Called to Be Where?

An Issue Underlying Much of our Conflict

called to be where

Sometimes, firm believers quarrel with each other. Sometimes, faithful attenders migrate to other churches. And we wonder – why do God’s people, who are called to unity, divide?

The Scriptures are full of beautiful metaphors which illustrate our collective identity as God’s people – to name a few, we’re called a family, a body, and a temple. And these images also clarify how we relate to God, as believers – we are children of One Father, servants of Christ, and a dwelling place for the Spirit (see Gal 3:26, 1 Co 12:27, Eph 2:22, plus more).

Certainly, it is essential for us to know who we are and how we relate to God – and knowing these Biblical images can build good common ground between believers. But there is a whole other issue that can trip us up and divide well-meaning believers. It’s an issue that requires another set of Biblical metaphors to clarify it: How are Christians called to relate to their surrounding culture?

Why can we be focused on worship, fellowship, and discipleship one minute, and get sidetracked by politics the next minute? Why do peripheral issues hijack our conversations? Why can sincere Christians disagree so sharply about where to send their kids to school, how to vote, or what the church’s local and global missions should look like?

I’ve become convinced that our differences really boil down to the way we answer two questions: 

  1. Is our stance toward culture optimistic or pessimistic?
  2. Is our posture toward culture active or passive?

An optimistic stance typically results in a person engaging with the culture around them, while a pessimistic stance results in their withdrawal or separation. Those with an active posture would likely seek to change their culture, while those with a passive posture look for a way to coexist.

Now, one might ask for a definition of culture, but I’ll leave that to other authors. [1]And we could talk about the Kingdom of God – what does Jesus mean when He says the kingdom is like wheat mixed with weeds? (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43).

But for now, if we focus on asking these two questions, our results will produce a chart that I’ve found helpful for understanding others:

Passive (Coexist)Active (Change)
Negative (Withdrawn)SubcultureCounter-culture
Positive (Engaged)CooperationTransformation

Perhaps a chart like this can illustrate why some parents homeschool, and others become public school teachers. Or why Christians divide politically today, as the Jews did in Jesus’s day. Or why different Christians have founded monasteries, started wars, built hospitals, and translated the Bible. I’m tempted to fill in the chart with examples, [2]but I’ll respectfully leave that to the reader, and hope that it leads to some helpful conversations.

As Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “there is a time for everything.” Throughout the Biblical narrative, Christian history and our daily lives, there is a time for God’s people to take refuge, and a time for prophetic confrontation. There is a time for building bridges, and a time to blaze missional trails. All of these cultural responses reflect Christian values in different times and ways.

Yet, I will admit that I do hold one quadrant to be ideal. In light of our call to be Christ’s Ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:14-21), to be “in this world but not of it,” (John 17:15-18) and to “live good lives among the pagans,” (1 Peter 2:11-12), I prayerfully hope for opportunities to be actively engaged with the culture around me. And, to end with one final metaphor, from Jesus:

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14,16 ESV)

tim stewartTim Stewart
Pastor | Parkdale Evangelical Free Church

[1] I’ve personally enjoyed thoughts from Stackhouse, Making the Best of It, Fitch, Faithful Presence, and Crouch, Culture Making on this topic. [2] Which I do at