Cult Affects Culture? (part 1)

 neighborhood

The common refrain that is heard from the transformationalists is that cult affects culture, or put in another way, “as the church goes, so goes the world.”  This standard belief is often so widely assumed that it is rarely questioned.

But let’s put the theory to the test, using a smaller scale; let’s say in a typical small American neighborhood of about thirty homes. Let’s assume two of the families in that neighborhood are Christian families, not nominal Christians, but genuine Christians. How does the presence of those two families affect the unbelieving households in that neighborhood? Does the divorce rate decrease among the  unbelievers in that neighborhood compared to neighborhoods with no believers in it? Does the crime rate decrease? Do those unbelieving parents in that neighborhood raise their children differently because of the presence of two Christian families?

The same test could be applied to work. Because you are a believer and you wait tables at Chili’s, does the manager cheat less on his taxes (assuming he does) because of your presence? Do the other workers because less greedy for money because you are also an employee? We could go on with examples, but all of you who live in neighborhoods and work at jobs know that the answer to these questions. The answer is almost always in the negative, and it is not because the Christians in these examples are disobedient to God, but that simply is the way life is in this fallen world, and we are never told to expect differently. So if the transformationalist assumption of cult affecting culture doesn’t really work on a local, micro level, why are they so convinced it must work on a national, macro level?

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24 Responses to Cult Affects Culture? (part 1)

  1. Zrim says:

    Good question. I can’t even get my drive-through order to not return to me void. With influence like that, I wonder what would make me think my very presence shapes up the distant world.

    But I’ll see your scenario and raise you a reality, as in Little Geneva where 28.5 of 30 are genuine Christian households and 2 are not. If the assumptions of transformationists are right then why does Grand Rapids look like any other town, with good stuff and bad stuff and all manner in between?

  2. RubeRad says:

    Cute picture Todd, which one are you?

  3. RubeRad says:

    OK, I guess it’s time again for me to defend my maxim: more sanctification–>better world.

    I’ll go ahead and grant you, for the moment, that statistics among 28 unbelieving families will not be affected by the presence of 2 elect families. But why do you only look at statistics for unbelievers? As a good 2Ker, you should be eager to affirm that the believers are also part of the world, so as their sanctification progresses, their corner of the world is being transformed.

    So the divorce rate in the neighborhood will go down, because 28 families will have the prevailing divorce rate, but for two families, there will additionally be the preaching of law and gospel, the threat of church discipline for unrepentant adultery, and developing abilities of forgiveness and repentance; all of which combine to lower the divorce rate among those two families. Same for the crime rate of the whole neighborhood, etc.

    Plus, since you mention “so goes the church…”, if the church is faithfully preaching the word and administering the sacraments (which is why her members are growing in sanctification), then there may well come to be 3 or 4 or more families in the neighborhood, all with progressing sanctification.

    And back to reneging on my concession, it seems likely to me that a believing, being-sanctified family may learn to be less provoking of their neighbors, less selfish, more likely to turn the other cheek, so the overall level of neighborhood conflict would go down.

    I know this is heresy to Z, but I can’t see how to avoid the fact that sanctification is transformation: we are renewed in the whole man and enabled more and more to die unto sin and live unto righteousness. In the end, sanctification cannot merely be to magnify a personal sense of sin and to point to Jesus as its remedy. At some point, there has to be some actual sin that doesn’t get sinned.

    So, if the question is whether the Church is to transform The World, meaning everything outside the church, I 100% agree, that’s nonsense. But it is absolutely the business of the Church to be about Word, Sacrament, and Discipline, which are means the Holy Spirit uses in sanctifying (transforming) believers, who are full members in The World, and there’s no reason to exclude their contribution.

  4. Zrim says:

    As a good 2Ker, you should be eager to affirm that the believers are also part of the world, so as their sanctification progresses, their corner of the world is being transformed.

    Participation isn’t transformation, Rube. This is where the dominionists get hung up. And grace isn’t stuff that leaks out of us, magically changing our world. The medievals also thought grace was stuff that leaked out, which is why we needed the Eucharist to refill our “bathtub of grace.”

    I know this is heresy to Z, but I can’t see how to avoid the fact that sanctification is transformation: we are renewed in the whole man and enabled more and more to die unto sin and live unto righteousness.

    Sanctification is mortification and vivification, yes. And we are being transformed into the image of Christ, yes. But how these things translate in the here and now are actually more mysterious than known. It is the difference between faith and sight. Often I get the sense that what many mean by our being transformed is that we become better in our immediate faculties. How else to explain the apparent egotistical notion that our world is better simply because we are here?

    But consider my question above that up’s Todd’s ante. If every Grand Rapids neighborhood has 28 believers and 2 unbelievers, then why is this town essentially no different from any other town?

  5. Todd says:

    Rube,

    You are defining a “better world” as the presence of believers itself making it better because we are here. While we may quibble over that, your statement is different from what we are really arguing against. We are arguing against the idea that the sins of the culture can be laid upon the church, because if we were just more holy, and preached against the world’s culture makers, things would not be as bad as they are. We are refuting the idea that the health of the church will be reflected in the health of the culture and its politics. Tell that to the Christians of China.

    As for the diivorce rate, it is not much lower in the visible church than the world. For one, church discipline does not stop divorce, it usually deals with the aftermath. Two, the church is made up of elect and non-elect. And three, since true believers struggle with sin, divorce will be one of those sins Christians struggle with.

    Many unbelievers have healthier marriages than believers, but that doesn’t mean those believers are not being sanctified, it just means in God’s providence some unbelievers are raised well and have easy-going dispositions, while many believers are converted from rough upbringings and will struggle more maintaining relationships (including marriages) in this life than many unbelievers. I find C.S. Lewis’ chapter in Mere Christianity entitled “Nice People Or New Men” very helpful in this regard.

  6. RubeRad says:

    Participation isn’t transformation, Rube.

    When I say “their corner of the world”, I simply mean “them”. I’m not talking about a pelagian concept of Christian good examples inspiring unbelievers to behave better. I’m talking about Christians behaving better (and instigating less neighbor-vs-neighbor conflict), and since Christians are part of this world, it’s unfair to discount their contribution.

    Also, you might be hanging too much on the word “transformed.” I’m not talking about an immediate, complete transformation into perfection; I’m talking about incremental change.

    more mysterious than known

    Fine, but still some known. I’ll grant you that our sinfulness is infinite, and our sanctification involves seeing ever more of it. But our sanctification also consists of a conscious avoidance of a finite amount of sin.

    why is this town essentially no different from any other town?

    Without speculating what remnant of those 28 believers are actually in the invisible church, how about because in GRusalem — just like in any other town — there is nowhere enough Word, Sacrament and Discipline, and as a result, believers are not progressing in their Sanctification as they should.

  7. RubeRad says:

    While we may quibble over that, your statement is different from what we are really arguing against. We are arguing against the idea that the sins of the culture can be laid upon the church, because if we were just more holy, and preached against the world’s culture makers, things would not be as bad as they are

    That’s the topic of the next post, part II, and I’m totally on board with you there. My comments are meant for this post, and as you can see, Z and I do not agree. I hope you’ll join me in trying to convince Z that sanctification involves less sinnin’.

    As for the diivorce rate, it is not much lower in the visible church than the world.

    I’ll grant you your other points about marriage (one, two, three), but with the state of the visible church, this statement is not saying much (see the end of my comment above). You said that we get to assume that these two families are “not nominal Christians, but genuine Christians.” Among unbelievers, nominal believers, and genuine believers, we have an approximately equal distribution of the factors of sin, being raised well, easy-going dispositions, and other factors that contribute to the divorce rate. But I still maintain that genuine Christians have the additional benefits of the preaching of law and gospel, the threat of church discipline for unrepentant adultery, and developing abilities of forgiveness and repentance, all of which will help to lower their divorce rate.

    Not to mention that a couple of genuine Christian marriages in a neighborhood reduces the pool of available partners for unbelievers to adulterate with. So statistically, that would contribute towards a lower divorce rate among unbelievers as well.

  8. Zrim says:

    Without speculating what remnant of those 28 believers are actually in the invisible church, how about because in GRusalem — just like in any other town — there is nowhere enough Word, Sacrament and Discipline, and as a result, believers are not progressing in their Sanctification as they should.

    Rube,

    I can’t help but wonder if you’re thinking too much like a statistician. But my point is that even where there are better expressions of the three marks it still doesn’t follow that the local community in which that happens will be superior, unless we really do believe that the gospel is useful for social improvement. In which case, we have lots of apology letters to write the liberals. But I don’t think Paul’s point to the Corinthians was that once they shaped up then the town would prosper. His concern was for obedience, not results.

  9. RubeRad says:

    you’re thinking too much like a statistician

    Well, it’s kind of like “ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer”. Except in this case, it’s “ask a statistical question of a statistician…”

    unless we really do believe that the gospel is useful for social improvement. In which case, we have lots of apology letters to write the liberals

    Which liberals are you talking about? Because when I hear liberal, I think of (a) those who are not so much concerned with sanctifying the church, as transforming the rest of the world, and (b) they want to do it by pelagian, moralistic preaching of Christ as merely an example. That is not the gospel, and it is not useful for social improvement.

    The true gospel, however, does not return void, but sanctifies (transforms) God’s people. And while that may mean that the gospel causes social improvement, that not the same as saying the gospel is useful for social improvement, because man cannot wield the gospel as a tool to fix this or that social problem. Rather it is a tool (a means) that the Holy Spirit wields to sanctify according to God’s plan.

    Suppose Joe Blow’s wife is running around. If somebody preaches to him “Come to Jesus, and he’ll heal your marriage,” Joe may well be disappointed, because his wife remains unregenerate and unrepentant. But suppose Joe Blow is running around, and somebody preaches to him, “You are a sinner! Come to Jesus, and you will be instantly Justified and evermore Sanctified,” and he truly comes to Christ and attends to Word and Sacrament (and hopefully Discipline). Then because of the gospel, he may repent of his running around and reconcile with his wife, and save his marriage.

    My point is, there are no guarantees what form the Holy Spirit’s plan of sanctification may take; but there is a guarantee that truly regenerate Christians will be Sanctified, and that will result in less sinnin on the part of those Christians.

  10. Zrim says:

    Which liberals are you talking about? Because when I hear liberal, I think of (a) those who are not so much concerned with sanctifying the church, as transforming the rest of the world, and (b) they want to do it by pelagian, moralistic preaching of Christ as merely an example. That is not the gospel, and it is not useful for social improvement.

    I’m thinking of everyone from Fosdick to Falwell, all of whom fit your description.

    The true gospel, however, does not return void, but sanctifies (transforms) God’s people. And while that may mean that the gospel causes social improvement, that not the same as saying the gospel is useful for social improvement, because man cannot wield the gospel as a tool to fix this or that social problem. Rather it is a tool (a means) that the Holy Spirit wields to sanctify according to God’s plan.

    I suppose I’m not clear on how something cannot be said to be “useful for” that also “causes.” If soap causes the dirt to come off my skin it is also useful for bathing.

    But I don’t disagree that the true gospel effects sanctification, of course. I’m just skeptical that it looks like what we intuitively think it does. It’s true that the one being sanctified ought not be found with his wife’s neighbor in his hands, but that can be true of the one not being sanctified as well. What actually is a better way to distinguish the one being sanctified from the one not being sanctified is that the former has bread and wine in his hands at least once a week (sorry, Todd) but the latter does not.

  11. RubeRad says:

    I suppose I’m not clear on how something cannot be said to be “useful for” that also “causes.” If soap causes the dirt to come off my skin it is also useful for bathing.

    If I gave you a box and said “this is useful for getting rid of dirt, just get inside and push the button regularly”, and then you said, “hey, I’ve got a spot of dirt on my heel” and got into the box and pushed the button, and came out still with a dirty heel, but a cleaner nose, you might not think the box is so useful.

  12. RubeRad says:

    I’m thinking of everyone from Fosdick to Falwell, all of whom fit your description.

    Then no apologies necessary. To say that The True Gospel causes social improvement has nothing to do with preachers of false gospels.

  13. Zrim says:

    Then no apologies necessary. To say that The True Gospel causes social improvement has nothing to do with preachers of false gospels.

    Rube, I don’t think one can cavalierly dismiss these folks simply because one also wants make the case that the gospel is socially useful but not be associated with certain other traditions. It comes off as a case of Reformed narcissism to say they can’t make the gospel relevant because they’re them, but we can because we’re us. The gospel either has direct bearing on and obvious implications for the cares of this world or it doesn’t. I say it doesn’t (as in “My kingdom is not of this world”), and that rule applies as much to Fosdick and Falwell as it does to Machen and Horton.

  14. RubeRad says:

    one also wants make the case that the gospel is socially useful

    I’m trying as hard as I can to reject “the gospel is socially useful”, and assert instead that “the gospel is effectual, and that has tangible effects on individual lives and thus society”, but obviously you’re not buying that’s any different.

    The gospel either has direct bearing on and obvious implications for the cares of this world or it doesn’t.

    So the gospel has an indirect bearing on, and non-obvious implications for the cares of this world. That doesn’t mean it has no bearing and is invisible.

  15. Zrim says:

    I’m trying as hard as I can to reject “the gospel is socially useful”, and assert instead that “the gospel is effectual, and that has tangible effects on individual lives and thus society”, but obviously you’re not buying that’s any different.

    Well, I thought it was the difference between “the gospel is useful” and “the gospel causes,” between which I see no principled difference. But I agree that the gospel is effectual. I’m disagreeing on what that effect means, or what it looks like, or how it translates into the immediate. Thus…

    So the gospel has an indirect bearing on, and non-obvious implications for the cares of this world. That doesn’t mean it has no bearing and is invisible.

    Right. Soteriology and ecclesiology are intimately related. So what sanctification looks like (i.e. visibility) is primarily church membership, not cleaner streets. I’ve nothing against clean streets, but when I want to know who is being sanctified it is the one clings to the church before it is the one who cleans the streets. And while all those who cling to the church also keep clean the streets, not all those who keep clean the streets cling to the church. Moreover, when those who cling to the church fail to keep clean the streets they still have the church to cling, but what do those who don’t cling and also fail to keep clean the streets have?

  16. todd says:

    Rube,

    Since very few spouses commit adultery in their own neighborhood, vs. workplace, bars, etc… I’m still not sure the presence of genuine Christians changes much, but again we are quibbling.

    As to sanctification involving less sinning, I’m not sure I buy that. I don’t think I sin any less now than when I was first converted. The sins may be a bit different, and I may be quicker to apply the remedy of the gospel, but we are always sinning one way or another. If you are suggesting that conversion lessens sins like theft, adultery, etc… to other more subtle forms of sin, then I’ll give you that generally.

  17. RubeRad says:

    Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, wherein we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.

    What part of that admits of no reduction in sinning? It’s pious and all to say “I don’t think I sin any less now than when I was first converted,” and yes, we remain always in this life justified sinners, and yes our remaining sinfulness is always greater than the sins which sanctification allows us to avoid, but sanctification must include some component of less sinnin!

    Also, even if sanctification reduces outward sin to “more subtle forms of sin”, that causes benefit to society. As a matter of fact, that’s probably all that causes benefit to society. How is society benefitted if I become less covetous (assuming I’m already not stealing)?

  18. todd says:

    Rube,

    Society becoming better is subjective. Many in the South long for the good old pre-war days of southern civility and “Christian society.” Ask a black man if he thinks all those Christians in the South made for a better society. A neighborhood can have a low divorce rate but people not give each other the time of day. Better society ends up meaning – what I personally like and don’t like in society.

  19. Zrim says:

    Rube,

    I don’t think anyone is denying that, in some formal sense, sin takes a less outward and socially damaging form in those being sanctified.

    But the more interesting point, at least to me, is that you have to account for why this also seems to be the case for those not being sanctified. If sanctification equals a good society then it must be that good societies have more sanctification going on than non-sanctification. But, while I’ve never been, I would hazard that Sault Lake City is a pretty nice place to raise kids. How can that be when the three marks are missing from every street corner? (Recall Barnhouse’s maxim that the devil prefers a place where the streets are clean, the children obey and everyone goes to church every Sunday where the gospel isn’t preached.)

    But if Abraham was rebuked for lying about Sarah’s status, it would seem that a good society doesn’t need believers to make it good. It needs believers to get the gospel, which is another thing altogether.

  20. Wayne says:

    My perspective is that sanctification is God’s work in me that causes me to recognize sin in my life to a greater degree than when I first was embraced as His Child. Actions or Attitudes that I didn’t consider “sinful” I now understand as grievous against God. So I may have tackled my temper to a greater or lesser degree these days than when I was in college but it was a roomate who pointed out to me that I had one coupled with the Holy Spirit that caused that change. But it DID change. The only difference is that as I grow in the Knowledge of the Lord, the Holy Spirit exposes more and more of my hidden sins or sins I am committing ignorantly.

    Make Sense?

    As far as the impact on Society or the Culture around me the only thing I can hope for is for God to use me to encourage others to attend my Church so they can hear the Gospel proclaimed and for those people to be converted for the Glory of God. But from a political or cultural perspective my impact will be miniscule as I seek to focus on men’s souls rather than HR 146.3. In the end politics change but the Gospel is constant.

  21. RubeRad says:

    If sanctification equals a good society then it must be that good societies have more sanctification going on than non-sanctification.

    That’s not logically true. “p–>q” being true does not mean that “q–>p” is necessarily true. Yes, Salt Lake is surely a nice society; legalism has its societal benefits as well.

    Wayne, yes, I’m not saying anything different. But just because sanctification exposes more sin doesn’t mean that sanctification doesn’t involve reduction of sin. Any newly-revealed sin does not make your “pile of sin” necessarily larger, especially as those sins have always been in the pile, and you’ve just been ignorant of them.

    from a political or cultural perspective my impact will be miniscule

    Yes, again for like the billionth time, I’m not talking about upheaval, I’m talking about incremental change. But to the extent that the Holy Spirit sanctifies Christians, and in his providence God adds to the church more Christians being sanctified, then the society in which those Christians are a remnant will have somewhat less inter-neighbor conflict.

    So it’s not a deterministic surety: As goes the church, so goes the world. It’s a general pattern: As goes any demographic’s civil behavior, so goes that demographic’s influence on the cumulative civil behavior of the world, which influence is of course roughly commensurate with the relative size of the demographic compared to the whole world.

    But of course, usually when people say “as goes the church,” they’re not talking about corporate sanctification as a result of diligent attendance upon the means of grace; they’re probably talking about how well the church is doing at the misguided goal of getting out there and fixing the world directly. And of course, if you start from the wrong premise, you get the wrong answer.

    But to deny that the church being faithful to its mission will have a positive impact on society, is just silly. It’s just a question of whether “church’s mission” and “impact on society” are defined accurately.

  22. Zrim says:

    Yes, Salt Lake is surely a nice society; legalism has its societal benefits as well.

    Goodness, you’re hard on some folks. But I wondered if you might explain away a good society by suggesting it wasn’t really good at all.

    Yes, again for like the billionth time, I’m not talking about upheaval, I’m talking about incremental change. But to the extent that the Holy Spirit sanctifies Christians, and in his providence God adds to the church more Christians being sanctified, then the society in which those Christians are a remnant will have somewhat less inter-neighbor conflict.

    God does add to, but he also subtracts from the church militant (as in believers die). Unless grace really is stuff that leaks out and believers can pass down their sanctification like they do their money, how can there be a cumulative effect or incremental change? Sanctification starts all over again with each generation.

    But to deny that the church being faithful to its mission will have a positive impact on society, is just silly. It’s just a question of whether “church’s mission” and “impact on society” are defined accurately.

    Again, nobody is denying that believers can be good citizens. But I’d rather say that the health of the family (believing and unbelieving) has a greater impact on society at large than the sanctification of the church. Unlike sanctification, familial health can be said to be passed down.

  23. RubeRad says:

    God does add to, but he also subtracts from the church militant

    That’s why I said, “to the extent that”. So if the number of believers, or their corporate sanctification regresses, then that would result in more sin in society, which would be a bad thing. As goes the church… — it works both ways.

    the health of the family has a greater impact on society at large than the sanctification of the church

    That may well be, so it’s a good thing that in common grace, people love their kids. But among all of the forces positive and negative which contribute to the wellbeing or badbeing of believing and unbelieving families alike, believing families have an added bonus of sanctification…

    And besides, even though sanctification is not passed down literally, family is a God-ordained means of extending the church through the generations. That’s why we baptize babies, that’s why we catechize, etc.

    What we really need to knock this question dead, is to fire Barna and get some surveys showing how members of the invisible church are (according to some statistical measures) less prone to divorce, theft, murder, …

  24. Zrim says:

    Rube,

    But among all of the forces positive and negative which contribute to the wellbeing or badbeing of believing and unbelieving families alike, believing families have an added bonus of sanctification…

    Re the crass talk of “added bonus” on the part of believing families, doesn’t the believing child of unbelieving parents run the risk of breaking the fifth commandment? Maybe you’ll call me again on breaking another rule of logic, but it seems to me that if the believing child suggests to his unbelieving parents that the believing parents next door will always be a step ahead his in contributing to societal well being that this is fairly dishonoring.

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