What if the biggest threats to the church weren’t the things we thought they were? What if the very foundation of our country’s culture actually resembles the culture of our churches? We may find that we’ve been blind to more subtle and subversive cultural sins that are having a greater impact on the church than the issues that consume us.
Here are just five overlooked cultural sins that are contrary to the Kingdom and are sinful within the Kingdom, unknowingly supported by many of us.
1. Competition is one of the cultural sins.
Competition pits people against people; it’s the nature of competition. Someone must lose in order for someone to win. The very act of competition requires the subjugation of some for the success of one. We celebrate with UConn for beating UK in the National Championship last night, proving themselves better than every other college basketball team in the country. Companies compete ferociously for consumer dollars, hoping to gain greater market share than their competition. Sporting franchises rely on their team’s success over the competition to grow the franchise, unless you’re the Cubs, which must be the world’s only exception. Colleges look at ratings and rankings as indicators of their success over the competition, using them as public bragging rights for self-promotion. Politicians spend millions to learn what to say in their campaigns to beat their opponents, and job applicants put their best food forward, hoping to beat out other applicants for the right job.
Competition is not a Kingdom value. In a Kingdom where all are equally valued, loved and included, where all are priests (not a select few) and where self-sacrifice is the measure of one’s life, competition is a toxic and destructive force. The Kingdom ethic is diametrically opposed to competition. How else can we understand ethical implorations such as, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, consider others better than yourselves,” (Philippians 2:3) and, “Do to others as you would have them do to you,” (Luke 6:31) if not as contradictory to the basic intent of competition? This is the offense of the gospel upon the world.
Churches are not immune to this. They too can fall into the competitive trap of comparing themselves to other churches, viewing them as competitors to outperform and outdo. Pastors can find themselves wrought by professional envy, working hard to have greater successes than other pastors, to lead a successful, growing ministry that will be the envy of others. Members find themselves in professional careers that rely on aggressive competition and fail to ever challenge the damage and harm this causes people, let alone their own witness. Yes, we too can succumb to the brokenness of competition.
2. Celebrity is one of the cultural sins.
Celebrities are American cultural staples. The Grammy Awards draw millions of viewers to celebrate the best of the celebrities. Teenage girls flock to see One Direction, hoping for an autograph. Older adults are enamored by favorite politicians, authors, statesmen, who they’d bend over backward to see. We relish the chance to meet a famous person for many reasons. It may make us feel significant, it may give us a connection to someone great and a bragging right for years to come, or it may simply give us pleasure.
The concept of celebrity and fame is completely absent from the Kingdom. There is one Famous One in the Kingdom, Jesus Christ. The social pecking order of Jesus’ day was entirely dismantled when he disclosed his identity to the world. There were and are none like him. He is so incomparable to the celebrities we celebrate today that to offer a comparison is an affront to his majesty.
It’s surprising then that much ado is made of human celebrities by Kingdom citizens. More surprising is it to see the draw in the Kingdom of Christian celebrities: men, women, pastors, speakers, authors, who have reached the relative heights of stardom in the Christian faith and are worshipped as demigods in their own right. Yes, the creep of the culture makes its way into our openness to fame, often sending mixed messages by a people who claim to have one Lord.