I am a member of culture A, which has practice X. While traveling to a foreign country I meet you, a member of culture B. I am shocked to find that you have practice Y. I convince you that practice X is much better than practice Y and then return home. You now want to participate in practice X, but all the forces of culture B are against you. I have given you no power to forsake the practices of your culture to take up the practices of mine.
This scenario portrays much of what has passed for Christianity down through the ages. And, in as much as this describes its character, Christianity has become nothing more than cultural religion. It has become the epitome of the experience Paul described in Romans:
I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? (Romans 7:21-24)
The “normal” message of Christianity offers no answer to the question. Sure, we can repeat Paul’s answer, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (verse 25) But we are still wondering, “Where do I find the power to overcome evil within me now and to live a life pleasing to God today?” Group dynamics (culture) can curb outward expression of certain evils, but that power does not touch the root cause within the heart of man. Preaching Jesus’ power to pardon the sins of those who accept him as personal savior has not produced a church that stands victorious over the gates of Hell. If we are to overcome the world, there must be more to Christianity than what we see portrayed today.
Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee…(Gen. 12:1)
Two significant things happened here.
- God spoke to Abram.
- Abram was called out of his culture to follow the voice of God.
When we act in response to the voice of God, there is power to obey that is greater than cultural expectations. Abraham (Abram) is called the father of the faithful, and our faith is called the faith of Abraham, because we, like him, must hear the voice of God calling us out of our culture of darkness and deception.
Our culture is the death and darkness of following the voice of the serpent, that deceiver and adversary of our souls. And that includes much of what has been passed off as Christianity. Human effort can’t restore us to the light of life and to peace with God. Something greater than ourselves is needed. Isaiah described the work of the Messiah as:
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. (Isaiah 9:2)
And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them… (Isaiah 42:16)
I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth. (Isaiah 49:6)
Isaac Penington detailed how this is accomplished:
[Question]. But show more particularly how faith, or believing in
the light, worketh out the salvation.
First, it causeth a fear and trembling to seize upon the sinner. …
All that used to empower our lives is shaken.
In this fear and trembling the work of true repentance and conversion is begun and carried on…
This is a time of deep distress, the whole life is turned upside down. All that had been one’s rock and foundation is discovered to be only mire and must be discarded.
In the belief of the light, and in the fear placed in the heart, there springs up a hope, a living hope, in the living principle, which hath manifested itself, and begun to work…
Here the power of God is experienced to hold your soul in all the troubles, storms, and tempests of life. As we experience this anchor at work within, our faith grows.
Faith, through the hope, works righteousness, and teaches the true wisdom; and now the benefit of all the former trouble, anguish, and misery begins to be felt, and the work goes on sweetly…
This faith produces within us the righteousness and wisdom of God, which are available from no other source.
In the righteousness, and in the true wisdom which is received in the light, there springs up a love, and a unity, and fellowship with God, the Father of lights, and with all who are children of the light…
This is the source of our willingness and the source of the power to spend and to be spent in obedience to Christ’s command. This power transcends cultural forces.
Belief in the light works patience, meekness, gentleness, tenderness, and long-suffering. It will bear any thing for God, any thing for men’s souls’ sake. It will wait quietly and stilly for the carrying on of the work of God in its own soul, and for the manifestation of God’s love and mercy to others…
It brings peace, joy, and glory. Faith in the light breaks down the wall of darkness, the wall of partition, that which separates from the peace, that which causeth the anguish and trouble upon the soul, and so brings into peace…
One of the manifestations of the human malady is our lack of peace with God within ourselves.Christ is the good physician. Through his light he removes the cause of our dis-ease.
Now finding the clods of earth removed, the enemy, the disturber, the peace-breaker trodden down, the sin taken away, the life and power present, the soul brought into the peace; here is joy, unspeakable joy! joy which the world cannot see or touch, nor the powers of darkness come near to interrupt. Here is now no more crying out, O wretched man! and who shall deliver! &c., but a rejoicing in him who hath given victory, and made the soul a conqueror; yea, more than a conqueror. Wait to feel that, thou who art now groaning, and oppressed by the merciless powers of darkness.
And this joy is full of glory; which glory increaseth daily more and more, by the daily sight and feeling of the living virtue and power in Christ the light; whereby the soul is continually transformed, and changed more and more, out of the corruptible into the incorruptible; out of the uncircumcision, the shame, the reproach, into the circumcision, the life, the glory.
Q. Doth the light do all this?
A. Yea, in them that turn towards it, give up to it, and abide in it. In them it cleanseth out the thickness and darkness, and daily transformeth them into the image, purity, and perfection of the light. And this nothing can do but the light alone. (The Scattered Sheep Sought After)
Now you have something beyond Christendom, the culture of the Christian religion, which you, like Abram, must forsake. Penington has described how to enter into Christ-ianity, i.e. Christ-likeness.