bits from bob....

The Culture of the Church

by Bob Young
[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

We understand too little about church culture. We have not thought about it; some have ignored it, even denied it. Churches have culture. What is culture? Simply stated, culture is the beliefs and behaviors of a social group. The dictionary defines culture as "the integrated pattern of human behavior that includes thought, speech, action, and artifacts and depends upon the human capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations." It is therefore "the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a social group." Culture is complex, but "beliefs and behaviors" is a sufficient definition here.

One can describe the culture of a nation, but subcultures exist in smaller social groups within the nation. In the church, one can speak of the general culture of the church (perhaps thinking of a specific religious group or denomination) while also recognizing that individual congregations have their own culture. The culture of the church is constantly changing. Sometimes it changes more rapidly or in more noticeable ways. Certain beliefs get more emphasis, or certain behaviors are emphasized or more highly valued.

Culture includes one's belief system and the resulting behaviors. Therefore, culture includes traditions. Some traditions have little basis in Scripture; they merely reflect the culture of a religious or social group-an accepted way of doing things. Culture is a way of seeing the world, a way of thinking. Culture includes one's worldview, which leads to certain expectations regarding interactions within the society and interactions with those outside the society.

What causes cultural change? At the foundation of cultural change are changes in beliefs. Changes in beliefs lead to changes in behaviors. Changed beliefs lead to changed expectations. What are some identifiable cultural changes in the church?

Should we be concerned about these changes? How should one evaluate the culture of the church? The beliefs and behaviors of the church must always be evaluated in light of God's Word. Traditions must be recognized for what they are. Some changes are good, some are bad. One will be concerned about cultural changes to the extent that they reflect unhealthy or unbiblical thinking, priorities, or values. Be aware that the comparison of culture and Scripture is also at the mercy of culture, since even the way one hears and applies Scripture is a part of culture!

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Last updated April 10, 2013