A. Why Change? — We have lost our ‘saltiness’!

Culture for human beings is like the water that fish swim in. Water is so necessary for life, and so pervasive, that fish don’t realize that there may be another larger world beyond their ocean or fishbowl. Fish depend on water to live. Likewise, we all assume our culture is life giving because it surrounds us. We learn to breathe it and survive in it because, if we don’t do that, we believe that we will die. We all accept the utter necessity of our particular culture for life, without actually thinking much about that assumption. That is what living in a culture means.

But we Christians are told that we are “not of this world,” and must be “counter-cultural.” “Even religion itself can become enslaved unknowingly to the deceptive values of the culture, and hence the constant need of the prophetic tradition of self-critique.”  What does being ‘counter-cultural’ mean, in practical terms? First of all, it means that we ought to live in constant tension with the conventional culture. To do that, we Christians must create and live in an alternative culture that we strongly believe is essential for life. Resolving the conflicts between the common culture and the alternative culture when we make choices determines how we deal with life. If the common culture is very powerful, and the alternative culture is weak, then we Christians will make choices and live pretty much the same as everyone else. If our alternative culture is strong, we Christians will make different choices than others, and live according to Jesus’ reality.

For most Christians, their local church is the only source of an alternative culture.  And when local churches lose their ‘saltiness’— their radical differences from the common culture  —  then churches become weak influences on the way that Christians make choices and live. But since, in America and Australia we Christians live in societies that have largely marginalized churches, the conventional culture is persuading people, even many Christians, that the  Christian culture’s ‘saltiness’  just doesn’t make sense any more. “You are the salt of the earth.” [Matthew 5:13]  The common culture does throw us a bone: It is OK to retain a semblance of church (so you can feel good about yourself that you ‘really’ are a Christian) but it is definitely not OK to be ‘salty’ and to try to live differently and perhaps even change the common culture and the world.

This in a nutshell, is the cultural argument for why local churches must be transformed, to increase their ‘saltiness’ and their ability to grow a strong alternative culture that can help Christians conflict with the common culture and more strongly bring Jesus’ ideals of reality into the world. Charles Taylor saw this in its largest historical context: “God is gradually educating mankind by transforming it from within. . . We are just at the beginning of a new age of religious searching, whose outcome no one can foresee.”  It is up to us, the people in the pews, to see this now and decide to act.

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4 Replies to “A. Why Change? — We have lost our ‘saltiness’!”

  1. Jim – interested in your thoughts with this. What is more important, the INTENT of someone’s message, or the IMPACT is has on the recipient? I ask because I think the INTENT of the message of the church is often quite noble, but what the people hear (the IMPACT it has on them) is shaped by their view of the world and their own beliefs.

    Are you saying that the “gentle nudge” of some churches might be better replaced by a “powerful shot” with less room for ambiguity?

  2. Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Direct statements but said in love and forgiveness. And said by people in the pews to each other. The burden shouldn’t be left to the clergy. In change consulting language, I’m looking for Change Agents in the pews, supported by Sponsors and Advocates (clergy and parish leaders) to take a fresh look at their own local church and tell the truth about what they find. Use Jesus as the criteria. Apply his principles. See my paper on the righthand side bar on this website.

  3. Actually, Jim – I think what you are talking about is reliant upon the personal burning platform (to borrow a metaphor). At the root of that is how people view Christianity – a gift for personal salvation, or something that must be outward, loud, and for the good of all. I think many struggle with this – my relationship with God is the most personal thing I have. How I live by His word can be done quietly and without fanfare, or it can be done from the pulpit. Is one better than the other?

    1. You made 2 good points. The desire to engage in ‘creating’ more saltiness in a church starts with each person’s ‘case for change.’ Where does that desire come from? Many sources. Our experience, reading, conversation and, ultimately, from the Holy Spirit as we seek to resolve our role in the local church prayerfully. Which leads to your second point. Personal versus shared spiritual experiences. Our culture frowns on loudly sharing our inner spiritual experiences of any kind. It especially frowns on ‘evangelism.’ but I am not talking about sharing outside the local church community when I speak of changing the church’s saltiness. I’m talking about conversations inside the ‘safety’ of a community of Christians. I am especially appealing to Change Agents, Sponsors and Advocates to start those conversations. As you know I believe in bottom-up transformation so in this and all my posts I am appealing to ordinary people to begin to see themselves as Change Agents. That does require letting go of one’s privacy a bit and sharing with others I admit. It doesn’t have to be loud. Think of St Francis of Assisi, one of the greatest bottom-up Change Agents the world has ever seen. Like Francis, if their ‘burning platform’ is strong enough, people will take the risk and engage in bringing their community closer to God and become more ‘salty’ in the process. What do you think?

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