For years I have been almost rebelling against the idea of being counter cultural. Growing up I was taught that being a Christian meant being distant from the world. My fidelity towards God depended solely upon my separation from the world and those in it. This is what I believed and whether directly or indirectly was taught. This experience and understanding created me to be something that was not quite correct. I was a highly religious kid, trying to maintain only Christian friends, and my commitment to regular church attendance was award winning. I lived an autonomous lifestyle, separated from the world and in an esoteric community, completely counter-cultural. But as I stated at the beginning I have rebelled against this lifestyle for many years now. Why? Well to make it short and simple, I eventually realized that being so separated from the world was in fact not helping them at all. I was so isolated in my Christian community that the world was not even part of my life. I went to a Christian school, had the Christian friends, a Christian family, and a Christian church. The unchristian world was not anywhere part of my life. And in time around my 20’s I realized that being separated and not in the world was not what Jesus did at all.
Jesus in fact set up a community -what he called the Kingdom of God, that was shaped with adulterers, tax-collectors, and prostitutes; what I knew as the worldly. These worldly people were in fact those who I was to be distant from, lest I be seen with one of them and gossip spread like wildfire that I was being tainted by worldly people by associating with them. This is precisely how the Pharisees and other religious dudes acted toward Jesus, they ridiculed him for his interaction with those outside the so called people of God. And Jesus reminded them that he did not come for the healthy but he came for the sick. So this is where my rebellion stemmed from, and I began to deconstruct what I had learned for years and reinterpret it in light of Jesus and his views on this. So being in the world and not of the world then, became being in the world amongst the sinners, instead of being in my Christian world away from sinners. This idealistic way of thinking though can lead us to far in one direction though.
Ever since the birth of the emergent movement the boundaries have been placed farther and farther back. The extremes to reach the world where they are at, has led too many Christians to desert God altogether. And for others to hang out at bars, at strip clubs, and at other questionable places all for the sake of reaching someone for Christ. Not though the heart and the motives might be right in some of these cases, the environment and atmosphere might not be. Should we place ourselves in some of the most sinful places on earth to reach the world for Christ? I do not negate the fact that they need Jesus, but is this being to far in the world?
It seems for a decade or so I have heard from so many non-Christians say that “why should I believe in Jesus? The followers of Jesus are no different then anyone else, and in fact they are some of the most judgmental people I have ever met.”. I wholeheartedly agree with this, Christians who are supposed to be shaped by love; love for God and love for others, seem to only love themselves. It is hard facing this reality knowing farewell that my past was shaped by such a egocentric view of myself that I judged anyone that was not part of my church. Albeit, being totally engrossed with the world and it’s practices too, creates the same type of response to Christianity. So then being in the world and shaped by its practices as a Christian is just as bad as being separated from the world and it’s practices. So what to we do, where is the balance?
First off, I do believe that we as Christians are to reach the world. And being in the world and not of the world, primarily means being part of the world, in the sense of existing in it, not being separated from it. Secondly, we are to be counter-cultural. This is not practiced by separating ourselves, but by being shaped as the future eschatological people of God, illuminating our future community in the here and now. This means having proper orthodoxy and orthopraxy-right beliefs and right living today. The future kingdom of God is an egalitarian society shaped by love. Love as Jesus suggests; love for your neighbor, and love for your enemies. Also shaped from sin not reigning in our mortal bodies, “I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires (1 Peter 2:11)”. As Paul puts it “do not be conformed any longer to the patterns of the world (Rom. 12:2a)”. And 2 Corinthians 6:17,” come out from them and be separate”. We are aliens living in this world, our community should not be shaped by the world and it’s chasing after the wind or mammon, but by love, love for God and love for others. This is the Jesus creed, this is also what a future people of God will look like.
If love is what we are being shaped by, then we should be in the world as much as possible. This means not being involved in the same practices and behavior, but interacting with those outside the body. Not through adopting their habits and syncretizing them with our religious practices, but through expressing love and compassion to them and having a luminosity of Jesus. This is the counter-culture; it expresses itself inside and amongst culture but it behaves in such a way that culture itself does not know how to react to it. The reason they don’t know how to react, is instead of being shaped by narcissism, it’s shaped by loving others more than oneself. That is what God showed us through sending Jesus and Jesus showed us by giving his life as a ransom for many. And exactly what the world needs to be shown, Christians living as the future people of God, with the world being astonished, and God getting the glory. Our original call in Genesis 1 was to glorify God and our future call in Revelation is to glorify God, therfore glorify God in the present.