I have been reflecting on our country and culture lately. Our government is spending money at such a record pace that even drunken sailors on shore leave are saying Congress is out of hand. Mass shootings are increasing at such an alarming rate that there isn’t one iconic incident that everyone can point like “Columbine” – but now dozens.
It had me thinking because I have come in contact with a few fellows that go to a particular church in my town (Graham, WA). Every time I talk to them they are polite, well-mannered, hard working, and have a positive attitude. The church itself I would never darken their door. They are legalistic, misogynistic, and a little predatory in their recruiting tactics. (Besides, they have barbed wire around their campus – weird.)
But their are aspects of their members that I can not overlook. If I were to go off of the fruit of their lives alone – I would have little to say. So it got me thinking, what if you could take the good from a church like that and toss the bad like so many chicken leg bones. And that got me thinking about what a cult really is:
Cults: A Modern Definition:
“A system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object.” In reality, we use the word cult to mean an “organized group of people, religious or not, with whom [we] disagree. ~ Rawson”
Cults: Then And Now:
But the word has a longer and more vernerable history than our modern take. It comes from Latin cultus which means “care, labor; cultivation, culture; worship, reverence,” originally used as “tended, cultivated, to till.” So the word had less to do with religious nuts and had more to do with discipline, cultivation of righteous habits, and good culture. It spoke of a religion that produced good and uniform behavior from its initiates.
Now we in our Western culture bristle at the use of the word “uniform.” But even in that sentence I betray us. Culture, after all, comes from the word cult and loosely means “broad patterns of behavior.” So even we, paragons of individuality, adhere to broad patterns of behavior. Individuality, is in large part an illusion. Our freedom, in reality, is more the freedom to migrate from one broad pattern to another with little encumbrance.
But back to the point. Paul said that we are “slaves to righteousness” (Romans 6:18). In other words, we should adhere to righteousness as if it were our master. But we, in the church have majored so much in looking at “heart matters” that we have virtually ignored how righteousness looks in real life. We say “love God and love people” but never give concrete examples.
Paul was not afraid of concrete examples. One the one hand he would make sweeping statements like “what is not born of faith is sin” and then tell a congregation in a specific culture that long hair on men is unseemly.
In fact, these two statements are so diametric that some have wondered if Paul wrote both. Yes, he did. We cannot underestimate the power of great vision statements and gritty “boots on the ground” advice put together. We need to follow the example of Paul and give the church both a compass and map.
At the end of the day – no, I do not think that a barbed-wire wreathed “church” is the way to go. We need to be inclusive instead of exclusive. Besides, that suggests some disturbing doctrines being preached if they feel it necessary to cloister themselves in steel and blades.
But one thing I will give them is that they are bold enough to “cultivate” right actions in their members. They stand up for hard work, courteousness, forthright speech, and devotion to God. They make their actions and speech fragrant – to God and to those around them.
Maybe, at the end of the day, the world needs more churches to stand up for right action as well as teach their members how to search it out on their own. Maybe we need churches to “cultivate” righteousness and create a “culture” of good works. Maybe we need more “cults” – the Latin version, that is.