the several downsides to confessions which are "levels of subscription," a tendency for "cold orthodoxy" to replace living faith, they have not produced unity except among their own few adherents but have produced the hardening of positions and thus divided the truly saved, and their track record - confessions have not held back heresy or produced fidelity to Scripture. Mark's own school teaches dispensationalism, which is itself castigated in some of Protestant confessions. In other words, find a confession that fits your pre-existing theology, and then claim to be in the flow of historic Christianity. Sabbatarian? Go with London Baptist 1644. Not Sabbatarian? Go with 1689.

You might find Aaron's post the following day interesting. He is looking to create unity among like minded Baptist leaders but is not recommending confessions but meetings hoping to produce "a louder collective voice."

As always, the questions to ask are, "where does Scripture speak to this practice in both precept and example so I know I am obeying God and not being presumptuous," and, "if these attempts at unity are not clearly taught in both precept and example, what is the position of Scripture, taught in both precept and example, for for church unity?"

Larry's picture

Moderator

Mark S. recommends confessions, which are a bugaboo for Baptists since ecclesial autonomy runs counter to them.

This seems a rather novel view. Ecclesial autonomy would run contrary to a confession being imposed on a church by a fellowship or association. However, generally, the fellowship or association has a confession (whether they call it that or not) and a church or individual (depending on your view) enters association based on their agreement with the confession or creed. In other words, a church freely enters fellowship/association with other churches and can freely leave. The confession is only the basis for their free association. The creed is not imposed on them.

I think the main objection to confessions or creeds by Baptist (at least recently) seems to be the "no creed but the Bible" line. That is, we have the Bible as authority; we need no confession or creed. That reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of a confession, or more likely, a rejection of biblical authority itself since the "no creed but the Bible group" sometimes has some nefarious goals.

 

Ted Bigelow's picture

Hi Larry,

However, generally, the fellowship or association has a confession (whether they call it that or not) and a church or individual (depending on your view) enters association based on their agreement with the confession or creed. In other words, a church freely enters fellowship/association with other churches and can freely leave. The confession is only the basis for their free association. The creed is not imposed on them.

You made my point. To a Baptist, both individually and ecclesially, confessions are "free association" because of a prior commitment to autonomy. To a Protestant they are not.

Here's an article on the historic use (and dilemma) of confessions from a hybrid Protestant/Baptist viewpoint: http://drbobgonzales.com/2013/06/01/confessional-subscription-strict-vs-...

 

 

Larry Nelson's picture

Larry Nelson wrote:

 

Jim wrote:

What I see is a "our worship is better than their worship" among some in our circles.

. . . . . . . .

My wife remarked that there would be some in our circle who would find the music abhorrent ... but only because of their closed-mindedness and prejudices.

 

 

Psalm 47:1 (ESV): Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!

Psalm 150 (ESV): 1 Praise the LORD! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens! 2 Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness! 3 Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! 4 Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! 5 Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! 6 Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!

Today, fundamentalism doesn't really know what to make of the psalmist's exhortations here to praise God.  Clapping? Shouting? Tambourines? Dance? Cymbals?

----------------------------

If a style of worship hinders us from worshipping God, the problem lies not with the style, but with our hearts.

 

Church Member: "Pastor, what would you think if we sing "Shout to The Lord" this Sunday morning?  Many of us are wondering if we could sing some newer songs." [ http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/darlenezschech/shouttothelord.html ]

Pastor (with horrified look): "We can't sing that!  It isn't in our hymnal.  Besides, it's CCM!"

CM: "Well, yes, it is CCM.  But it's a song of praise, and it's lyrics are Biblical."

Pastor: "We still can't sing it.  It would be too loud for our tastes.  We can't tell our people they can "Shout" out to God during our worship services.  Next thing you know, they might think percussion instruments would be o.k. during our songs!"

CM: "But Pastor, those things are all encouraged in the Psalms, when giving praise to God."

Pastor: "Nevertheless, our standards will not permit it!"

 

 

Larry's picture

Moderator

Larry Nelson, would you encourage pastors and leaders to have no respect for the culture of a particular church in choosing music or other aspects of corporate gathering?

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