What is Enculturation?
According to Merriam-Webster’s 11th Edition Collegiate Dictionary, enculturation is the process by which an individual learns the traditional content of a culture and assimilates its practices and values.
What is the Enculturation of the Church?
The Enculturation of the Church is simply the process by which the Church (including its teachings, practice of faith, worship, and purpose) is shaped by its surrounding culture. Simply put a church that has been enculturated is a church that has become like the world around it. As we continue to seek understanding about the problems and challenges that the church faces, especially problems such as the Ashely Madison scandal, we must remember that in the “big picture” view, we can see that we are engaged in spiritual warfare. The problems that we face today are the same problems that the people of God have always faced, even if they are wrapped in a modern package. We can fix these problems, but only if we can focus our efforts on the core issues instead of wasting so much time and energy on the symptoms. Now, I want to be clear in this discussion about the enculturation of the church. The enculturation of the church is not the core issue, although it is very close to the core issue. Let me explain what I mean by that.
The problem that arises when we try to address symptoms without first addressing the root of the problem is that we often find that many symptoms are merely symptoms of symptoms. I hope I didn’t confuse anyone here. I promise I’m not talking (or writing) in circles. Often times in ministry, I hear of someone who is on a robust regimen of pharmaceutical medications. Sometimes I am even shocked to find out how many pills some people have to take every single day. When I ask, “Why so many pills?” the answer is almost the same each time. The first pill treats a problem or a condition but also causes a side effect. The next pill (or two) is to treat the side effect(s) from the first pill but also causes another side effect. More pills are necessary to deal with the symptoms of the treatment designed to treat the symptoms of the root problem, some of which are caused by the treatment that is designed to treat the root problem, and on it goes! The many problems we face in the church today play out in the same way, and it can be difficult to discern between the root cause and symptoms. That’s why I have chosen to speak out in response to the Ashley Madison scandal. I have heard about and read a lot of analyses and solutions that pertain to many symptoms, but I have yet to hear or read about the true root of the problem in the context of the church. The Ashley Madison problem and how it has affected the Body of Christ should come as no surprise to one who understands how many congregations, even denominations, have veered off course and followed a worldly path for one reason or another. If we, the church, want to fix the problems and rid ourselves of the resulting symptoms, then we are going to have to heed the words of our Lord Jesus Christ found in the message that He sent to the ancient church of Ephesus as found Revelation 2:5. Jesus told the congregation to remember from where they had fallen, turn away from their wrong, turn toward what is right, and return to the things that they were doing in the beginning when their ministry was conducted according to God’s will and His word. This process must begin with an honest evaluation of the values and practice of each church congregation. Everything that we do, we do for a reason. The question is, “why do we do what we do, and is what we are doing in agreement with Scripture and beneficial to God’s kingdom?” The Ashley Madison scandal is the most recent problem to plague the church in a public and wide-spread fashion. So, in the process of working our way down to the core issue, we must begin at the top with this latest symptom. We will find that what made the church vulnerable to this scandal is itself a symptom of another problem plaguing the church, which is a symptom of another, and so forth. However, in the interest of time and to avoid the risk of creating volumes of articles that many of you may or may not have the time to read, I do want to make my way quickly to the vicinity of the core issue. Then I can demonstrate with more ease and clarity how the core issue became the catalyst that began a domino effect in the decline of the holiness of the modern day church.
So why talk about the enculturation of the church if it is a symptom and not the root of the problem?
Many of the specific problems plaguing church today are symptoms of the enculturation of the church. When the church becomes more like the world around it, it succumbs more and more to worldliness. So, we could very well say that the reason for this or that in the church is because we have too willingly assimilated the culture around us. However, the real question should be, “Why have we assimilated the culture around us?” In other words, the enculturation of the church has caused many problems within the church, but what caused the enculturation of the church to begin with? Let me restate the question in a different way: Why have churches, denominations and congregations, assimilated the culture around them and become more like the society in which they are located and exist? The answer to this question, as you might guess, introduces more questions, but let me try to offer an answer before I go on to the other questions. I believe that many congregations have adapted to the culture for noble reasons, at least they did so at first. One reason that they have and still do is that they believe that in order to accomplish the goal of the Great Commission, they need to “remain relevant” in a world or society that is becoming more and more indifferent, if not completely opposed to the church. The adaptations of things such as worship styles, preaching styles, sermon content, even the design and architecture of modern church facilities are designed to be more “palatable” to non-churched people. We have even created a name for this strategy. We call it “Seeker Sensitive.”
You may or may not have noticed that when I mentioned the phrase “seeker sensitive,” I was making a beeline to the main issue. Here’s the problem: the church can either be “seeker sensitive” or it can be Christ-centered, but it cannot be both. Consider the follow verses of Scripture from Deuteronomy 12:1-4 and Deuteronomy 12:29-32:
Deuteronomy 12:1-4, 29-32
The LORD’s Chosen Place of Worship
12 “These are the statutes and rules that you shall be careful to do in the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess, all the days that you live on the earth. 2 You shall surely destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. 3 You shall tear down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and burn their Asherim with fire. You shall chop down the carved images of their gods and destroy their name out of that place. 4 You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way.
Warning Against Idolatry
29 “When the LORD your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, 30 take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.’ 31 You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods. 32 “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.
Now don’t get me wrong! I don’t believe that any of our congregations are sacrificing their sons and daughters to a foreign god, at least not in the literal sense (more on that later)! I am also fully aware (for the sake of those of you who are already rebuking your computer monitor or your smartphone screen) that this is Old Testament Scripture and we live in the “New Testament age.” Let me remind you that there is still a spiritual principle in this text that the New Testament church must abide by even if it was originally a command to Old Testament Israel ( 2 Timothy 3:14-17 ). The principle found in this text is this: the people of God should serve and worship God according to God’s expectations and not the world’s expectations. The people of God and their worship of God must be discernably different from anything that a godless culture values and embraces – period. That’s what God meant we He said, “be holy as I am holy,” yet far too many congregations have analyzed the surrounding culture in search of “ministry ideas” that might possibly endear them to their surrounding communities. Folks, when the differences between the church and the world go away, so does the need to be in the church! How do we proclaim “transformation” when we ourselves have succumbed to conformation?
You may at this point be wondering what all of this has to do with Ashley Madison. Be patient! We will get there, but just to give you some sort of an idea about where I’m headed with this, I offer this short explanation: It doesn’t matter why the church seeks to be more like the culture that surrounds it, the more like the world the church becomes, the more the church should expect its members to act and think like the world. That’s right folks! In our quest to “remain relevant” or to be “seeker friendly,” we have tilled the soil and planted the seeds of compromise and worldliness, but the question remains: “Why?” The answer is simple, and I’m speaking as a representative of the Body of Christ in general from many decades past until now: we have ceased to be a true “Christ-centered” church and have become a “people-centered” church. The evidence of this abounds! For some reason, we have forgotten that God draws people to Himself when Jesus is “lifted up,” and we have bought into the idea that we must come up with better ways to attract people to the Christian faith, ways that more resemble the culture around us than the holiness into which God has called His people. For this reason, we should expect the problems of the world to plague the church.
In my next article, I will get straight to the problem of how “modern church culture” has become a fertile plain for the seeds of temptation, especially for men in regards to marital fidelity. I hope and pray that you will return to read it with an open heart and a willingness to be an instrument of God to bring about the kind of change in your church that Christ spoke of in Revelation 2:5 in the message to the church of ancient Ephesus as well as the other churches named in the letter.
God bless you!