If someone asked what you were doing as you surfed the web, you probably wouldn't say, "Oh, I'm being discipled." You probably wouldn't say you were "receiving moral instruction" while you watched last week's primetime lineup. And it's highly unlikely you'd say you were heading to a political rally to learn how to navigate the moral questions facing humanity.
Yet, for many of us, that's exactly what happens each time we ingest pop culture, media, and the latest celebrity goings-on.
It seems as though plenty of Americans receive their moral compass not from a set of established beliefs or philosophy, or even majority rule. It seems as though the average American's moral compass is tied to the cultural winds—as if pop culture, politics, or celebrities were the ultimate moral arbiter.
Unfortunately, Christians aren't immune to this phenomenon. In churches throughout the country, you'll find average believers, church leaders, and pastors whose morals and values are formed by the external culture rather than their Bible. Christians have too often become a people whose discipleship depends more on the political Right than on righteousness, more on the gospel of social causes than on social causes driven by the gospel, and more on People than Proverbs.
If you're an average American Christian, you know how easy it is to let your values be formed by culture rather than your faith. So how does a believer escape that trap—and how can you avoid it in the future?
Morality … or Conviction?
There are at least two ways Christians can let popular culture, instead of Scripture, disciple them. The more obvious way is to throw out the exhortations of the gospel, the calling of God's kingdom, in favor of a culturally acceptable version of faith. But there can also be a flipside. Christians can also equate their learned-from-culture convictions with the Christian gospel, when they are no such thing.
This happens all the time. The most obvious example is in our political system. How many times recently have you heard politicians from both parties claim to be better representing God than the other party? There's a "Christian health care plan," a "Christian budget," a "Christian foreign policy," and a "Christian response" to everything. But Christians in both parties can sometimes forget a very simple fact: no political allegiance has a monopoly on the Bible.
This kind of attitude can extend to other cultural convictions as well. Christians immersed in a particular culture can assume that their cultural interpretation of Scripture is "what the Bible says." But sometimes that's not the case—Christians around the world can bring very different experiences and perspectives to a passage of Scripture. For instance, some Christians (particularly in the United States) believe that people of faith ought not to drink alcohol. Yet in much of the world, it's not only acceptable for Christians to imbibe, it's not strange to see alcoholic beverages served at a church function. Such convictions shouldn't be confused with the teachings of Scripture, which clearly contains examples of saints imbibing along with vehement encouragement to avoid drunkenness and causing another believer to sin.
It's important for Christians of all persuasions to remember that the Bible gives us a wide range of ways to respond to many things. That's a not a relativistic stance—there are many "non-negotiable" aspects of the Christian faith. But there are many more areas where Christians can, in good conscience, disagree. It's an important part in the life of any Christian to determine whether or not their opinion is guided more by Scripture or by culture. It's not necessarily bad for a conviction to come out of a cultural understanding—but it's important to recognize that those convictions are not the same as scriptural values.