the weblog of Alan Knox

When Culture Trumps Scripture

Posted by on Dec 22, 2006 in scripture | 9 comments

I know what you’re thinking, but this post is not about postmodernity. I’ve read several books about the postmodern culture, the emerging culture, the post-postmodern culture, etc. One of the things that I recognize is that there are good features of almost every culture, and there are bad features of almost every culture. I say “almost every” because I have not examined every culture. There are good and bad aspects of postmodern culture. There are also good and bad aspects of modern culture.

But, what about “North American Evangelical Church” Culture? Are there both good and bad aspects of this culture?

I would like to offer one example of a negative aspect of “North American Evangelical Church” Culture: using biblical words with non-biblical meanings. The following words are generally used in ways that differ from the biblical meaning: church, worship, service, ministry, minister, deacon, disciple, discipleship, praise, and preach.

So what? Why should we care? We should care because when believers read the words “church” or “service” or “preach” in Scripture, they naturally assume that the common cultural meaning is the biblical meaning. What happens at that point? Scripture is reduced to cultural standards, and those believers who do not take time to understand the biblical meaning, are trapped in a cultural understanding that is nonbiblical (at best) and sometimes anti-biblical.

Certainly there may be other ways that “North American Evangelical Church” Culture trumps Scripture. But this is one that can be corrected, if we begin to use words biblically. Am I way off base here?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 12-22-2006

    Good post Alan!

    This is something we can and need to aim at correcting. I catch myself all the time using words with their cultural meaning rather than their biblical meaning. I beleive correction must start with becoming aware that there are differences in the way we use words. This awareness will only come as we study and disciple others from scripture. Thanks for this challenging post.


  2. 12-22-2006


    I probably don’t need to comment, since you know where I stand on this issue. In my opinion, you are right on. There is always danger when the culture starts to define the Bible. Just look at the Church in history.

    We also should consider the fact that words have a tendency to “evolve” through the ages, so it is only natural that words like “Church” (Έκκλησία) mean something now that is different than 100, 200, 1000, 2000 years ago. As you have already stated the problem creeps in when we apply the definitions of today to the words of yesterday.

    Sometimes I wonder if it would not be better to stop using the words altogether. Instead of translated Έκκλησία as Church, translate it as assembly (or whatever definition you prefer). The problem with this solution is two-fold. Most conservative Christians would flip-out (not that it matters) and it could taint the well. What I mean is, eventually Christian might be calling the building/time/location/etc the assembly (or whatever the word may be). So it could be a never ending cycle.

    Also, I am not sure how we could do this with some of the other words you have listed. The only other solution is what some already currently employ. That is, use the words properly whenever you use them. Let the chips fall where they may – I guess.


  3. 12-22-2006


    Welcome back to my blog! I’ve missed your comments. I think this is something we can help each other with.


    I’ve thought about using different words, and many times I do. Unfortunately, that doesn’t change how others – especially people that I am teaching – read and understand words in Scripture. I suppose all we can do is continue teaching.

    Thank you both for your comments.


  4. 12-22-2006

    Like Lew, I’m not sure I even needed to comment here since I think you know where I’m at already!

    I agree, both with the diagnosis, and with the suggested solutions here. Like you said, Alan, just keep using the words properly and keep teaching.

    This is playing out right now on my blog, as you know from being involved over there.

    I have been starting to realize more and more how many traditions and practices come from wee little portions of verses in the Bible (if from the Bible at all!) and meanwhile, whole chunks of entire passages, and even whole books, seem to be glossed over and ignored.

    Some things that come from bits and pieces of Scripture:

    1. Preach the word = Sunday morning monologue, every week
    2. Study to show yourself approved = make sure you are spending time every day studying the Bible
    3. Your word I have hidden in my heart = memorize Scripture verses, especially ones that are isolated and taken out of context! 😉

    Whole “churches” are built on these principles, yet the principles above, even when taken in proper context, are miniscule compared to the relational aspect of both our life with each other and our life with the Father.

    steve 🙂

  5. 12-22-2006


    It is funny that you mentioned point three. This last semester I was almost stoned in a classroom when I said that the Bible does not tell us to memorize it. Of course the verse you listed was quoted to me. I actually wrote an entry concerning the issue on my blog.


  6. 12-23-2006

    Alan –

    I enjoy reading your blog — came here from Steve’s. You are so right on with this post. The Church in general has virtually no undertanding of what is Biblical and what is man-made tradition. God has been showing me over the past year or so just how much of what I have believed is simply traditions of men – it’s nauseating, really. Thanks for posting this!


  7. 12-23-2006


    Welcome to my blog! I would love to hear your view any time.


  8. 12-23-2006

    My comment above came across a bit differently than I intended it, and I want to clarify.

    After the statement, “This is playing out on my blog…”, please read a complete change in train of thought and emphasis before going on to the three points I made. Those points (and the entire remainder of the comment, actually) were not in any way intended to reflect the conversation on my blog.

    I sincerely apologize to the one who misread this and felt like I was speaking behind his back. I had no intention of doing that in any way, and I feel badly that it came across that way.


  9. 8-10-2011

    I would add elder and pastor to the list, and baptism in many denominations and maybe tongues. And while reading Generous Justice by Tim Keller, I’m discovering that we may not really understand what the word translated righteous truly means either.