Cultural Relevance

The ABC is conducting a large survey to see what Australian’s think on a whole range of topics. Indeed, 54,000 people have so far responded on a whole range of subjects. Questions like, “Do you struggle to make ends meet”? “How often do you feel lonely”? “Is it OK to smack your kids”?

Religion, of course, gets a mention. Quoting from the ABC website, “Australians firmly believe that religious people are subject to discrimination in this country. But all the same, we’d rather the godly keep their views to themselves”. No surprises here! Religious discrimination and public religion verses private religion.

The survey concludes people are more likely to identify themselves through their political beliefs, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Religious labels, such as denominations, are no longer social markers. Baptism into a denomination no longer has social relevance. Further, religious institutions are looked upon with great suspicion. “When asked who they trusted, Australians opted for doctors and nurses (trusted by 97 per cent) and scientists (93 per cent) well ahead of their preachers. Religious leaders were distrusted by a full 70 per cent of the population, with 35 per cent saying they did not trust them at all”.

I don’t think these results are a surprise. When the church behaves like the world then it loses its distinctiveness and credibility. When the church allows consumerism through its doors, it serves no-one other than itself. When the church fails to understand cultural change, it maroons itself in a past era.

St Stephen’s was built in the early 1970s and was contemporary for its time. It’s layout and furnishings were relevant to the generation it was serving. The solemn nature of the worship space, the blend of colours, the pews and choir area reflect the style of worship of an earlier generation. This cultural response was helpful if it pointed people to the gospel of the Lord Jesus.

Later generations of Christians think differently about church facilities. They embrace the building as a neutral space designed to be functional and unpretentious. The “churchiness” they like is not the pews and the plaques, but the informal setting with people serious about their relationship with Jesus. This is one reason why café church is so successful. The church isn’t holy, the people are holy. The building will perish, the saints will never perish.

 As the social landscape changes we need to understand and adapt in order to reach people with the gospel. This is challenging for us all. How many people can you think of in our church who are under 40? Under 30? Under 20? In high school? In primary school? At St Mark’s preschool? We can go to the Apostle Paul and ask him for his counsel. And, as an apostle of the Lord Jesus, he says this to us, “Though I am free and belong to no-one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible … To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Cor 9:19).

The ABC survey encourages us to listen to our culture. How do we “become weak” and build a bridge to a world with no hope? It takes effort, commitment and prayer. It takes courage. I think we have some cultural catching up to do. Let’s move forward in the grace of God … together.