Dealing with culture is messy. A church can take many different stances when dealing with specific cultural issues. How do we discuss the latest book or movie trends? Which culture pieces can be redeemed and which must be rejected? But the day to day decisions that a church makes concerning culture and how to deal with it boils down to one question: is our church a thermometer or a thermostat?
Writing from a Birmingham, Alabama jail cell, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. inspires our thoughts with these words:
There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period when the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed in. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. – Martin Luther King, Jr.
The job of a church is not to reflect the light – the ideals – of society (even if we “clean them up”). The job of the church is to be a light source. In other words, the church does not need to reflect the “light” of the culture, we have our own light to shine. To use King’s analogy, the church should not be concerned with taking the cultural temperature, it should be striving to set it. This requires the churches to have boundaries – what King calls “mores” – that the church views as immovable.
It is defining these immovable boundaries that will help your church answer each cultural challenge that comes your way. Boundaries provide clarity. Boundaries provide freedom to do what it right.
So the questions for us to ponder are:
What boundaries is my church firmly committed to?
Are we willing to use these boundaries to set, not take, the temperature of the culture around us?
These are difficult questions to ask. They are more difficult to put into practice.
Question: Do you feel churches today on average are thermometers or thermostats of culture?