A covenant with God breeds a culture.
There’s nothing wrong with the idea of a Christian Culture, something that is uniquely representative of following Christ. Our problem here in America is that it’s more American than Christian.
The First Century churches did pursue a Christian Culture, a lifestyle based on the Covenant of Christ. Jesus warned that the existing Jewish culture of His day was wrong, having long departed from the Hebrew culture of ancient times. While His teaching didn’t exactly resurrect those ancient Hebrew ways, it did pull from them a significant cultural orientation, a way of looking at life which led to a unique expression of faith in His message and His redemption.
The apostolic leaders in Acts 15 made it plain that whatever this culture should be, it couldn’t be Talmudic-Jewish culture. It could be the more ancient Mosaic culture, but that was not appropriate for Gentiles. So they decided it could include a broader Noahic culture. There was no real conflict between Moses and Noah. These apostles essentially ordered the Jewish Christians to change the boundaries to include the rest of the world, pretty much on the same terms Israel would have included the Gentile nations as allies and fellow worshipers of Jehovah. By the same token, Gentile believers were required to make allowances for the stricter rules Jewish believers preferred.
Thus, the boundaries were made flexible, but they were still there. In the New Testament we see repeatedly a command to examine the written records of the two Law Covenants and understand how they can clarify what faith demands. Law demonstrates faith. Certainly not all the rituals of ancient times would fit into this new Christian culture. One major element was that Christ was the one and only sacrifice, so no more flames on the altar. Instead, the business of supporting the priestly ritual leadership and shared worship facilities, always a part of the Law in the past, became the focus of offerings. That’s because the fundamental issue of being God’s People, a living offering for His use, was still written into this lifestyle.
We know that it wasn’t long before the Judaizers corrupted the early churches, seducing Christians into making the same error as Israel — adopting legalism as the proper approach to religion. Thus, not long after the First Century closed, Christian religion began to lose the mystic fervor of faith and was reduced to empty formalism. By the 300s AD the churches were further seduced into surrendering to government control. And when the Germanic Tribes swept into Europe, the institutional church further compromised their doctrine to embrace the Germanic cultural viewpoint. Another few centuries and the formal church hierarchy was part of the government itself.
Christ’s Kingdom is not of this world. He reigns in the hearts of people who do not cling to this world. The institutional church in the West was wholly a creature of the world around them.
From that time forward, organized Christian religion in the West has always been some reflection of the ambient political and cultural orientation. Today we have no valid Christian Culture, though that term is used for something that is just another flavor of the culture outside the church. There are no uniquely Christian values at work any more, just legalistic misrepresentations of New Testament teaching. American Christian culture is just a New Testament Talmud.
We have a unique opportunity here. America as it once was is dead; even now the whole thing is passing away. Granted, most people aren’t going to notice, but it’s not hard to see. Something else is rising to take its place. While it’s impossible that we should somehow hijack this thing, we can certainly take advantage of the turmoil to pull back and start fresh. No, we cannot recreate everything we know about those First Century churches, but we can learn from how they abstracted the model of culture from the Law Covenants, and carry out that mission again.
Let’s allow this fake American Christian Culture to die, and leave it in the ashes of history where it belongs.