Culture or Christ?

“Peter began to say to Him, ‘Behold, we have left all and followed You.’ Jesus said, ‘Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for My sake and for the Gospel’s sake, but that he shall receive a hundred times as much now at this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and fields, with persecutions, and in the coming age, eternal life.'”   Mark 10:28 – 30

In this series of “or Christ” articles I am making an attempt at exposing some of the modern day hindrances that we face in fulfilling the true mission of God, which is God’s eternal purpose (Eph. 1 & 3). As I have said elsewhere, this eternal purpose is centered in Jesus Christ himself. It is that all things would be summed up (or headed up) in Christ (Eph. 1:9 – 12). It is that he would have the preeminence (first place) in all things (Col. 1:18). And that he would fill all things with himself (Eph. 4:10).

This eternal purpose is fulfilled by God having a Body, a Bride, and a House (Eph. 1:22, 23). But it is the house that we will take a look at in this article.

The History of the House

God has always desired to have a place in which to dwell. Starting with Genesis in the Garden of Eden and ending with the book of Revelation and the New Jerusalem, it is easy to see God’s original intention to have a dwelling place. It is the sweeping story of the whole bible.

But along with that story has been the history of the hindrances to God getting his house. And one of the most powerful hindrances has been this matter of the culture of man. In fact, our culture, by and large, has had a more powerful influence over us than the gospel of Jesus Christ! That’s not something to be proud of, but it is a fact we must deal with. In order to do so, we need to understand the aspects of our culture that stand in the way of God having his dwelling place – a spiritual temple made of living stones (I Pet. 2:4, 5).

I believe that the best story in the scriptures to illustrate this “culture block” is found in the Babylonian captivity of the Jewish nation. This story is found in the books of Ezra, Esther, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. In case you aren’t familiar with the story, I will give you a brief background.

The Babylonian empire began way back in Genesis chapter eleven with the tower of Babel. There was a city built around the tower that existed in the country referred to as Shinar and later called the land of the Chaldeans. This is the city of man made religion. When Nebuchadnezzar became king of Babylon he attacked Jerusalem, tore down the temple, and took captive the Jews. Their captivity lasted 70 years in Babylon.

The Jews were marched 700 miles in the nude to Babylon. The Babylonians gave them new names and many of the children starved to death. Their women were raped and they all became slaves (Lamentations 5:12 – 21).

Comfortable in Babylon

Eventually, the Jews were given much freedom by their captors. They built their own houses, some started business, and many prospered. There was even considerable religious freedom. Since they no longer had the temple (the house of God), they created their own religious system called the synagogue.

The problem was that this synagogue system was only an artificial substitute for the true worship in the temple in Jerusalem. That was the only place God ordained the sacrifices.

In 538 BC, King Cyrus decreed that the Jews were now free to go back to Jerusalem and the Canaan land. But only 2% would go back! They were not willing to make the long trek (700 miles) back. They had become comfortable in Babylon. They had become Babylonians! And they were not willing to pay the price of returning to Jerusalem to rebuild God’s temple and God’s city.

The Three Pillars of Our Culture

Brothers and sisters, we have become comfortable in Babylon. God is calling his people everywhere to leave Babylon behind and to come and rebuild his true temple, the church. But many of us are stuck in the world’s system and the religious system. We have become too comfortable and are afraid to leave it all behind. There are three strongholds that hold together our western culture. They are as follows:

I) Individualism

Our isolated individualistic lifestyles are an outward expression of our individualistic minds. We only think about life individualistically. It’s only about me and my world. It’s all about my career, my family, my hobbies, my vacation, my investments, etc. We even call a device to listen to my music an I-pod! It’s very difficult for us to think any other way. That’s why it is such a miracle when a person begins the shift from thinking as me to thinking as we. Thinking corporately is not something that comes naturally to us. It requires a renewal of the mind (Rom. 12:1 – 5; Eph. 4:22 – 25; Col. 3:10, 11). But yet, it is absolutely necessary for a group of believers who want to “rebuild” the true house of God in their city. If we are going to live as the community of God, we must begin by thinking corporately. *

*See the author’s new book: “The Community Life of God

II) Money

Jesus had a lot to say about money and the pursuit of money and how it has a foothold on our lives (Matt. 6:24; Matt. 13:22; Mark 10:23; Matt. 21:12; Mark 6:8; Matt. 13:44; Matt. 6:32). Of course, it’s not money in itself, but rather the pursuit and love of money and everything that goes along with it. The problem is the hold that our consumeristic, materialistic society now has over us.

It’s absolutely incredible how much time and effort people will spend on the development of their careers. I live in a college town. About 50,000 young people come here every year to spend somewhere between 4 – 8 years and lots of their parents’ money to obtain a “marketable” career. Then there are all the night classes and vocational colleges and classes on the internet. Then, once we begin our careers, there are all of the late night hours to attempt to “climb” the corporate ladder.

But do we ever have enough stuff? Consumerism and materialism have taken over our lives and then to top it all of, we become slaves to debt. We esteem highly those who have the top level credit scores and thieves get more prison time than rapists! But our Lord said that you cannot serve two masters.

III) Family

Our Lord also had many things to say about the pull of family upon our lives (Matt. 10:35 – 37; Matt. 12:47 – 49; Matt. 19:5; Matt. 19:29; Luke 2:48, 49; Luke 12:53; Luke 14:26; John 19:26). I would say that in the western world Christians either neglect their families (because they are too busy pursuing mammon), or they idolize their families to the point of sacrificing the house (family) of God. When we place our family on a pedestal, then the pursuit of money is important to support the family. And this vicious cycle goes on and one.

Let’s face it folks, we have become Babylonians! We have become too comfortable and too busy with our own individual lives to be willing to make the long trek back to Jerusalem and join the rebuilding project. It is much too costly. Who would do such a thing?

Another Call to Rebuild

In the first century there was another call to rebuild. But this time it was to be the fulfillment of all of the shadows and types in the Old Testament. It was a call to build the true spiritual temple of the ecclesia. And I don’t think that it was a coincidence that it all happened in the same city of Jerusalem

Some had come from Galilee, and some had come from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Egypt, Libya, Rome, Arabia, and many other places. Three thousand souls came to Christ that day of Pentecost and became part of this new thing on the earth called the church. But here is the most amazing thing to me. They all decided to leave everything to follow Him! What about their families, and their homes, and their jobs back home? They decided to stay in Jerusalem to build the true house of God.

I get emails and phone calls from believers all the time telling me that they want organic church life so badly, but there is no one else near them who has this same desire. I ask them if they have ever considered moving to another location. Then they tell me that it’s impossible. Christians will move because of a new job or to be closer to family, but to move for the house of God? Who would do that? Now don’t get me wrong, I understand that sometimes it is “impossible” to move because of circumstances. But that’s not my point. What God is after is our hearts. Are we willing to leave all to follow Him? Is His house that important to us?

When He said to seek first His kingdom (Matt 6:33), he really meant it! If we will allow Him to have the first place in everything (Col. 1:18), then we will want Him to have His house, His body, and His bride. And whatever perceived cost we may have to pay will pale in comparison to His glorious church!

Author: Milt Rodriguez

Milt is an author, speaker, and organic church planter.

13 thoughts on “Culture or Christ?”

  1. I would definitely agree with a lot of the comparisons between Babylon and modern day churchianity, but was left wondering about your last point, about being willing to move to a different city/location for the sake of organic church life…

    Reading through those first few chapters in the book of Acts, I don’t find anything that specifically states that the new believers who came to Christ during Pentecost, or shortly after, abandoned their homes around the empire and decided to live permanentaly in Jerusalem. We see that the believers lived as one and shared everything, and their numbers grew, but it seems at least possible that some of those Pentecost believers did return to their home cities.

    But beyond that, it seems clear that when God allowed the persecution to begin (in ch. 8) that the Church was scattered at least to the areas outside of Jerusalem. To me this suggests that God was more interested in people going out, rather than clustering in one central place. When Paul and the other apostles move out into the rest of the Roman empire, we see the focus on creating new gatherings, rather than encouranging new believers to move to another city where other believers are already gathering.

    So when someone says they’re discouraged because there is no one else interested in pursuing “organic church life” in their area, my initial reaction is something like, “awesome, it looks like God has put you in that place for a reason!”

    Maybe it’s to take to the gospel to people who have never experienced “institutional Christianity”… Maybe Jesus wants to reach lost people in “Babylon” too, and not only people who have spent their whole lives in conventional churches…

    If we allow ourselves to start losing heart because there aren’t any Christians in our city or town who want to regularly get together with us in our homes or wherever, then aren’t we really getting sucked back into that individualistic, self-absorbed mentality again?

    Isn’t Jesus with us wherever we go, and hasn’t he called us to take His Gospel to the ends of the earth?

  2. Daniel,

    I think that you may have missed the point of the article.

    This article is not an examination of evangelistic methods of the early church.

    Rather, it is an expose`of how our culture has a hold on us. I used the example of many believers unwillingness to move for the church to show the hold that money and family have over our lives. Actually, the examples of Babylon AND Jerusalem are both valid in this regard. Why do you think that the church in Jerusalem sold their property and gave the proceeds to the apostles? It was for the purpose of helping those who had just moved into town from other places. Yes, of course, it is very possible that some did return to their homelands. But that is still not the point. The point is that believers in century one left all to follow Christ. Surely, you don’t deny this scriptural and historical fact.

    Yes, God did scatter them with the persecution, but it was after 4-5 years of spiritual development and experience living in organic community life before they were scattered. Those are the facts. Yes, God does want the gospel spread and new churches raised up everywhere. But the church is organic (out of life) and she cannot bear fruit (or children) until she is mature enough, just like a 5 year old girl cannot give birth. Or a young seedling cannot bear fruit until it is a full grown tree. Even nature tells us these things. Please see my article on this blog called:
    “Organic Church Growth – Forced or Free?” and this one:
    “The Lost Elements of the Gospel”

  3. Hey Milt,
    I appreciate the post. We are learning to think “corporately” instead of thinking through the old lenses that have trained us to see individual ministries and callings.

    Look forward to the new book. I am pursuing a new series myself concerning the church in the image of the triune God.

    Miss you guys!
    David

  4. Hey! Dear Brother Milt!
    I enjoyed the article and am in complete agreement with what you have stated, Especially the references from Ephesians. God’s purpose “IS” for us to become Body, Bride, Family, and House, and I especially enjoy v6 of chapter 3, in which Paul say’s that God fulfills His purpose for these things and makes us partakers of the promise beginning through the preaching of and the accepting of THE GOSPEL that He preached. AGREED, AGREED, AGREED!
    What I see missing is God’s “WILL” in the completion, and sustaining of this purpose, which enables us to persevere in His purpose, (please read 1Thesalonians 4:3-8.) This is the way we face and have victory over, that babylonian culture that we’re living in.
    I would only state one more thing; under the individualism section in your article, I would declare those “I” things to be what the Bible declares them to be. – and that is sin! You said and I agree that it is a great miracle when a person starts to think as “WE” instead of “me”. But, we can never accomplish this on our own, it must be done by the Soveriegn God we serve (Col.1: 8-12.) Only God can begin and complete that transformation, and regeneration process, which through that process we become less of ourselves and become more like His SON, Jesus….. And scripture say’s that’s when God becomes pleased with His Purpose for us, and then and only then does He begin to move profoundly in and through His Bride, Body, Family and House!!
    The quote is; “But SEEK first the Kingdom of God AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS, and all these things will be added to you.” ( Righteousness is defined as Holy and upright living in accordance with God’s standards. It is a moral concept. see Romans 9:14 and Genesis 18:25.)
    You see, that is what and who He is, and where He dwells. He is not and will not be in anything that tries to live “Kingdom Life” and Babylonian life at the same time!!
    We can try to fulfill the call to “BE” – Body – Bride – Family – and House, but, honestly, if we are not on that straight and narrow way of the repentant, regenerated, transformed lifetyle, all we’ll accomplish is being on the periphery of what Jesus designed, and we will miss out completely in His Purpose for us in unity in Him.
    I love you my dear brother and miss you much.
    I remain InHim

  5. Hi, Milt

    Thanks for this article. I forwarded it to the church here in Rapid City, SD. I love the way you’re able to put deep truths so succinctly and clearly (I’m thinking particularly of “Butterfly” though I have benefited significantly from all of your books that I’ve read.) I’m looking forward the the one soon to be released as well. I hope it will help our little group learn more about how to do church together.

    Two couples in our group would like to attend the Vegas conference. Sorry to ask you here, but the questions link on the registration page didn’t work for me. My hubby would like to see the agenda, but I can’t find anything like that. Can you direct me?

    Thanks, Cindy

  6. Great article my brother.

    I’m beginning to see how deep Babylon goes. You have spoken well. I think leaving Babylon and taking that 700 mile trek might be one thing, but getting Babylon out of us is another thing entirely. If Babylon is still “in us” would we attempt to rebuild God’s temple in Jerusalem with material we have “packed in” from Babylon? I think if they were forced to march nude as you say to Babylon, perhaps it is incumbant on us to march back in the same manner. Stripping down to Christ alone.

    So, what will this cost us? Just everything. If Christ is first place, if all things are summed up in HIM, if Christ is to fill-up all things, that means there is no “I” at all. As Paul would say, “My “me” is Christ. “I” no longer live. Neither do I know this thing called “self-hood” except in HIM.

    Hope to see you in Vegas my brother.

    Clark

  7. Clark,

    Your comment is very insightful. Great point!

    The ONLY way that the rebuilding will work is if we completely strip down to nothing but Christ alone.

    That is one of the major problems when we plant new organic churches. People want to “carry-over” stuff from Babylon like your carry-on baggage on the airplane. This never works. We must all strip down to the only One bare essential if we want to see His house!

    Thanks once again for your contribution.

  8. Great article brother!

    As far as the part of moving from one place to another, I see myself unable to do this. I don’t know, in U.S. this might be easier than in other countries. I live in Athens, Greece, and I see it as a very difficult thing to be done, especially when you are married and have kids. Anyway, in Greece there are not, as far as I know, people who would want to be part of an organic church.

    I can see that many people are unsatisfied with organized church here in Greece, but they still don’t know there is a way out. I hope the day is near when God’s people will clearly see life out of their religion system.

    Konti

  9. Jim,

    I agree completely, brother. The only thing I would add to your post is a reminder that we cannot live this righteousness (which I’m sure you agree). He IS our righteousness and it’s only as we live in Him and abide in Him that His righteousness is expressed through us.

    Thanks so much for the post. I miss you too brother!

    I really hope to see you guys again next year some time.

  10. I’ve been thinking about that part of your article which refers to moving to another place to be part of an organic church. I tried to see if I myself would move to another city of Greece (where I live) in order to become part of the church, and to be honest, I found it almost imposible. Moving from one place to another here in Greece means losing your job and never being sure if you are going to find another one in order to provide your family, especially when you have kids.

    As I was thinking these things within me, I felt a sense of guilt, like I wasn’t even able to do such a little thing for my Lord. But, while thinking about the event in the pentecost, when 3000 peple were added to the Lord and most of them abondened their lives for the Lord and His church, I realized this:

    First, the people of the first century church were not better than us. They were not more passionate about the truth than us. They were not more devoted than us. They were not more strong-willed than us. They were not cleverer than us. They were just common people like us.

    Why then, they were ready to abandon their own comfort and decided to join the church in Jerusalem and stay there? What did they have more than we do? The only answer I came up with was that they could see clearly Jesus Christ that day.

    I think that when you see Jesus Christ, you can’t resist Him, you can’t but follow Him no matter what. And the day of Pentecost was such a day, when Jesus Christ was being revealed to them.

    So, If I were them, I would do the same, and probably if they were me, they would think like I do. What I want to say is that this is not a matter of me and you, but a matter of a revelation of Jesus Christ. To take the risky decision to leave your city or country without knowing what you are going to deal with in that particular church, to take a difficult decision only to see that later this group might give up gathering together, is quite a different thing than seeing clearly Jesus Christ, than being wooed by Jesus Christ, than being atracted by His Light.

    Often we (who have left the organized church)say we have had some revelation from the Lord and He has shown us what His church is like. Well, as this may be partly true, I think that most of what we call revelation, is nothing but a head knowledge. We have read so many great books we agree with, that we dare to say we have a revelation of Jesus Christ.

    I don’t think the people who abandoned everything for Christ’s sake when Peter preached them had had a glue of what the church is. They were totally ignorant at that day. But thay had something more, much more than head knowledge, they had seen a glimpse of Jesus Christ that day. They had a revelation of Him.

    This is what we need today, I think. A revelation of Jesus Christ.

  11. having this put on facebook today I read it again and reflected about why some are not willing to move for the family of God. I think it is because that the three pillars of culture you mentioned also breeds mistrust. We really do not trust one another enough to sacrifice for one another, true love according to Jesus. We are very insular, and because most in institutional church have been hurt relationally, many are still in the throes of hurt which leads to continued mistrust and suspicion of others and not moving forward into deeper relationships with one another, so we harden our hearts and we live shallow lives. Only Christ’s love can break this cycle, a completely new way of thinking, from I to us like you mentioned. Just some thoughts, as I’ve been their myself, so have many others that I talk to about organic church life, only a few have I seen, who because of no roots laid down, will take the chance to drop everything and by faith learn to live authentic relational love, Christ’s love for and to one another.

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