The subject of culture is one that in many ways I would suggest that, as Christians, we should not be overly concerned about. And yet, in another sense, it is something that we constantly need to address. If that sounds like a contradiction, let me quickly explain.
The Water We Swim In
First of all, I’ve said that it is something that we must not be overly concerned about. The reason is because culture is a blind spot. It’s something that we normally don’t even think about. Until somebody from another culture comes in, and begins to ask us ‘why do you kneel down? Why do you stand up? Why do you eat like this?” Or “why do you address other people this way?” And then you begin to ask, “oh! Come to think of it, why do I do this this way? Or why do we do this at all?”
Culture is a blind spot. It’s something that we normally don’t even think about.
So, to try and turn everybody into an expert of culture will be equivalent to trying to get fish out of water, to teach the fish about water. And let’s face it, that’s an impossible task. So, in one sense, I would simply say, let’s simply study the Bible, and live out our Christian lives. Let the experts work with issues of culture. In the meantime, let’s worship the Lord. Let us marry, raise our kids and seek to obey the 10 Commandments.
All Cultures Have Sinful Tendencies
But on the other hand, we mustn’t completely turn a blind eye towards culture. Because often, in fact every culture, there are some sinful tendencies. Not only in African culture, in every culture. The reason is simple, all human beings without Christ are fallen creatures. And even those of us who are Christians will soon realise that we still carry with us a fallen nature that feeds into our lifestyle.
We must deliberately seek to belong to God much more than belonging to our culture.
Invariably therefore, every culture has fallen tendencies. Because of that, therefore, as part of our own spiritual growth, we need to let our study of scripture inform us. So that we are deliberately seeking to belong to God much more than belonging to our culture.
So How Should We Behave?
Look with me very quickly at 1 Peter 1:13. Where the Apostle Peter says “therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” In other words, at the end. Then he says “as obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance.” In other words, there was a lifestyle that was there before you were converted. Don’t conform to it anymore.
What should you do instead? Well he says there, “but as he who called you is holy…” In other words, set apart from everything else, “…you also be holy in your conduct. Since it is written, you shall be holy for I am holy.” The point that is being made there is that there must be a deliberateness, on the part of those of us who are Christians, to make sure that in every area of life we are distinctly a people that belong to God. That His word pervades every aspect of our lives.
What About When Our Faith and Culture Clash?
And where we find something in our culture that is on a head on collision with scripture, we know exactly which side we will take. We will take the side of scripture. No matter the cost. Because we belong to God.
We know exactly which side we will take. We will take the side of scripture. No matter the cost. Because we belong to God.
In fact, the Apostle Peter speaks about this a little further. Listen to this. He says in verse 17, still 1 Peter 1. “And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing…” And here’s the point, “…that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”
In other words, as you are continuing, every so often you find this clash between the clear teaching of scripture and what is being imposed on you in the cultural context. It’s important for you to realise, culture never paid for your place in heaven. Jesus did with His own blood.
Christ, Not Culture, Will Save Us
So, in that moment, when pressure has been brought upon you, you make it very clear. You will not betray Him who has paid His precious blood to get you to heaven. So, in that sense, you will have to go counter culture because you are a Christian.
You will not betray Him who has paid His precious blood to get you to heaven
So that’s the balance to maintain. Live out your life. You are in Africa; you are a fish in water. Just continue being a fish in water! But, in those moments when it becomes clear that the waters are getting murky – they are smelling like sewer waters – you have to realise I belong to Christ. I must stand up for Him. And, in that way, we have again a very clear mandate to be holy as God Himself is holy.