Truth and Culture

I believe that every church has at least two “climates” that will mark them to one degree or another.  There is a climate of truth and, for lack of a better term, a climate of culture.  The climate of truth for most Reformed Baptist Churches is laid out in our Confession of Faith.  These are the things ‘most surely believed among us’.  To some degree or other, we claim this document as the doctrinal foundation of our churches.  Its truths come out in our preaching and prayers.  It is part of how we identify ourselves.   But churches also have a certain ‘culture’, a way of doing things.  A way of practically living.  This will be seen in how we worship, what we sing and how we sing it, it will even affect things like how we dress and the overall ‘climate’ of our public gatherings (more formal, less formal, etc).   I believe that in our churches one or the other of these ‘climates’ will gain the preeminence in the thinking, desires, and preferences of our members.  Far too often the climate that ‘wins’ is culture and not truth.  Let me explain.   Let’s say that you have a family committed to historic, confessional, and baptistic doctrine who attends for some years what may be called a traditional Reformed Baptist Church.  The pastor preaches with a coat and tie, he stands behind a pulpit, the church uses a hymn book, perhaps a pianist is utilized or there is no instrumentation at all.  They move to an area in which there are two ‘Reformed’ churches.  One is a church where the pastors embrace and love the 1689 and the other is an Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  This 1689 church is a bit more on the ‘progressive’ side.  They utilize power point and the pastor sits on a stool and wears no neck tie.  The OPC church however has the same ‘culture’ as their previous church, coupled with serious deviations on doctrines which are important to any knowledgeable and convinced Baptist.  What is the family to do?  Let’s flip the situation.  A family comes from a progressive church and they move to an area where there is a confessional church.  A church which holds ‘the things most surely believed among us’, but they sing hymns!  The pastor wears a tie.  The church is ‘formal’.  And what do they do?  They find a church with a band but with doctrinal that departs from their confessional understanding and conviction.  What has triumphed?  Not truth, but culture.  I’ve seen both scenarios numerous times and from both sides.  Brethren, are we instilling in our pulpits and in our pews the excellence and the preeminence of truth or of preference?  In things themselves or how they are fleshed out?   What will be the climate which is ultimately embraced, loved, and lived out?  May God help us to keep the main things the main things.


6 responses to “Truth and Culture

  • Heather Thieneman

    For myself, what I would call the “heart” of a church is as important to me as the truth. The heart being the degree of love, zeal, holiness- in a word, Christ likeness- that is evident. I would be willing, if I had to, to sacrifice some non-essential truths and all culture (though I suppose everyone will draw the line between culture and truth a little differently) to go to a church with more “heart.”

    Unfortunately, I think the culture of a church affects our perception of their heart. If it’s the same culture of the warmhearted church we left, we are more likely to perceive it as a warmhearted church, whereas if it’s different (more or less formal, more or less contemporary), we’re more likely to perceive it as a cold or lukewarm-hearted church. It’s kind of like how our upbringing affects our perceptions of people and whether they are friendly or not, whether they like us or not. For some being teased is the sixth love language, for others it’s the sixth degree of purgatory. Even if they meet someone who shows love to them, it may not come across as loving, because it’s not how they’re used to being loved. Perhaps this happens with churches as well and people end up at churches with the same culture, not purposefully putting culture above truth, but because of a misperception of heart.

    • mariep

      Interesting thoughts! I was thinking about this blog entry as I worshiped at Bethlehem Baptist this morning! Though John Piper would disagree with us on various issues (or is that us with Piper?), and though the “culture” of the church is different (more contemporary music, much larger, multiple services), there was a lot there that reminded me of our own assembly! For starters, many of the books in their bookstore have appeared on our book table, and they have a very healthy love for JC Ryle 🙂 And, for all the talk of “celebrity pastor,” the thing that struck me most about Piper (or Pastor John, as he was called there) was his humility and his love for his own flock (“I preach this text because I love you”). . He preached from 2 Tim. 2:8-19 (whoever is on the preaching schedule takes the next verses- interesting way of doing it!) It was an excellent sermon! Audio will be posted tomorrow (from a different service than I was at). It meshed so well with Pastor Jim’s most recent sermon from Acts!

    • RBC

      Hi Heather,
      I have a blog coming up that will address some of these themes!

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  • David Charles

    Yet those issues that you call “cultural” are not neutral. As a matter of course, they are both theological and moral. A pastor that is casual in his carriage is saying something about his view of his office and the Bible he seeks to proclaim.

    Tie or no tie is less the issue than sobriety and conviction. The picture of the pastor in Interpreter’s house as a “very grave person, eyes lifted up to heaven, the best of books in his hand, the law of truth was written upon his lips, the world was behind his back” is always out of vogue and yet always needed.

    • RBC

      I agree that the issues are not as simple as I am presenting them here.
      I confess I am thinking on a bit more of a superficial level. I’m talking about the triumph of certain things over others. In a very simple formula is might be rendered “a hymnal is more important than biblical baptism or a drum set and praise team are to be preferred over the Sabbath and confessional Christianity.” Folks in churches who identify themselves as Reformed Baptists but who won’t attend the Reformed Baptist Church in town…in some cases, not even try it out.

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