Being afraid of an ever-changing culture
In the last article of this series, we talked about godly “fear.” Fearing God is not (or should not) be the same as being afraid of God. That is not to say that God doesn’t perform justice, that God isn’t all powerful, or that God hasn’t shown anger. What it does mean is that God doesn’t desire for us to be afraid of Him, but to fear Him (Ex. 20:20). He wants us to be in genuine awe of Him. Why? Is he egotistical? No! He wants us to be in awe of Him so that both we and the world will learn to trust His wisdom and power above our own. So, when we look back to the stories of old, we don’t have to be afraid of a never-changing God. In this article, I want to talk about being afraid of an ever-changing culture.
No matter where you go, you will find traditions. Social, religious, familiar, political, and occupational traditions are an almost certain element of every culture’s foundation. Sometimes these traditions come in the form of festivals, sometimes in the form of dress, and even in the way we speak in certain contexts. Go around the world, and in each country and in every time period you will find different traditions.
Likewise, throughout various cultures and time periods, one will find different technologies. Technology in its simplest form just means tool or instrument. The tools each time period and each culture used/uses for communication, work, play, religious rituals, etc., are all different forms of technology. Each culture has instruments to be used in work, war, worship, play, and peace.
When one mixes people with technology and tradition, one experiences a specific culture. At the core, all of us are the same. We are imperfect humans who desire love and restoration. But when we examine ourselves (and others) we observe that humanity is complex, to say the very least. Anywhere, at any time, there is a culture and that culture changes with its traditions and its technology. And when the culture changes, the people change. And when people change, their worldview and values change as well.
In the USA, there is a very diverse and vague culture. This is due to integration. Several cultural backgrounds, with their technology and tradition, moved to one place and made a sometimes confusing atmosphere. Nobody wants to offend anyone else because if they steal someone’s freedom, it won’t be long until their own freedom is stolen. It is against the cultural norm to really have an objective view about anything. This is called relativism. In this type of culture, nothing is considered absolute. Everything is subjective (post-modernism).
Roughly 100 years ago, in the USA, we had the opposite problem. Sure, there was still a good bit of cultural fusion. However, in the modernist society, there was absolute truth according to the culture’s leaders and influencers. You can have your traditions, but if you go against what the “big guys” thought the standard should be you were labeled a heretic in religion, a liberal in politics, and you were beaten and mistreated in other areas of discourse. Blacks and homosexuals were abused without a second thought in a lot of towns across America. If you asked the “second-class citizens” if those days were so “great” they would probably have something awful (but true) to say. No culture has been or ever will be perfect. No matter the tradition, no matter the technology, no matter the time, no matter the place, and no matter the people. Perfection is not a possibility when humanity is involved.
Today is most certainly no exception. Even our precious America is flawed with the extremes of inconsistent relativism and the injustice of radical modernism. Obviously, this first-world, westernized society is not a Christian nation. At least it is not the type of Christianity of which the Bible speaks. But does that necessarily have to be a bad thing? Shouldn’t that be all the more reason to have excitement in our sharing of the Gospel? I think it should influence our zeal for evangelism! These are the times where God shows up! Should we be afraid of our culture? This culture and its ever-changing worldview, should it provoke us to hide? God forbid! I would like to make the case that we are to engage the culture, not the sin. Love the people, not necessarily their worldview. Have compassion, without jeopardizing truth. Throughout history, both in the old and new testaments, the Bible teaches that God almost always desired for His children to invest in the people of every culture, not to run from them! Let us examine what Scripture teaches and see what we can apply to our own understanding.
God and Culture Throughout History-
Roughly 700 years before Moses wrote the Torah (first five books of the Bible) there is a recording of something from Sumer called the Epic of Gilgamesh. The poem includes a creation story very similar to the one Moses gave almost a millennium later. However, it does have some subtle differences. In this culture, they believed that angry gods created the world and all that is in it from chaos, and through their anger and impatience they ended up killing humanity in a flood because mankind was too loud. Their gods came from chaos and created more chaos. But the story Moses told brought the world from being void to having order, from separation to fulfillment, and from injustice to justice.
Not many years after this there is evidence that there was an Egyptian pharaoh named Akhenaten who believed himself to be the son of the sun god. However, his character was nothing like the alleged character of the sun god. He used this phrase, “son of god” to demand selfish gain from his people. Later, we gain the TRUE son of God.
Around 1800 years before Christ there was an earthquake on the island of Crete that was most likely caused by an erupted volcano miles away. In the 1970s there was a husband-wife team of archeologists who found a Minoan temple that was destroyed by said earthquake. In the temple was a corridor, a room full of dried grains, a room with an idol, and a room with an altar. The room with an idol had grain and dried blood around it. The corridor had a skeleton and a pot with dried blood in it. And the alter room had a young woman’s skeleton, a priest’s skeleton (with jewelry still on his wrist and around his neck), and a skeleton on the alter. Almost all of the skeletons were killed either by being crushed or by fires caused by the earthquake. However, one of the skeletons, the one on the alter, appeared to have been killed before the earthquake. Evidence suggested that his blood had been drained. It seemed as if the priest performed the child sacrifice and then, immediately after, the suspects were killed in the earthquake. But in this same exact time period, Abraham was told by God to sacrifice his son. It was a test, but a test to show what? To show that He would provide if Abraham trusted in Him. He would not require something as cruel as child sacrifice from His followers.
In these three examples throughout history, there is one common thread. God is not like these other so-called gods. He brings order, justice, and love. He does not wish to oppress but to set free. He longs for us to share an image with Him, not to have a godless character for ourselves. He wants to provide our needs and make the ultimate sacrifices; He doesn’t wish that on us. Even in history, we see that God used the culture of the time to show His uniqueness, He didn’t hide from their stories, traditions, and technology. He used them to His glory!
God and Culture in the Bible-
In both the old and new testaments there are various examples of individuals using and embracing certain cultures to “become all things to all men.” God used Joseph, who interpreted dreams of the Egyptian leaders. Joseph became a leader himself even though he was technically an outsider. Daniel was the right-hand-man of the very king who was holding Judah captive. God allowed him to gain favor in the eyes of their leaders. Jonah thought that God was a “located” god like all the other nations thought about their gods. Because of this, he tried to run away. Furthermore, God used him to save a pagan nation. The cross was a sign of helplessness and death, but God used culture to preach the good news. He made a sign of death become a sign of life. Jesus told the Jews to pay taxes even to a pagan empire who used that money for awful things. Paul tells the Christian to be willing to embrace the traditions and convictions of various cultures so long as they don’t go against God’s teaching. He also used poets and prophets of pagans in his sermons and embraced the truth and traditions that were good in their culture.
Traditions aren’t necessarily bad. Customs should be embraced because they are a part of the individual you are trying to reach. Neither are “things” bad in and of themselves. In Genesis 1 God says that everything He made was good. In Romans 14 Paul says by inspiration of the Spirit that nothing is unclean in and of itself. Technologies aren’t necessarily bad. Culture should be embraced, not something that we run from! One’s culture, with its technologies and traditions, are never to dictate one’s relationship with God and His people. Only love should determine our relationships!
I am reminded of two stories I heard from a preacher I enjoy. The first was about a church plant he started. Naturally, when one plants a church, and it starts to grow there will be people who come who don’t fit the “cookie-cutter” image of westernized Christianity. One day, this church gained a brother who smoked inside the new building. The next thing you know, he invites tons of friends, and they smoke as well. They are good and active people, but they are stinking up the place! People complained, so the preacher made a smoke room for them and asked them to smoke only in this room. They didn’t mind at all. They were more than willing to compromise. But that wasn’t good enough for the “cookie-cutters.” They said that if the newbies don’t stop smoking that they are leaving the congregation and pulling their financial support of the church. These smokers are babes in Christ and are in a new and sensitive state. Should the preacher risk the allegedly “weaker” brothers and sisters for a family who is “strong” and will find somewhere else where THEY can fit in a matter of days? The preacher chose to let the smokers stay. Later, he needed a guy to run their sound system, and instead of getting a member to do it he got his atheist friend to do it. A lot of people didn’t like that. The atheist would sit there during church, he would go on mission trips, and he would participate in meals. But eventually, the atheist became a Christian.
Should we harm our bodies? Not on purpose! Should we become atheists or act like they are Christians? No! But we MUST show everyone love and meet them where they are. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5 that God will judge the world. He commands us not to judge them. We can judge in the sense that we discern right from wrong. But when it comes to association, individualistic condemnation, and love, the judging belongs to God. Titus 3 reminds the Christians that we too were once in the world, and, therefore, should be sensitive to nonbelievers. Preach the Gospel with your life. Season your words in love (Col. 4:5-6). Embrace the culture because the culture is made up of people who need God’s embrace.
I remember when I was 21 I was asked to play music in a bar. I refused because I was afraid people would get the wrong idea about me and I would cause someone to stumble. After all, “have no appearance of evil.” But then I realized what 1 Thessalonians was actually talking about. It really reads, “abstain from every form of evil.” Jesus “appeared” evil at times to the religious rulers. When they scolded Him for trying to embrace these people He simply said, “judge not by appearance, but judge rightly.” Jesus left perfect heaven and came to this corrupt and hateful world. Not only that, but while He was here, He spent time with thieves, sinners, drunks, and prostitutes. Love means do. Love means care. Love means invest. Love is without fear. Don’t be afraid of an ever-changing culture, but trust in a never-changing God! – Jesse