The Culture Wars
Is There A Biblcal Culture That Should Be the Pattern for Our Ministries?
About 15 years ago two government representatives showed up at our church to conduct a survey, asking how many different nationalities/ethnic groups we had in our church. What interest the government of that time had in such statistics seemed strange; but when I told them I didn't know because we never counted them all, they asked me to estimate how many right there and then for their survey. I counted 23 off the top of my head, but probably missed a few by not writing them all down. Now, 15 years later, we probably have half or less of that number; but we are still an ever-broadening multicultural church, as we have been throughout the 75-year history of our church. The question, however, is how local church ministries are shaped by the cultures of their communities and the world. Perhaps the greater question is how should our local church ministries be impacted by culture, if at all?
For our purposes here, let us define culture as a set of shared attitudes, values, mores, practices, foods, even goals that characterize any institution, organization or identifiable group of people. Of all the unifying elements in a culture, language is the most significant distinction between cultures and the most significant bond between those within a cultural group. The marks of any culture have been collected over time and have evolved along the lines of what pleases people. Where cultures have had some history in or relationship with Judeo-Christian principles, culture was not so much a concern for our churches; but as equal respect for all cultures became a priority in our "melting pot"society and as non-Christian and anti-Christian cultures were brought into our nation, we face a growing conflict that demonstrates the inroads made by politically correct multiculturalism in our churches.
For example, if you were to ask a church member if they see themselves as a Lilliputian who happens to be a Christian, or as a Christian, who happens to also be a Lilliputian, what answer do you think you would receive from all your members? You might be surprised, depending upon how important their earthly culture is in how they think of themselves. We have had former members frankly admit that the preaching was far better in our church than the church from which they came, yet they were returning to their former church because they missed the music and the culture. They left not because they were uncomfortable in a multicultural church, nor because they felt unwelcome or unaccepted, but because culture was a higher priority than their own spiritual growth.
Are we dismissing culture altogether here? Not really, but we must guard our ministries against the overthrow of Biblical culture by the cultures of men. First, we must ask if we recognize that there is a Biblical Culture. Doesn't the Bible prescribe a set of attitudes, values, mores, practices and even language that conflict with those of manmade cultures; and if so, must we not agree that whatever culture we have acquired by the accident of birth must be subservient to the culture we have acquired through the new birth? In fact, shouldn't the elements of manmade culture always be filtered through Biblical principles and culture before we embrace any of their tenets as worthy of consideration? How we respond to such questions will determine the future of our churches and ministries profoundly.
The development of civilizations and cultures can be traced throughout the Bible; but the evidence is clear that, apart from Biblical principles, inspired by God, not Man, culture is not the answer to man's needs. In fact, it has always fallen short because it is the wisdom of Men, not the wisdom of God. The civilization of Cain's descendants in Genesis 4 is replete with building cities, gathering people together, developing skills and trades, and even music and musical instruments as a part of its culture; but the absence of the worship of God with it suggests they deemed it unnecessary to their progress, much like our present circumstances. Likewise, the time of the Judges reveals a culture apart from God, where the prevailing refrain was "..every man did that which was right in his own eyes." The cultures of the heathen nations surrounding Israel repeatedly drew them away from devoted service to Jehovah God. In the New Testament, we find similar references like Paul made to Cretians in Titus 1:12, who were known for their dishonesty; and in Philippians 3 he turns his back completely on his heritage and culture as a Pharisee to embrace Jesus Christ. Furthermore, Paul's teachings in Ephesians 5 regarding the honor of wives by their husbands militated against the poor treatment of women common in that part of the world in the first century. Surely Paul's testimony in such passages ought to erase any question in our minds about the corrupt nature of human culture and the infinite superiority of a culture consistent with Biblical principles.
It should also make us cautious about the employment of worldly methods to achieve the purposes of the Lord's work. An honest assessment of the Madison Avenue methods and worldly styles of music will reveal concessions made to a culture that does not spring from Scripture. Having opened the door ever so slightly to appeal to people on their own cultural terms, how can we then stem the tide of other cultural issues such as social drinking, dancing, gambling, profanity, promiscuity, if they are also recognized and accepted parts of cultures present in our communities? Whereas many of us have relegated multiculturalism to be something only found outside the Church, the truth is that we have already been promoting it under the cloak of other terms like "Contemporary" and "Progressive"within the Church context for the last 50 years, if not more.
It is high time to awake out of sleep when we are confronted by some of the most serious challenges to our Judeo-Christian heritage and culture that we have ever seen. One of the major challenges to our Judeo-Christian heritage and culture came years ago from our own federal government. In 1965, Lyndon Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act which dramatically changed the demographics and culture of America for the foreseeable future. Promoted by Senator Edward Kennedy, it changed the immigration quotas to significantly reduce acceptance of European immigrants in favor of immigrants from other parts of the world. Other parts of the world that either lack any Judeo-Christian history or in the last 200 hundred years have had a non-Biblical religious totalitarianism imposed upon them in the name of Christianity, such as Romanism. What our nation has been, historically, owes a great deal to our founding fathers whose Biblical principles were developed in those European nations until intolerance of Biblical truth caused them to be driven out and across the sea to America. The generations that have come to America since their time gladly conformed to the existing language and culture they found here, until the social engineers in Washington invented the dogma of multiculturalism.
The impact of the changes introduced has brought notable differences in our culture and society. To name a few in the broader context of national affairs: Courts that wish to consult foreign law when making decisions for American citizens; government officials who want to incorporate Sharia Law into our system of jurisprudence, including the question being debated of whether a father can kill his daughter who apostasizes from Islam, here in America. The impact of these changes upon our jurisprudence and society, however, cannot help but bring serious challenges closer to home, into our local churches, where we are expected to accept concepts and practices long commonplace in foreign cultures such as: proving a woman can bear children before a man will marry her; toleration/acceptance of spousal physical and mental abuse; living together being accepted on par with marriage; the normalizing of dishonesty and theft, etcetera. What we are witnessing is the systematic dismantling of a culture that made America great and its replacement by others that profoundly reject our Judeo-Christian heritage.
The abandonment of Biblical principles has already produced a society that has become profoundly hedonistic, uncontrollably violent, crude, coarse and profane in its language and idolizes the godless, feeds on rebellion and glories in dishonesty. The conflicts that exist between Biblical culture and all other cultures cannot be ignored, nor glossed over as unimportant to our churches. If we fail to draw the distinctions necessary, our people will not understand the issue and expect their worldly cultures to hold equal authority with the Word of God. It will also have a blunting effect upon our fulfillment of the great Commission. One of the most successful ways to marginalize Biblical Christianity, since the 1960's, is to identify it exclusively with one ethnic or racial stereotype. While history demonstrates otherwise, this false claim has done more to advance the cults and Islam, while simultaneously undermining Biblical Christianity among those for whom cultural identity has become more important than Truth. It also explains why American history, particularly our spiritual history, cannot be taught in public education at any level, because the undermining of Biblical Christianity is the product of design, not ignorance or accident. The result has been the elevation of culture over religious preferences and practices, regardless of Biblical principles and the advocation of a cafeteria-style selection of churches and religious practices by our society, according to cultural tastes. Our people are becoming Lilliputians who feel more compelled to be loyal to whatever is called Lilliputian religion, than Truth.
The ultimate question is how we will deal with cultural issues in our churches. In a pluralistic society, where diversity continues to broaden and calls for the inclusion of new and different practices and beliefs increase, pastors and church leaders will feel increasing pressure for giving culture more sway to shape ministry, worship and the personal life of professing believers. Unless we draw the lines according to Biblical principles, in every area of spiritual life, we will become just another extension of a constantly evolving culture, having no godly impact, such as we already see in the fall and decline of main line denominations all around us. It is what the social engineers want us to become, along with all the others already fallen; but we cannot "make the difference" by conforming to this world. If we fail to impact the cultures around us and, instead, allow the cultures to direct and shape our ministries, we will have lost the battle for the Gospel. May our hearts' desire be that we are counted among those who "turned the world upside down" and not vice versa.
Dr. Charles Dear Editor
(This article has been expanded from the original article ithe PARBC Keystone Baptist)