Since the release of the current issue of the Resonance journal, in a back corner of my mind has been marinating various ideas related to its theme, Christianity and Culture. One such idea connects to a business truism, which I found atop an article in Harvard Business Review, “Culture is What Happens When the CEO Leaves the Room.” This grounds the vague concept in the common experience of our own behavioral shifts when the influence of boss, parent, or teacher is felt to be absent. It highlights that culture relates to habituated behaviors.
As with the business world, so it is also with the other “worlds”–our homes, our churches, our city, our country. In each of these arenas the habituated behaviors remain habituated through reinforcement of key behaviors, both through self control and group reinforcement. The latter consists of encouragement and rebuke, requiring that some hold authority over others. Consequently the CEO (or parent, clergy, civic official) remains an inseparable part of the culture. Eliminate these roles entirely and the culture will deteriorate until another governing influence arises. Think Lord of the Flies.
This principle must remain clear, that the governing authorities are components of a culture as much as every other facet. As obvious as this is our culture (country, society, “the West”) cherishes an ideal of civil governance executed without the influence of religion (of cult). To put it another way, the ideal elevates one of its culture’s authorities above another, the city above the cult. Both influence individuals from within and without. This ideal ignores the overlap and coincidence of city and cult. The more common form of governance in human history finds no such distinction. Just consider any country of the globe and its history—Japan, India, China, Egypt, Ireland, Brazil, the United States. Theocracy, a pejorative in our culture, was typical, even natural. The separation of these authorities is new in history.
So what does this imply about Christianity and culture? Christian sources do not separate civil or cultic authority. When something like this separation arises it turns out to be a rejection of God. For example, from the Old Testament, see the self-centeredness of Saul, or the forsaking of Yahweh for Baal. And although the New Testament appears to offer examples more like modern situations, like the faithful within a city like Ephesus (Diana’s city) or the divine Caesar, the Apostles had no confusion about or set up competition between civil and cultic authority. “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (NASB 3:20)
Consequently, as complex as are the many situations of life—legal, practical, monetary, culinary, or diversionary—one simple priority remains for a Christian: faithfulness to our Lord. Social justice, tax policy, crime, poverty—none of these matter more than one’s actual relationship with the Lord, the Holy Trinity. There are many ways to say it—personal walk, progress in holiness, nearness to God. Yet in all these one’s concern with the culture rests entirely on God’s presence within the one. And that happens in God’s timing, on the foundation of one’s faithful participation in prayer, both individual and corporate. From this come acts of service to others, on any scale.
Nothing more is needed. God will take care of what needs there are through you, me, another, or by His own inscrutable means. “The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21) Fashions of ideology come and go. A Saint of the Lord can be involved in any cultural form or issue. He or she will have been called a Saint when a later generation recognizes that this involvement had no defining influence on him (or her), but rather that the Lord shown in and through that person at all times and situations.