Summary: A Sermon for Christ the King Sunday, Series B. Preached 11/30/2003 at Beaver Creek Lutheran Mission, Forest City, Iowa
One of the longest running debates in the history of Christianity, and one that is probably just as hot today as it was in the days of Jesus, is the debate of Christ and Culture. So much so, it was actually the title of a book on the subject written by theologian Richard Neibuhr and was a required text to read as part of my pre ministerial studies at Concordia University, St. Paul. In a lot of ways, you can say that many of the debates within Christianity today somehow boil down to Christ and Culture. Essentially, the debate is something like this. Do we as Christians accommodate the culture we live in, change what we do, how we act, what we say, in order to “fit in” or fit with the times in which we live, or do we seek to transform our culture, bringing it to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, in order for Him to make it a new creation? That is a question that has plagued Christianity for centuries and is just as hotly debated today as it was centuries ago.
This debate really seems fitting to examine on this day, the Last Sunday of the Church Year, which many often refer to as Christ the King Sunday. Think about that title for a moment. Christ the King. At first you may not think too much about it, other than perhaps think of a favorite Christian song, or our opening hymn I chose for this morning “Crown Him with Many Crowns”. Others might think of this phrase as being a nice name for your church. My aunt and uncle in Spencer once belonged to a Christ the King Lutheran Church. I’ve also worshipped at a church named King of Kings Lutheran Church in Minnesota. I’ve also heard the name King of Grace used for a Lutheran church. I am sure you can think of some other ones along those lines, and they seem like original names that will stick with you, which may be part of the reason why they chose to name their congregation that. But let’s look at the name Christ the King as not just theme for a nice hymn or as a name that catches the eye on a church sign. That title brings us into conflict with our culture. We don’t live under the rule of a king; in fact, we’re often led to believe that a monarchy is a bad thing. Our culture tells us that a king is a tyrant, they should be overthrown, and democracy is the right way to go. Our culture tells us the only person we should serve is not a king, but ourselves and what’s best for us in this place and time. Or at least what we see to be in our own best interests, forgetting about anyone else. Although our language and culture holds high the idea of democracy and freedom, the practical application ends up being everyone is a king or queen of his or her domain. How better is this demonstrated by the old phrase “A man’s home is his castle.” Or in many households that the kitchen is often times someone else’s domain?
With this mindset, our culture demands that we as Christians accommodate our faith to the culture’s world view. It would look at us celebrating Christ the King as something horrible! Our culture would tell us to forget all this silly nonsense about kings, and who your Lord is, that kind of stuff went out with feudalism and we don’t live in the middle ages anymore, this is the 21st century! The culture will try to tell us how we can talk about Jesus. Culture tells us its okay to talk about what a friend we have in Jesus, you can talk about him as Savior, and as the Good Shepherd. Those are nice, warm, fuzzy images of Jesus, and put him at our level and don’t threaten the culture. Honesty compels me to report that yes, it is true, Jesus is your Savior, Jesus is the Good Shepherd who searches for the lost sheep, and Jesus is an amazing friend. Honesty also compels me to report that many churches out there today will speak of Jesus in these culture friendly terms and simply leave it at that. And why do they do this? They want to be at peace with our culture, and they don’t want to make waves or upset anybody. They willingly bend to culture’s demands to not talk about Jesus as a King or Jesus as Lord, because that language offends people. It offends people because us having to be a slave or servant for anyone is pretty much slavery! We agreed slavery isn’t good, isn’t that why we fought the Civil War in this country? No one today would say that it’s good to be slave to anything or anyone! It also offends people because in our culture’s view of freedom, anything goes. You’re the king, you’re the queen, you make the rules! That means whatever you want for your life, is fine. Jesus can then be presented as equal to other false gods and religions. I have even spoken with some pastors who have gone on record as saying “I don’t talk to people about Jesus being THE WAY to heaven, but I present Jesus as A WAY to heaven, because our culture doesn’t allow for us to talk that way.” That, my friends, is how our culture wants it. A King in the culture’s view, enslaves us, a friend lets us do whatever we want and have freedom.