We often equate the testing of boundaries with the acts of deviant children.
“My child is testing the boundaries to see if he will get disciplined.”
“She is pushing her boundaries, and I will not stand for that!”
And, yes, whenever such actions and thoughts push against divinely-established parameters (e.g., in the home, church, society), then rebuke, discipline, correction, and repentance are necessary. The Kingdom Ethic has permanently set lines of demarcation on many matters, with no trespassing allowed.
But, is it ever appropriate to question cultural boundaries not set in God’s Word? Most of us would say yes. We have divine liberty to ask such questions. Yet, most of us fail to venture into that domain with questions.
At least two reasons: 1) church culture is a powerful force that resists systemic shifts; and 2) we are too focused on what is happening within the boundaries, partially because of reason number one.
A Stay-in-the-Box Force
Much of the last forty years of North American Evangelicalism has consisted of a great deal of attempting to do a better job of being the Church within a box whose boundaries have been long-established by a conservative, evangelical, subculture. There is much good here and much good has been accomplished for the Kingdom. I not knocking this reality, just stating the fact. I am thankful and delighted to be here, and be here by conviction.
However, our question over the years has been, “How can we do a better job within the box when it comes to being a disciple and making disciples?” And so we aggressively evaluate our methods and travel back-and-forth from conference-to-conference, always looking for a model to show us how to do it better within the box. This is a good thing. . . to a point.
But, what if part of the problem to which we ache for answers is not found within the box, but actually with the boundaries of the box? What if our culturally-preferred parameters have been assumed for so long–allowing for the development of an entire Christian worldview about discipleship and church–that we have equated them with biblical prescriptions? Have we equated long-standing, cherished traditions, structures and systems, paradigms, and folkways as eternal truth rather than blessings divinely intended to exist for a season of Kingdom advancement?
As I have written elsewhere, it is important to understand our boxes. It is important to be faithful stewards with that which is within our boxes. And to my pastor friends…we have a Jesus-given mandate to know our boxes, and know them well (Acts 20:28).
Another Level of Questioning
The wise Kingdom steward should always be questioning the contents of the box in order to do a better job equipping the saints and making disciples. However, the Kingdom Ethic demands another level of questioning, one that makes inquiries about the actual borders of the box itself. It is difficult to ask such questions; the gravity of Church culture provides comfort and complacency and resists anything that would threaten such stability.
When Cultural Boundaries Become Sacred
When culturally-defined boundaries become sacred, no one dares to question the boundaries. To do so is tantamount to questioning God.
And once the Church reaches this point, She has moved from the realm of contextualization to accommodation to a Church culture (which oftentimes has accommodated to a secular culture).
While much as been written about the need to avoid accommodating to the secular culture, little is being said among evangelicals about the need to ask the question: “Are the boundaries in our Christian subculture defined more by the subculture and less by the Bible?”
(I think David Platt’s Radical is an example of challenging the boundaries–and we all know how the Lord has been using that work to lead us to a healthy questioning.)
Kingdom stewardship includes two questions: 1) How can we engage in more faithful Kingdom service within the box; and 2) Are the culturally-preferred parameters of the box hindering us from more faithful Kingdom service?
We have mastered the first question; we were never told there was a second question.
There is a second question.
In the irony of the Kingdom, it is by asking the second question that we we become better stewards with the first.
Know the Bible. Know your box. Start questioning the boundaries of your box. God is worthy of such questioning. The Church’s sanctification is a stake. And four billion people walk in great darkness.
(Image Credit: Microsoft Office)