The primary purpose of the local church is to preach the Gospel, make disciples and equip its members to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ in the present age.
As one theologian has explained it, “Ultimately, a right ecclesiology touches on God’s glory itself. The Church is not only an institution founded by Christ; it is also His body. In it is reflected God’s own glory.”
Or, put more concisely, the local church is the “Gospel made visible.”
It is crucial to ground this conversation about how the local church can and should work to change the culture in a proper understanding of the primary mission of the universal Church; that is, the marching orders delivered by its founder, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Church is not (and should never be) a partisan social club. It is not (and should never be) reduced to something like a Christian political rally.
At the same time, as Christians, we must be clear-eyed and honest about the political ramifications and implications of the Gospel message. The most “political” statement in all the universe is the declaration that “Christ is Lord.”
And Christ is the Lord of all, not just your heart. He’s not just a “personal Lord and Savior” — He is a public Lord and Savior too. In light of this reality, we must admit that the Christian answer to societal and political issues can’t be to “just preach the Gospel.” In recent years, that’s what many Bible-believing Christians and pastors often said in response to the social justice warriors and woke shock troops who tried to co-opt the message of Christ for their own misguided and Marxist culture-changing efforts. Pastor Nate Schlomann provided helpful clarification, explaining,
“Many of the evangelical skirmishes we’re having right now can be tied to the reality that ‘just preach the Gospel’ was never a sufficient answer to justice questions. God wrote a book … We need real answers to questions about how to best live and glorify God in this life. Moreover, our sons and daughters want real answers to these questions. Discipleship is about *all* that Jesus commanded — all 66 books.”
So how can churches work to be “salt and light” (Matthew 5:13-16) in the broader culture? Here are two biblically-sound ways churches can work to change the culture in obedience to the “two greatest commandments” — love for God and for their neighbors (Matthew 22:36-40).
Properly exposit Scripture to reveal God’s character
The first step in creating culture-changing Christians is to make Christians more Christ-like. How does that happen? Through the regular and faithful preaching of God’s Word, the Bible. We are told that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
But in order to access these life-changing, culture-changing, and powerful truths, the pastor must preach God’s Word when the church gathers — and not his own opinions.
In order to do this, churches should use what is known as “exegetical” or “expository” preaching. To “exposit” means to “clarify the meaning of” and to provide commentary on an underlying text.
This kind of preaching occurs when a pastor takes a portion of Scripture and tethers his sermon to the text, letting God’s Word control the substance and implications of the message.
This is how John MacArthur preaches, for example. According to The MacArthur Center for Expository Preaching,
“John MacArthur’s philosophy of preaching is inextricably linked to his conviction that ‘The only logical response to inerrant Scripture ... is to preach it expositionally. By expositionally, [he means] preaching in such a way that the meaning of the Bible passage is presented entirely and exactly as it was intended by God.’ He defines expository preaching as ‘the proclamation of the truth of God as mediated through the preacher.’”
If a church offers this kind of preaching, the congregation will learn more and more about the character of God — what He approves of, what He loves, what He hates, and what He wants from us as His creatures and worshippers.
If the Church is going to change the culture in a positive sense, it must first know what it is aiming for. That target should be a world that more fully and accurately reflects the character of God. How can we know what that looks like? By sitting under sound expositional preaching.
Properly apply Scripture to encourage Christians to take action
Just as James declared that “faith without works is dead,” it’s not enough to learn about God’s character from good preaching; we must then apply what we learn in every area of our lives.
If churches want to help change the culture, they must apply God’s Word to all of life. Pastors should never hesitate to speak where God speaks on the issues of abortion, sexual ethics, immigration, idol worship, etc.
It’s not “political” for a church to rightly apply Psalm 139:14 (“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made”) to the present fight to abolish abortion in America and exhort its members to never vote for pro-abortion politicians and to volunteer at crisis pregnancy centers.
There are countless examples of ways that the Bible must be rightly applied — from voting to political activism to public policy debates, etc. But the general point is this: If a local church wants to change the culture — and it should — it must practically and unapologetically apply God’s Word to our lives, not just on Sunday but Monday through Saturday as well.
Cultural change comes when we apply “all of Christ for all of life.” That begins with proper exposition, followed by proper application. If every local church did this well, and if God granted us revival here in America, no doubt that change would come sooner than any of us could ever hope or pray for.
Originally published at the Standing for Freedom Center.
William Wolfe is a visiting fellow with the Center for Renewing America. He served as a senior official in the Trump administration, both as a deputy assistant secretary of defense at the Pentagon and a director of legislative affairs at the State Department. Prior to his service in the administration, Wolfe worked for Heritage Action for America, and as a congressional staffer for three different members of Congress, including the former Rep. Dave Brat. He has a B.A. in history from Covenant College, and is finishing his Masters of Divinity at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Follow William on Twitter at @William_E_Wolfe