If you’ve listened to any of our podcasts or read my earlier blog post, you have heard me use the term “cross culture” to describe the type of church I believe God wants every Christian leader to pursue. This is a new term in the conversation, so I want to take a moment to unpack it and illustrate how this applies to the local church. First, a few definitions. The word “culture” can be simply defined as the, “way of life of a group of people”1. The beliefs, behaviors, and attitudes of a group is what makes its culture. Christians should have a distinct culture. Here, we call that distinct culture a cross culture. This cross culture refers to a people unified by the blood of Jesus while still embracing differences across cultures. Both of these realities are essential to being cross cultural. Before we dive into the beliefs, behaviors, and attitudes of a cross culture church, let’s talk more about this definition.
There is a temptation to resolve the tension of diversity by either discarding the righteousness of Jesus and embracing “love” as the highest ethic or by discarding cultural differences and preaching a narrow Gospel. Let me explain.
There are some Christian leaders in this conversation around biblical diversity that may be tempted to functionally discard the righteousness of God, and distort the love of God to only mean affirmation and permissiveness. This is an error. God is love, but love is not God. (1 John 4:8) We do not worship love, and love is not the only command of God. We are to love everyone, but love does not mean affirmation of every choice and lifestyle. In love, we call everyone to repent and turn from anything that isn’t God’s desire for their lives. You can’t embrace culture by disregarding the cross. That is not a cross culture church.
Similarly, there are other Christian leaders who may be tempted to truncate the Gospel in an attempt to disregard culture altogether. You often hear the refrain: “Just preach the Gospel” from this Christian Leader. They believe the work of Jesus on the cross has no direct impact on the relationships we have with one another. Salvation for them is a forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with God with the future reward of Heaven. This type of Christian leader has embraced the vertical reconciliation of Ephesians 2:1-10, but has denied the horizontal reconciliation of Ephesians 2:11-22, to paraphrase something Bryan Loritts has often said. They have embraced a narrow understanding of the cross, and so feel empowered to disregard the cultural implications of the cross. That is also not a cross culture church.
A cross culture church holds firmly to the truth of scriptures and the lordship of Jesus, and therefore realizes the full understanding of the Gospel speaks directly to a vertical reconciliation with God and a horizontal reconciliation with others. You don’t have to ignore the Bible to embrace diversity, nor ignore diversity to be faithful to the Bible.
That is why the definition of a cross culture is an important starting point. It holds in tension truths that are often minimized by some Christian leaders on opposite ends of the theological spectrum.
In the next post I’ll get more practical about the people, practices, and purposes necessary to develop a cross culture in a local church.