Saturday, October 08, 2016

Christians and the Culture

My wife and I have just begun a study of the relationship between Christianity and culture. While we are only less than two chapters into the book we are reading, our conversations have been both rich and intense. It is a good study. I hope to further review the book itself once I have read it completely.
In arguably his greatest work, City of God, Augustine of Hippo differentiated the city of God from the city of man. They have different origins, institutions, goals, and destinies; yet, he said, they are co-mingled. Christians participate as citizens of the city of man, and unbelievers can be found in the visible church. In considering the relationships between the two, Augustine saw commonality due to this co-mingling, yet he also pointed to a fundamental hostility between the two due to the condition of fallen humanity and its relation to God.
Augustine set the tone for understanding the relations between church and the state in the middle ages, but his views were over time modified in significant ways. Whereas Augustine saw hostility between the two cities, Pope Gelasius I posited a more cooperative relationship between the two spheres. According to Gelasius, the emperor would submit to the church on ecclesial matters, while the Church would submit to the civil government on civil matters. Pope Boniface VIII made further changes while also assuming a collaborative relationship. He contended that the civil ruler only held power at the will of the church.
American Christians, while acknowledging belief in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, often express themselves in terms that would be recognizable to Gelasius and Boniface. The assumption of collaboration between the church and the broader culture is odd given that most Protestants -- and all practicing Catholics, for that matter -- affirm in their historic doctrinal standards a belief in an ongoing personal and social impact of original sin. However, the extent to which Christians expect unbelievers to collaborate in and further their goals can be seen in the sense of betrayal that is expressed over cultural changes that reject Christian moral teaching, as well as ongoing efforts to enact Christian instruction (the 10 Commandments and prayer, for example) into public education and other areas of life.
As our culture continues into a path that resembles the days of the Roman Empire more than Victorian England, Christians need to rethink how our theological foundations inform the relationship of both the institutional church and individual Christians to the world in which we live.

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