Yes, we exist in a different time and culture. The New Testament was written 2,000 years ago to a vastly different culture. Does that mean that the bible is irrelevant today? Does God change? For that matter, do people really change? How we live together, what we value, the things that are normal to us and the things that are not acceptable—yes, these change.
For example, place a piece of pie in front of an American, and they will turn the point toward themselves and begin eating from the point to the end crust. That isn’t right or wrong in the grand scheme, but if you don’t eat your pie that way, you will make others around you uncomfortable. They may not even be able to identify why (you are eating your pie “wrong”), but something feels odd about you. Some things in every culture are harmless norms that are learned by absorbing the behaviors of others around us. Some aspects of a culture are harmful and to be faithful, Christians will act/hold values that represent counter cultural challenges to the society around them. For example, while others see no problem with unmarried people engaging in sex, even living together, Christians will not participate and will seem “odd” for not accepting this as normal.
Cultures vary greatly and they all change at varying rates. What makes sense today in Raleigh will change over the next 10, 20, 30 years in various ways. Will we adapt? Should we? For example, going from a small village in Japan to a large city in the U.S. would present a major, instant cultural change. But most of us experience a slowly changing culture. Think, for example, of a U.S. town in the 1950’s. In some ways, it is very different from that same town in the 1970’s and from its culture today in 2019.
Yet, God expects the church to exist in every tribe, kindred and tongue across the centuries. Understanding Supracultural Church Principles (Functions) allows us to adapt and shape our Practices (Forms) in ways that fulfill remain true to God’s word and relevant to any culture, anywhere, anytime. In fact, getting clear on the difference between the unchangeable What and Why of the church helps us examine and adapt our current How, When and Where in the Here and Now where we live.
Confusing the flexible practices and forms with the unchangeable principles and functions leads us into making what should be flexibly adapted into a rigid, sacrosanct fortress that becomes irrelevant over time as the culture around it morphs. We should cling to the purposes and functions, but not to the various forms and practices that we adopt.
In a similar way, forgetting or ignoring the Principles and Functions leads us into a biblically unfaithful church whose Forms and Practices are not shaped by scripture, but by the desire to be friendly and accepted by the current culture.
So it is important to understand what God expects of us when we gather together, and why He expects it. Understanding these will help us faithfully shape what we do, how we do it, when we do it, and where we do it in the here and now of our culture. Doing so will help us evaluate what we are doing and reshape it as needed while remaining faithful to the principles and functions God has provided.
We find these in passages that talk about what the church does when gathered, such as are found in Acts 2:42-46; I Corinthians 11:23-26; 14:23-31; Colossians 4:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:27; Hebrews 10:24-25; and I Peter 4:8-12