Culture and Worship
Within the scope of Christian leadership, there are unified thoughts concerning cultural aspects that can compete with the Gospel. These ideas lead many Christians to focus on the culture around us — potentially creating moments of us versus them. As leaders, we should seek to expand our awareness of this tension by studying Scripture and theologians’ findings regarding both culture and worship.
In 1996, the third international consultation of the Lutheran World Federation’s Study Team on Worship and Culture met in Nairobi, Kenya¹. This consultation led to the document’s release, the Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture.
In this statement, we learn four central principles regarding the relationship between worship and culture:
- Worship is transcultural, meaning worship has specific dynamics that are beyond culture.
- Worship is contextual, reflecting local patterns of speech, dress, and other cultural characteristics.
- Worship is counter-cultural, resisting the idolatries of a given culture.
- Worship is cross-cultural and reflects that the body of Christ transcends time and space.
Since the Nairobi Statement’s findings center on the idea that Jesus embodies these cultural relationships, it reminds us that it is also suitable for us to display them all as members of Christ’s body here on the earth. The Gospel (the good news) is for all who have ears to hear, and we are one body with many threads of culture woven into the tapestry of humanity — painting the beauty of Christ on the earth.
Scripture emphasizes this, as well:
In Ephesians 2:14–16, we see Christ as a unifier:
“For he is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In his flesh, he made of no effect the law consisting of commands and expressed in regulations, so that he might create in himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace.”
There is no Jew or Greek, enslaved person or free, male and female since you are all one in Christ Jesus.
“After this, I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”
“We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession … called to proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.
In his book: Created & Creating: A Biblical Theology of Culture¹, William Edgar states that although the word culture is not found in Scripture at all. There are terms we can connect to culture, and there are themes that articulate the concept of culture.
These themes are suitable for the body of Christ to remember. Jesus connected to culture by becoming a Jewish man, actively participating in his local community’s life and festivities. By studying his example of relating to and drawing away from cultural norms, we can learn more about who Jesus is — allowing us to testify Christ as a personal God and not merely a foreign deity. We know to worship in an understandable context with all people groups through exposure to culture. By allowing God to be relatable, we welcome people into a relatable culture.
Scripture tells us that he came to be a Savior, and He has made every nationality live worldwide. As part of the big picture, we need to see ourselves (and others) as image-bearers of Christ. Remembering from the beginning, God declared, “let us make man in our image, after our likeness…” — Genesis 1:26–28. This unifying power reminds us that we are more the same than different, and all are welcome at the table.