Has Christ called his followers to be counter-cultural or to transform culture? Both? Neither? Is there a difference? I think there is.
It seems that in Christian history, somewhere in the 4th century Christianity moved from being counter-culture to being THE culture. In 301 AD Christianity was adopted as the state religion of Armenia and by 380 AD the Emperor made it the state religion of the Roman Empire (and the rest, as they say, is history).
How did this happen? Did Christianity transform western culture to something akin to Christian culture as a result of being counter-cultural (which is what Christ called his followers to be)?
Did three centuries of being counter-cultural act as a culturally transforming agent?
I wonder if, rather than being counter-cultural Christians began to seek to make the opposing culture into an image of itself (is this idolatry? Hmmm?).
To be a counter-culture is to be a community formed to stand as an alternative to the governing culture of the day. To be light in darkness as it were.
I would argue that this is the primary work of Christianity in the world and not to make the world and its culture into an image of Heaven (which of course is God’s work to come).
For 1,500 years Christianity in the west has been able to rest somewhat secure in a culture that was very much a Christian culture. In this sense it lost its counter-cultural motivation and mission.
Fast forward to today and we find Christianity in the west is in a great panic as the western world reverts to what the world has always been…something other than Christian. We proclaim condemnation, doom and gloom when in fact we have an opportunity to simply re-engage our primary mission as a counter-culture…an alternative.
If one reads John’s Revelation (or any of the letters to the persecuted church) one can see that in his writing that the hope offered was not – “stay true and turn the nations and their governments to Christianity and eventually your will not be persecuted or suffer…” rather the message was one of – “your suffering and persecution is as a result of being different from the world, set apart…your suffering and persecution are not in vain and in the end when God returns you will know the fullness of what i am saying now“.
I write all of this because I believe we are losing sight of what we are supposed to be in this age…we are not meant to be voices of condemnation, hate and judgement but a counter-cultural community of grace, compassion, love and forgiveness under the guidance of Christ that is so compelling to the world that in ones and twos and then in multitudes they come in wonder to join this same counter-cultural revolution and stand apart from what is to become a part of what will be one day perfected.