Wednesday, November 09, 2005


Most Christians consider fundamentalism to be a slightly warped or extreme form of Christian belief. However, fifty years ago the fundamentalists were mainstream American Christians. Nowadays, they seem odd because they have diligently preserved the cultural Christianity of 1950 and refused to adapt to an evolving culture. By holding on to a fading culture, fundamentalists have almost completely lost the ability to influence our present culture.

Every Church in America has it’s own culture. Churches that experience growth in early years are usually able to appeal to a cultural segment of seekers and believers who are not being served by traditional Churches. However, as Churches age, they tend to preserve their original culture, sometimes becoming mainstream and then eventually passé. The fundamentalists are an obvious example of this process, but the process is not limited to the fundamentalists; all Churches go through these stages. Churches that invest in timeless architecture might be a slight exception, but it is still rare to find a thriving older Church even when the Church buildings are able to attract new members.

Christian principles and beliefs are timeless truths that are not dependent upon a cultural setting. Sacrifice, charity, forgiveness, prayer, worship, discipleship, discipline, faithfulness, honesty, love, study, thought, and maybe a few others will be important to a Christian in any culture. Music, clothes, expressions, activities, and accessories are always changing and have nothing to do with Christianity. Hate, murder, thievery, lust, selfishness, cruelty, deceit, bitterness, prejudice, sloth, and maybe a few others are the eternal enemies of the Christian regardless of the culture.

There have always been and there will always be believers and non-believers including myself who mistake culture for principle. I try to get it right, but I also realize I am a product of my genes, my upbringing, my experiences, and my God. There are also some beliefs that aren’t quite culture and aren’t quite Biblical principle. I have written before about how over done and over emphasized relationships have become in our Churches. Relationships with God and others is important, but the over-emphasis on relationships is more cultural than Biblical.

Another aspect of relationships that may be more cultural than Biblical is the claim that God created us to be dependent upon each other and that individualism is sinful. Paul White at reluctant but faithful claims, “Independence leads to unaccountability, and unaccountability leads to all manner of sin, and sin, as C.S. Lewis wrote, causes us to curve inward upon ourselves, eventually, independently, dying.” Hammer left a comment stating, “The American cultural image of rugged individualism is not supposed to fit into the church.”

While there is some truth to both of these statements, neither is completely true. Dependence and conformity can also lead to sin and often do lead to sin. It is selfish to be dependent to a point of being an unnecessary burden on someone else and it is lazy for Church members to conform to an arbitrary or even negotiated standard. I have no doubt, God created us to have a dependent relationship with him. I also believe we serve best as part of a Church community. However, the best community is not a group of dependent conformists; the best community is a Church comprised of individual and independent believers.


Hammertime said...

Good follow-up, David. I think you've left out the mor extreme, less valid parts of the original article in your proposition this time.

Interestingly, Teresa's recent post on the EC implies that they think that there is too much individualism in the church! Are community and "relationships" joined at the hip? What is your take on that?

Hammertime said...

Er, "more", not "mor".

David M. Smith said...

Hi Hammer,

Great question! See today’s post.