Cultural dimensions of the Gospel – Part I
Cultural dimensions of the Gospel – Part I
Cultures vary widely. Beliefs, practices, foods and relationships form cultures. If and when the Bible is introduced to, and embraced by, a culture, the culture changes. Scriptural beliefs and practices create Biblical culture. A Biblical culture is any culture that has been changed by application of Scripture to reflect Scriptural values.
Doctrines do not vary but practices do vary. Doctrines unite believers. Culture and practices should not divide true believers. That said, cultures are most comfortable when experiencing faith together. Attempting to mix cultures in religious settings will typically create tensions.
For example, Pennsylvania Dutch culture is quite different from Spanish culture. Both can be informed by and controlled by Scripture. Their foods and dress will be different. Their worship styles will be different. That is understandable. Their doctrine will be the same. That is imperative.
This essay is an attempt to consider some aspects of culture and Scripture.
Culture and Doctrine
• Doctrine, very simply, is what the Bible teaches.
• Doctrine informs and directs culture.
• Culture does not control doctrine.
• Jesus is God in every culture.
• He was born of a virgin in every culture.
• He is coming to earth again in every culture.
• Sin is sin in every culture.
• Salvation is needed in every culture.
• That is doctrine.
• Doctrine is not negotiable.
• Doctrine is not cultural.
Cultural captivity of the gospel
What we do not want is a cultural captivity of the gospel. Every culture tries to take the gospel captive. “You cannot be right with God unless you drive a brown horse pulling a black buggy.” That is a captivity. “You cannot be right with God unless you believe in five-point-Calvinism.” That cannot be sustained from the Scripture. That is also a captivity.
Culture informed by Scripture
What we do want is a culture informed and directed by the Scripture. Scripture will proscribe and prescribe principles and practices. These are derived from the Scripture. They are crucial and not negotiable.
• Do not get drunk
• Do not steal
• Do not kill
• Be modest
• Be honest
• Be diligent
• Love God and neighbor
• Worship the Creator Jehovah God
These are examples of elements of a culture that is informed by the Scripture. These types of elements will be present in every Scripturally informed culture. No Scripture teaching/doctrine can be ignored if the culture is to be truly informed and controlled by Scripture.
To create a Scriptural culture we must first know the Scripture. That means we must study to show ourselves approved unto God, a workman who needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. That means the study of Scripture must take precedence over our preconceived notions and our cultural captivities. That means that the study of Scripture must take precedence over other pursuits in life.
Cultural elements that are not necessarily prescribed by Scripture
Scripture does not specifically dictate what Christians should eat or where they should work. Their choices need to be consistent with the Scripture but, at the same time, Scripture does not dictate details about:
• Types of food to eat
• How many meals to eat in a day
• Types of attire as long as it is modest
• Worship styles – enthusiastic or more subdued
• Employment as long as it does not violate Scripture
• Types of vehicles to drive
• Kinds of houses in which to live
Each church group with its Scripture informed/controlled culture is free to make the needed applications of Scripture to life. It is so easy then, for those applications to become defended as the Scripture itself. We must be careful to not demand loyalty to a particular set of applications. Our focus must be on lives of integrity before our Father in Heaven.
The culture must be Scriptural but it is not the Scripture
A Holy Spirit led Church will create a culture by applying and living the principles and doctrines of Scripture. Thus, the created culture is Scriptural but it is not Scripture and cannot be defended as if it is. When and if the created culture is defended as Scripture or equal to Scripture we are back to a cultural captivity and that is where we dare not go if we want a Scriptural Church.
We cannot reason backwards and claim that to practice the Scriptural culture is to be Scriptural. You can practice with loyalty and keep each practice and your heart not be right with God. That is the inherent danger. We must start with integrity and Scripture and from there produce a culture that reflects and demonstrates the principles and commands of Scripture. Thus we have a Scriptural life controlled by the Holy Spirit and a Scriptural culture derived from the Scripture.
We start with the love of God and commitment to Him and allow the direction of the indwelling Holy Spirit to develop our Spiritual life. From there we apply the principles and commands of Scripture to produce the Scriptural culture.