I mentioned in Part 1 that we must unveil the subtle myths we unknowingly subscribe to. One myth we carry is this idea that Culture Wars are a battle between good and evil. Since Culture Wars quickly turn from positions to pitting groups of people against one another, we often make quick conclusions that ‘we’ are good and those ‘on the other side’ are bad. This sets us up to view those who oppose our positions as our enemy. We ask ourselves, Who is my enemy?
Jesus asks us a different question: He asks, Who is your neighbor? Who is my neighbor?
I don’t mean ‘which people’ are my neighbor. Christ established a standard by which anyone who is in need or does not yet know His great love is my neighbor. He challenges us to greatly value our neighbor when He commands us, Love your neighbor as yourself.
Yet I am not to think only of my family and friends. Jesus challenges me, You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.
So when I ask ‘who’ is my neighbor, I am to think of all people whom Christ loves and desires to reach. Living beyond the myth of classifying people means that I see ALL people as my neighbor.
As a Christian, I cannot be effective for Kingdom Culture if I do not first seek to understand my neighbor much like a missionary in a foreign land must work hard and long to understand the people group he or she is seeking to reach.
Our problem is this: Culture Wars do not foster this kind of understanding. To the contrary, they tend to set us up against those we disagree with (including those our LORD is seeking to reach). In the process, we often turn those ‘on the other side’ into our enemy. Once this takes place, we often imperceptibly exclude our ‘enemy’ from the category of our neighbor and our motivation to learn ‘who’ they are gets squashed.
Do we even care who they are? Not really… For unbelievers to do this: well, that is the world we live in; that is the nature of political systems that operate on adversarial grounds; and that is the persecution we as Christians should anticipate. We should not be so shocked that the world despises us for worshiping Christ. We should not be so dismayed that this world does not really care who we are.
But for Christians to fail to care for, love, serve and regard those ‘on the other side’ as our neighbor — this leaves us falling far short of Christ’s commands. No wonder people often perceive us as something dramatically less than Christ when we allow this myth to morph our neighbors into enemies. When I ask “who is my neighbor,” I am called to live outside the false definition of neighbor as those who are on my side: I am called to venture into the land of Samaria. Samaria is exactly the place Jesus often led his disciples. I can only suppose that if we, today, truly follow HIM where he is going and to whom he is reaching, He will take us to places we would prefer not to go and to people we would prefer not to reach out to.
You see, in Jesus’ day, there was a huge Culture War playing out between the Jews and Samaritans. The Jews were superior to these “unclean pagan” people: or so they thought. They hated and despised the Samaritans. Along comes Jesus who repeatedly steps right into the middle of this Culture War with HIS presence. He boldly confronts the myths surrounding the Samaritans in the parables he tells, the paths he chooses and the people he pursues. Jesus goes to those whom the Jews would never go to; He goes to the very people who would never come to the Jews.
Jesus — yesterday, today and forever — repeatedly crosses the boundary of Culture Wars in order to extend his Gospel of peace and his ministry of reconciliation to those “on the other side;” to those who need it most. He never veers away from the right (or the left), from the blue (or the red), from the good (or the bad). Jesus never allows cultural, ethnic, political, legal or identity boundaries – much less degrees of unrighteousness — stop the forceful coming of His Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven.
To those who think they have all the right answers; to those who have doctrine and religion and lawfulness perfected; to those who claim to see; to those who condemn others; to those who mete out judgments, Jesus’ echo can be heard still today — “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom ahead of you” (Matthew 21:28-32).
Lest we think that Jesus was only trying to soften the Jews’ hearts toward a peaceful, gentle people, we need to be reminded that the Samaritans were not so innocent. They often taunted the Jews: they were full participants in this huge Culture War. This makes Christ’s approach both more powerful and more shocking. He not only asks us to love our enemy; He confronts our unwillingness — or at least our hesitancy — to do so.
Jesus calls us today into Kingdom Culture:
This kind of culture transcends the Culture Wars of our day.
This kind of culture overshadows the big issues of our day.
This kind of culture strips us from our temporal leanings to expose the glory of eternity.
This kind of culture unwraps politics and governments and laws to reveal an unencumbered Gospel that has the power to change each one of us.
This kind of culture transforms our eyesight such that those we once regarded as enemies are now revealed as nothing less than our neighbors — the very ones HE desires to reach.
Kingdom Culture demands that we go into the heart of Culture Wars to let His presence — the light, the taste and the aroma of Christ — flow through us to touch those whom Christ desires to reach.
This work is peaceful, but it is not safe: to go to the heart of any war is never a secure proposition. Yet it is the way of Jesus and it is the way of the Cross.
Jesus humbled himself to stand on a nail at the heart of the Culture War between a Holy God and sinful humanity: a deadly cross in which the Son of God was crucified as the payment for our sins. Jesus came to us while we were yet sinners: all to bring forth the ministry of reconciliation from Heaven so that all men might be drawn toward Christ. We were the ultimate enemies of God, yet God came to us. He came not just to casually offer us love. Rather, He came to redeem us from being enemies of God so that we can be God’s children.
From the Cross as he was dying an excruciating death, Jesus never stopped reaching out to even His enemies: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Later, the martyr Stephen likewise declared as he was being stoned to death, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Stephen understood Kingdom Culture. He followed Jesus in laying down his life to see his enemies as his neighbors in need of Christ’s love: all because deep in his heart reigned the majestic and eternal Kingdom of God. Christ was his Master: he loved and served his Master and his Master’s call to Kingdom Culture. Culture Wars draw us away from eternity, away from majesty and away from the Cross. Culture Wars turn Christian Soldiers into Culture Warriors. Before long, we discover that our Christian witness loses its power: for the Gospel does not translate well when Christians speak in the language of Culture Warriors.
Dr. Gregory Boyd eloquently makes this point when he writes, “…when the church sets itself up as the moral police of the culture, we earn the reputation of being self-righteous judgers rather than loving, self-sacrificial servants — the one reputation we are called to have” (The Myth of a Christian Nation, Page 133).
Dr. Boyd sets up this particular chapter with the captivating and convicting title, When Chief Sinners Become Moral Guardians. Culture Wars pit us against others: people against people; neighbor against neighbor. Culture Wars divide us. Today, my friend, we are as far from our neighbors as the Jews were from the Samaritans. We position ourselves against and stand afar from the homosexual even as we draw near to our own sinful proclivities. From a heavenly view, our modern day Culture War looks so much like the Culture Wars of Jesus’ day: Jews versus Samaritans; Pharisees versus Common Sinners. Those on both sides of just about every Culture War resemble one another more than we realize: “we” are NOT that good; “they” are NOT that bad.
Jesus transcends Culture Wars to blow into our world the fresh breeze of Kingdom Culture. Kingdom Culture mandates that we get to know our neighbor. So once again, I need to clarify that when I ask “Who is my neighbor”, I am not asking ‘which people’ are my neighbors but rather what are my neighbors (or my enemies) like? Who are they? What do they do? How do the live? What are their interests? How do they reflect the image of God? What are their unmet needs? How can they be served? How would Christ reach out to them? How do they define themselves? What is their identity? When we speak of identity, we are asking questions like “Who am I?” or “Who are you?” or “Who are they?” Once again, though, we find that Jesus asks us a different question: He asks us, Who do you say I am? I believe Christ continually asks us to consider who HE really is because HE is calling us to find our true identity in Him, His Cross and His Kingdom Culture.
Join me next time as we consider this issue of identity: who do you say I am?
May His Kingdom Come on Earth as it is in Heaven,
Click here to easily navigate to Part 3.
This series on Kingdom Culture is not an attack on Christians involved in political processes. Rather, it seeks to cultivate a ‘voice’ of the Gospel that is unencumbered by political identities and initiatives so that Christ’s Kingdom Culture can shine brightly into our world.