Do You Have Culture-Colored Faith?

How cul­ture-col­ored is your faith? The ques­tion may seem unim­por­tant, but I assure you that it is vital. You see, cul­ture as we know it will be dras­ti­cal­ly dif­fer­ent at some point, and it may be in the not-so-dis­tant future that cul­ture as we know it — it does­n’t mat­ter if we’re talk­ing the cul­ture of the Unit­ed States, Sau­di Ara­bi­an cul­ture, or Argen­tin­ian cul­ture — would be unrec­og­niz­able in impor­tant ways.

We see this played out in fic­tion­al depic­tions of what the future of human­i­ty might look like. Take Star Trek as an exam­ple. In First Con­tact, Cap­tain Picard explains to a 21st cen­tu­ry woman that in Picard’s time (just a few hun­dred years in the future), greed is no longer a dri­ving force for human­i­ty. He does­n’t get paid. No one does. Instead, human improve­ment is the focus — to build a big­ger, bet­ter Fed­er­a­tion, to increase the qual­i­ty of life as much as pos­si­ble, and so on.

I’m thank­ful that cul­ture changes — were it not for com­put­ers, I would­n’t be able to acquire a healthy com­put­er mon­i­tor tan! But while the world shifts end­less­ly around us, how are we as Chris­tians respond? 

Let me use as an exam­ple fam­i­ly size. Our own Scrip­tures declare that chil­dren are a her­itage from Yah­weh and that the man who has many chil­dren is “blessed,” or hap­py (Psalm 127:3–5). That is what our Scrip­tures say, and con­se­quent­ly it is an absolute truth for every age. But what says the cul­ture? Two kids are enough? Three are a bur­den? Four are too many? Five or more are unthinkable?

It’s curi­ous that our cul­ture is at such a point that hav­ing eight kids is enough rea­son to parade the fam­i­ly around “real­i­ty” tele­vi­sion shows like cir­cus freaks so that any­one inter­est­ed can see just how much work goes into hav­ing a large fam­i­ly — most of them are too lazy to ever want that much of a bur­den, but to be enter­tained by oth­ers? This is Amer­i­ca, after all; about the only nation­al val­ue we have left is the right to be enter­tained at oth­ers’ expens­es — the high­ly lucra­tive enter­tain­ment busi­ness depends on it, so that val­ue is safe no mat­ter who runs the White House, I think.

Our faith has been col­ored. Dreams which pull women out of the house­hold and into the work­place sim­ply to make ends meet. Dreams which pull chil­dren out of the house­hold and into gov­ern­ment-con­trolled schools or pricey pri­vate schools. Dreams which pull men away from being an active and present par­ent for their chil­dren, teach­ing them and rais­ing them in the way they should go.

Unit­ed States cul­ture isn’t real­ly con­ducive to large fam­i­lies — the blood of far too many unborn cry out in tes­ta­ment to that. 

And fam­i­ly size is just one area our faith has been mud­died by culture.

Church­es? Sim­ple gath­er­ings of believ­ers are few and far between; in their place, elab­o­rate enter­tain­ment pro­duc­tions have appeared. Even in con­ser­v­a­tive, “tra­di­tion­al” church­es, the church is no longer a band of believ­ers but is instead a busi­ness where­in the bulk of mon­ey joy­ous­ly giv­en by the attend­ing saints isn’t used to fur­ther God’s king­dom on Earth but is instead used to pay “church” bills, pay full time pas­tors, build bet­ter build­ings, or any of a vari­ety of oth­er things.

Mar­riage? Some­how con­ser­v­a­tives have got­ten the idea that mar­riage is described by the equa­tion “1 man + 1 woman = mar­riage.” It has not always been so. Our own Scrip­tures tes­ti­fy that a man may be mar­ried to mul­ti­ple women, pro­vid­ed he has the resources and abil­i­ty to care for them all. We spend so much time and effort attempt­ing to get the Unit­ed States gov­ern­ment to out­law homo­sex­u­al mar­riages (and by exten­sion, polygamy and any oth­er non-het­ero­sex­u­al-monogamy unions) with­out real­iz­ing that our views are in direct oppo­si­tion to the lives of men like Abra­ham, Caleb, David, and numer­ous oth­ers. God Him­self nev­er con­demned these men, why should we? Con­trari­wise, Yah­weh declared His hate for divorce, yet we do lit­tle to pre­vent it these days.

Child­hood? Would you believe that Josi­ah was an effec­tive king of Israel at only eight years of age? There was a point that chil­dren weren’t just chil­dren, they were chil­dren being raised. We aren’t prepar­ing chil­dren for adult­hood any­more, and this is quite evi­dent by spend­ing any amount of time in a pub­lic place — try your local depart­ment store’s toys area, where most of the mess­es aren’t made by chil­dren but but teens and adults who have no idea how to con­duct them­selves in a pub­lic place. It’s easy enough to blame schools for not teach­ing effec­tive cit­i­zen­ship, but because I dis­be­lieve that the schools should be teach­ing chil­dren any­thing, I instead must place the onus of respon­si­bil­i­ty back on par­ents whose faith has been col­ored by culture.

Appear­ance? Mil­lions upon mil­lions of dol­lars are spent annu­al­ly just in the Unit­ed States on beau­ty prod­ucts and design­er clothes. We real­ly have noth­ing bet­ter to spend the mon­ey on? Tele­vi­sion instructs us on What Not to Wear while mag­a­zines fill us in on what’s hot or not. Rather than being taught by the old­er women how to love hus­bands, younger women are instruct­ed on how to wear make­up, do their hair, or dress “just so” to attract guys. Guys aren’t immune to this either, nor do much if any­thing to dis­cour­age such imbal­anced pri­or­i­ties in our families.

If you’re won­der­ing why any of this mat­ters, I’ll tell you. Cul­ture changes, and that’s absolute­ly fine; we see that in the Scrip­tures with no indi­ca­tion that Yah­weh dis­ap­proves of cul­tur­al changes. What we do find in the Scrip­tures, though, is that we tend to grav­i­tate away from the ways of the Lord and toward aspects of the cul­ture which run con­trary to bib­li­cal principle.

An increas­ing num­ber of church­es are embrac­ing any and all hip or “in” prac­tices in an attempt to be “seek­er sen­si­tive” and “cul­tur­al­ly rel­e­vant,” but they ulti­mate­ly do is make them­selves rel­e­vant only to a tiny por­tion of cul­ture and his­to­ry at the expense of remain­ing bib­li­cal.

God in His omni­science told us that large fam­i­lies are awe­some, that mod­esty is a virtue worth hav­ing, that divorce is more often than not sin­ful, and so on. His views won’t change, and if He wants us to con­form to His mind, then it is His cul­ture that we will be held account­able to in the End.

How cul­ture-col­ored is your faith? It matters.


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2 responses to “Do You Have Culture-Colored Faith?”

  1. Noah R. Avatar

    On one hand, you make a lot of good points in this post. Yes, we should­n’t let world­li­ness and mate­ri­al­i­ty seep into our faith or the church. And, yes, we have become rather accept­ing of most of that world­li­ness, to the point that we all become part of it. However…

    One of the prob­lems about cul­ture is that you kin­da have to Just Deal™ with it. While I’m hes­i­tant to say that you should­n’t fol­low the parts of the scrip­ture that deal with dress and attire, I think it’s more about the prin­ci­ple of “don’t dress immod­est­ly” than the ver­ba­tim rules (but, then again, I may be wrong). In gen­er­al, I believe it’s not one of those where you have to make a firm choice between God or pop­u­lar cul­ture, or take the two and neat­ly sep­a­rate them into lit­tle box­es. The two are not mutu­al­ly exclu­sive, no mat­ter where you go you’ll always fit into some cul­ture, and “being aware” of the cur­rent trends can also help you to con­nect with oth­ers who may not know Christ. 

    Just as long as you don’t get so sucked in that what is “in” over­rides what you believe.

    1. Rick Beckman Avatar

      Thanks for the com­ment, Noah, and actu­al­ly, that’s the point I was try­ing to make. We’re very much immersed in the cul­ture — some­thing some con­ser­v­a­tive church­es miss and which emerg[ing|ent] take to an extreme at times.

      Part of the moti­va­tion behind this post was what I read in a Peo­ple mag­a­zine in the break room at work. The arti­cle was a revis­it to the Fun­da­men­tal Church of Jesus Christ and Lat­ter Day Saints ranch that was raid­ed a year or so ago on alle­ga­tions of child abuse.

      I absolute­ly do not agree with Mor­monis­m’s unique doc­trines, but the cul­ture that was fos­tered on the ranch impressed me — the chil­dren learned to work and were not force-fed steady diets of car­toons and toys, the women dressed mod­est­ly and were faith­ful, and the hus­bands like­wise worked hard in all areas of the establishment.

      Chil­dren who were torn from their homes and returned at a lat­er point were described as hav­ing become more self­ish due to being exposed to all sorts of toys and the like. 

      The sit­u­a­tion may be an extreme one, but it got me think­ing just how much cul­ture affects how we behave. For instance, the ear­ly church in Acts, when pre­sent­ed with numer­ous peo­ple leav­ing their homes to stay with that first church gath­er­ing, sold every­thing they had in order to ensure that the basic needs of every­one present were account­ed for. Today’s pos­ses­sion-cen­tric Amer­i­ca undoubt­ed­ly has col­ored our faith, evi­denced in that most promi­nent “Chris­t­ian lead­ers” in the media are those who have amassed for them­selves great wealth.

      I know a lot of this we have to Just Deal with, but in so doing, I don’t want to miss remain­ing rel­e­vant to the One who nev­er changes in favor of embrac­ing the lat­est trends.

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Rick Beckman