One prominent power Christians are facing today in the strange land of this world is the pervasion of sin and anti-God sentiment in the culture of society. Today’s culture has gone beyond the normalcy of sin. A strangeness has taken over the culture of daily human behavior. Society’s continued bold defiance of even basic moral principles makes it increasingly difficult for Christians in society.
What is culture? How does a culture arise among a people? What governs culture’s purpose and influence over the world? Culture is basically the outworking of inward beliefs. More specifically, culture is the customs and beliefs worked out in the living of a race or nation. Culture is a system of beliefs, values, and assumptions about life that guide the behavior of a community, a nation, and possibly an entire world. Culture includes customs, languages, and artifacts that are transmitted from generation to generation with rarely any explicit instructions. A culture measures a people’s quality of life, its vitality, and its social health. Through culture one develops a sense of belonging, personal and cognitive growth, and the ability to empathize and relate to others.
Culture has five basic characteristics. (1) Culture is learned. One is not born with culture; one’s culture is learned consciously or unconsciously through family, school, peers, and public media. (2) Culture is shared daily among people. (3) Culture is often symbolic or based on symbols uniquely understood by a people. (4) Culture is integrated into daily life. (5) Culture is dynamic, or fluid and susceptible to changes. Though much of a culture is tied to a people’s foods, habitation, and dress, yet many other things affect a culture. A people’s view of God, morality, eternity, or even the innate goodness or evilness of man is a part of culture.
It is increasingly clear that the world in which we live is multicultural. The great varieties of culture throughout the world and throughout history are all now being mixed together. As a result, Christians are facing radical cultural changes as more and more the world’s system becomes increasingly strange.
Through culture we develop a sense of belonging, being identified with certain people and customs. Because of this identity we can empathize with a people. Culture is eventually inbred in us. We are now witnessing the hope of the world coming to a global culture that will be inbred in all mankind. With this humanistic hope, the world will empathize with itself against God. This evolving strange culture is now considered the measurement of a quality of life, the vitality of a nation, as well as the moral and spiritual health of society.
Belief: All Cultures Are the Same and Equally Accepted
Contemporary society has succumbed to the belief that each culture has an inalienable right to exist and that no one can question it. In our multicultural society, a historic American culture no longer exists. While visiting England a few decades ago, I expected to see on the streets of London the popular English derby and cane umbrella. However, during my visit I saw only two or three men so dressed. What I did see were Pakistanis, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists contributing to an eclectic culture throughout a city that spoke seventy languages.
It used to be that if America’s leaders believed there were problems in another country, they would invite individuals to America to live and learn our culture. Compared with many primitive cultures, our culture was more civilized, wiser, and more mature (even though the youngest of the nations). Many believed America’s culture would be the antidote to the problems of the world.
However, with the defeat of Hitler and his theory of a master race, the world swung enthusiastically to the belief in the equality of all cultures. If any culture suggested it was better or the best, the world retaliated fearing a resurgence of Hitler’s German supremacy. More and more the world began to look at culture from a new perspective. The League of Nations (eventually, the United Nations) declared that no one could claim a specific culture was the ideal, absolute, or necessary culture for mankind. All cultures must be viewed equally and true in their own right. There was no absolute standard that could rightly judge it.
Throughout the twentieth century, one primary purpose of the magazine National Geographic was to objectively present the world’s cultures without any condemnation. This magazine often traveled to remote civilizations and cultures typically unknown. At times it presented aspects of public nudity, polygamy, and polyandry without condemnation. It simply chose to educate the world about other unique cultures. Its articles were written to inspire the reader to respect these people and their cultures in the sphere in which they existed.
Several principles now govern the contemporary view of cultures: (1) Man is on his own. (2) There is no God to govern man’s culture. (3) Man is securely chained to this earth. (4) Man has the right to live the way he desires in his environment. (5) All religions are man-made. They are simply what groups of men have thought. If the value systems of various cultures have been deified or believed to be of the gods, it was the culture’s way of enforcing these systems. (6) There is no revelation from God. (Any idea of God disclosing Himself, especially in a little-known culture on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, is utterly unbelievable.) (7) Although each religion is good for those who believe it, claiming any universal authority is going too far.
Today, the world is being forced to accept a worldview of cultural relativism. Believing all religions are equally true, everyone must accept equally all religions. With cultural relativism comes the belief that there are many ways to God, many standards of right and wrong, and we have no right to persuade men of other cultures to our way of thinking. Any form of religious absolutism is defamed as cultural imperialism.
Cultural relativism has paved the way for philosophical relativism, whereby many Millennials today are accepting the cultures and philosophies of Marxism, socialism, communism, positivism, and secularism. Although these are political philosophies, they create their own culture. All philosophies of heart and mind are outworked into a culture that influences others in daily living.
The outworking of communism in Venezuela has cultivated an obvious failing culture. The outworking of Islam manifests itself with its dictates of prayer times, dress, food preparation, and food consumption. Similar observations may be made of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Roman Catholicism. Once a religion becomes the dominating factor of a people, it becomes intricately woven into the warp and woof of the fabric of that culture. Although religion is a great key to control a culture, there are some cultures purely based upon atheism.
The Bible and Its Culture
We have come to an hour where this global culture of relativism is being weaponized against Christianity. The world now views Christian missions as an impertinent invasion into ethnic societies satisfied with their own customs and beliefs. It is no longer acceptable for Christianity to declare to other societies principles of universal truth. Global cultural relativism declares man is capable of living life without God; he needs no God to reveal to him how to live.
Despite geography, language, and customs, the true Christian declares there is a singular revelation that tells man how to rightly live before God. The world responds that each culture has its inalienable rights that require no God or His revelation. In this same spirit, there are professing Christians who falsely claim Christianity has no right to correct the culture of others.
When an individual comes to Christ and into the fullness of this Christian faith, even his culture must submit to His Redeemer. There are not many ways to God—there is only one way! Although there may be many good cultures and standards of right and wrong, the Word of God emphatically declares only God has revealed from heaven the one right way of life. Note Romans 1:19, 20:
Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.
This verse declares a natural revelation has been given for and to all men. Apart from conscience and God’s general revelation (both of which man has steadily violated), man has no sure knowledge other than God’s special revelation in the Bible and in Jesus Christ. If there is only one way to God, one revelation, one Saviour, and one baptism, can we declare there is one Christian biblical culture? Is there one way of acting, thinking, forgiving, worshiping, repenting, and one way of believing that is pleasing to God? Is it possible for the Gospel to come to any man on the planet, permeate his life, and thereby affect all aspects of his living? As such a Gospel shapes thoughts, deeds, customs, institutions, and governments, a Christian biblical culture will naturally arise.
What is Christian culture? We must remember that all cultures are created by men who live together long enough to develop a distinctive language and a way of life. As we have stated, God gave all men a degree of revelation through nature in addition to a personal conscience (the law written in the heart). Nevertheless, sin and the world can re-educate the conscience against God. Because mankind has known something about God through natural revelation and conscience, it can be said that God has played some part in man’s culture. However, man’s sin nature has taken him into realms in his culture that are against God. The depth of man’s depravity has become progressively worse throughout history.
The young prophet Daniel and his companions had to confront a Babylonian culture. Note Daniel’s response:
But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself (Dan. 1:8).
Daniel took a stand against the culture of Babylon. Although he submitted to some things (e.g., the changing of his name), when it came to the principles that his God had declared, he would not yield to their culture. This stance was consistent in Daniel’s life (e.g., Daniel 3 and 6). The Word of God within the human heart that is worked out in such decisions testifies of a biblical culture. Each Christian may live in a different geography, climate, economy, and natural heritage, yet he must make decisive changes in his life as he discovers God’s will for his living.
When Christianity and cultures clash, culture must submit. While some differences among cultures are permissible, customs and practices contrary to God and His Word are never permissible. We must know, according to Scripture, when and where in our culture something is proper or permissible and when it is contrary. As a Christian we must follow the Bible.
When the Gospel reaches a culture where public nudity, polygamy, alcohol, or even the occult is acceptable, what should a missionary do? The contemporary missionary says his burden is to lead them to Christ while leaving their culture alone. The true Gospel’s purpose is to change the lives and the living of the souls it reaches. The true Gospel delivers them from the wretchedness of sin unto a holy living governed by the principles of the Word of God. The power of the true Gospel reaches into the private life of an individual and extends to his home, his marriage, his personal stands, his business, and eventually reaching aspects of his society and government. The true Gospel is given to change the entirety of human existence. The heart cannot be changed without affecting the living of life in every aspect and compartment of a person. The Gospel is given to change everything and conform us unto Christ.
The Gospel changes a whole life. It enables, yea, encourages and inspires one to make his home look the best that it can. If every man and woman in each society would accept Christ biblically into their lives, they would change in every way they live and express life. Architecture, art, even a people’s vocabulary would be different.
Is there a Christian culture, a biblical culture, that is universal? If we believe that Christ is the Saviour of the world, that He is the Saviour of all men, can the Gospel then bring a culture that is universal? We are not necessarily stating that all the houses would be the same design or quality, but in their given geographical and economical context, each Christian would strive to make it the best testimony possible. We preach the same Gospel everywhere. We declare the same Saviour everywhere! We declare the common salvation for all men everywhere. Is it possible—is it probable that if men would accept this universal Gospel, this universal Saviour, this universal salvation, this universal Christ life, there would be aspects of the Christ to come out in every culture, destroying the things sin created in that culture?
When I travel out of the United States, I initially express to a congregation the following burden:
I have not come as an American. We have deep problems in America. America used to send out godly missionaries; now, it is exporting the apostasy that is influencing your country. The contemporary music that you are singing in your churches came from our apostate churches. Our carnal churches have condoned and encouraged your casual dress for church. These things have now become part of the substance of your Christianity; you received these contemporary changes from us. As a minister of the Gospel, I condemn these things from my country, and I must tell you that what you are now receiving from America in the name of Christianity is false. This is part of the falling away, and you are now inheriting our falling away.
It does not matter where the Christian lives on this planet, a day comes when he must make a choice between his culture and biblical culture. Will he choose a biblical culture for only some aspects of his life? When his culture clashes with the Bible, will he choose personal culture over the Bible? If Christ is to rule and we are to be conformed to His image, we will be conformed to what He was and is as a human—how He walked in life, how He talked, how He handled His enemies. Speaking of Paul and those with him, the Jews out of exasperation declared, “These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also” (Acts 17:6). To the contrary, they were trying to turn the world right side up. It is sin that has destroyed the world. It is sin that has invaded the cultures of society.
Cultures and Their Strange Gods
Solomon loved many strange wives who introduced him to the gods of their strange religions and cultures. Pursuing this strangeness, Solomon was drawn away from the true God of heaven. Psalms 114 and 137 speak of the strange language of Egypt and Babylon. Oh, the way people are talking now: cursing, swearing, bold terminology, sensual speech, a language that decades ago was unheard of in public normal communication. The culture of our time is producing strange children—young children of rebellion, stubbornness, lying, cheating, stealing, disobedience, and with pride that formerly took years to cultivate. In Psalm 144:11, David called upon God to “Rid me, and deliver me from the hand of strange children, whose mouth speaketh vanity, and their right hand is a right hand of falsehood.” Strange children grow up to be strange men and strange women without any consciousness of God and the morality of His Word.
When Paul ascended Mars’ Hill (Acts 17), he observed all the idols and their altars. He witnessed their Greek culture. Then, observing one altar to the unknown God, he was prompted by the Holy Spirit to deal with their culture! Paul preached to these philosophical leaders that in the past, God did wink at this ignorance, but now, since a man has come (Jesus Christ), Who will call to repentance, they have no excuse for this idolatry as part of their culture. We learn from this classic message that part of the responsibility in preaching the Gospel is to preach the fullness of the message to bring the total change to the human heart.
Oh, if only we could get the total Gospel message into our homes, it would change the manner of life with one another, our conversation with one another, and bring a dignity even to the way we eat. A Christian mother would want to dress her children the best that they could afford, to do the best, to be thankful, to be hospitable, to be cheerful, to be uncomplaining. We cannot let this world intimidate us by declaring that we may preach about God forgiving sins, but do not touch culture, do not deal with native music and dancing, do not deal with alcohol consumption. Even some professing Fundamentalists (from their soul-liberty perspective) believe that drinking wine is permissible, especially as it has become a greater part of our culture.
In the past thirty years (even in America), the world has radically changed its cultural ways. From the most sophisticated to the most uneducated of men, their ways of culture are now introducing strange gods. Western civilization, we must remember, has been influenced by Christianity for nearly two thousand years. Its various cultures have had some semblance of truth influencing morals and ethics. Christian principles have been interwoven into the fabric of our culture. Now, more and more, the strange gods of Eastern religions have deluged Western thought and transformed its culture. The permissibility of a multitude of sins has changed our way of thinking, and thus, our entire culture is embracing a strange debasement of living. Human dignity is fast leaving our society. Strange clothing, strange colors of hair, strange body piercing, strange tattoo markings on the body continue to abound.
The dominant influence of sodomites appears in contemporary mannerisms, speech, and apparel. Sodomites have brought a strange flesh into Western culture. Transgenderism has affected the culture of public bathrooms, high school athletic programs, and professional sports. It has brought total confusion to the biblical concept of gender. Their confusion is continually and intelligently promoted by the media, education, music, cartoons, sitcoms, and local governments. The prophet Zephaniah spoke of even rulers’ children wearing strange apparel (Zeph. 1:8). Strange gods bring strange garments into a society’s culture. New politicians are wearing the strange apparel of the foreign powers of Islam. Abortion is part of our culture now. Euthanasia is fast becoming a part of our culture.
When Christ comes into the life, it does not matter what geography you live in, what your nationality is, or what your ethnic race is. It is a biblical culture that Christ demands. It is amazing that people today believe “we have a right to have our own gospel music; we have a right to have the syncopated beat in our music because this is our culture.” The venues of culture now are endless. There is a southern gospel culture, a redneck culture, a country culture, a rock culture, and even a country western culture.
We must even pray about our attire in our public testimony before others. How sad and wretched the world dresses; how equally sad the way professing Christians dress. There seems to be little dignity in the way Christians publicly dress. Even ministers are poor testimonies of the Lord in their attire both in and out of the pulpit. When I was waiting at the airport in Grenada, dressed in coat and tie, an airline attendant came up to me and asked if I was a minister. She made the statement, “You know, you dress like our ministers, but not the way they dress when they travel.” That was an insight. I have seen preachers traveling by airplane to meetings who were dressed no different from the world. It appeared that the pulpit was the only place where they thought a testimony for Christ was needed. Even in the heat of Ghana, in our times of ministering there, we daily wear a long-sleeve white shirt with tie, and on Sundays a dress coat for the ministering of God’s Word. Even the pastors in Ghana put our American ministers to shame by the dignity they maintain in their dress for the Lord’s house.
Note the cry of the Lord through his prophet in Jeremiah 8:19:
Behold the voice of the cry of the daughter of my people because of them that dwell in a far country [the enemy had come to take them into deep captivity]: Is not the LORD in Zion? is not her king in her [two provisions given to strengthen them]? Why have they provoked me to anger with their graven images, and with strange vanities?
Oh, dear reader, what gods of our culture and strange vanities have taken control of our hearts and living? God must enable us through His Word and Spirit to live in our society, our cultures, without compromising God’s Word. Biblical culture must be part of every Christian’s living; it must be the outworking of the living and of the family, no matter where we are. May God deliver us from our sins, the sin principle, the world, the flesh, the Devil, as well as the strange culture of this strange land of the world system.
A Postscript for Personal Thoughts
What has influenced my culture of living over the years? Has my past living, the family in which I grew up, my schooling, my country, my companions of life? Have they affected my culture of living? Since I have become a Christian, have I seen in God’s Word how I am to live and that a Christian culture must dominate my life above the culture of my country and upbringing? Do I have a God-consciousness in all that I do? Have I been willing to give up those things in my culture that contradict the Word of God? Though God permits culture, the outworking of life, yet my Christian culture must be the outworking of the Christian principles controlling my life within. No matter where I live, no matter what country I reside in as a Christian, biblical culture must take precedence over my country or family culture. Do I live my marriage as I have been taught in my cultural background, or do I live it in the light of biblical principles? Do I raise my family according to the way I was raised or according to the Bible? Do I work and pay my bills honorably and biblically? Does biblical culture principally dictate the way I dress or does the world’s culture? Does biblical culture control even my reactions to situations in life and to others? How do I view Scripture in the light of my dealings with culture? Do I take the high view or a low view of Scripture to accommodate society or family?
A Final Prayer: “When the culture of a nation degrades its historic laws (e.g., by legalizing abortion, homosexuality, lesbianism, and all forms of fornication), help me, O God, to remain steadfast to the principles of the Word of God. When the laws of the land or governing cultures by the government clash with the living of Scripture, may I obey Thee rather than man. Amen.”