The Christian Culture

Introduction

Christians are the “called out” ones, God’s ekklesia, and His community of redeemed people. This community is called to be holy and separate from the world yet not detached from the world in a technical sense. The Lord thus expects the Christians to be the salt and light of the world by showing the world what God requires of humanity and the future expectation of life in God’s kingdom. Christians live in the world as sojourners, strangers and pilgrims who are bound for a heavenly city. Thus, the cultures of this world are not supposed to lure them from their holy calling and walk. It is for this reason that several biblical exhortations have come down to us from which the church can learn what God requires of them as a separate and holy nation in the midst of perverse cultures. This essay will discuss a theological a theological basis for a Christian culture, touching the biblical code as a far superior ethic than worldly practices.

The Christian’s calling

The Bible is so clear that the Christian’s calling is from sin and the world. God was pleased to call the believers from the kingdom of darkness from which many evil practices were performed to a new kingdom where they have become his royal priests. This is what Peter meant in his epistle when he calls believers “a spiritual house, an holy priesthood … a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light[1]

This reference is to be taken in the larger context of Israel’s historical background. When the Lord chose Israel to be His people and His chosen nation, His aim was to have a nation that would represent him on earth through whom all the nations of the earth would learn what it means to worship and serve a holy God.[2] Since Yahweh proved himself to be a jealous and strictly separate God[3], he gave certain conditions to ancient national Israel on how he wanted to fellowship with her in a covenant relationship.[4] This covenant relationship had certain requirements which regulated the two parties, and Israel entered into a covenant relationship with Yahweh; God would be their God and they would be Yahweh’s people.

In that covenantal relationship, God clearly indicated that Israel was not to be like the other people and cultures that surrounded them. This had begun with the call of their great ancestor Abraham who had been called to a life of separation by Yahweh himself.[5] Yet, the inspired record clearly laments the unfaithfulness of Israel to uphold the covenant that Yahweh had made with them. As a result, Israel failed in its mission[6] and God had to enact His divine plan, a secret that had been kept through the ages.[7]

With the coming of Christ, God began to call a new people, a community of the saints that would respond to God’s call through the preaching of the Gospel.[8] Thus, the Gospel was first proclaimed by the Lord himself before he entrusted it to His apostles who were mandated to make disciples of all nations.[9] To them, Christ expected fruit bearing and disciples who would teach and train others also.[10] As Peter gave the first official announcement of the Gospel after Christ’s ascension, it is clear that several people from varying parts of the world accepted the kingdom reign of Christ into their lives, repented and became part of the early Church. To these men and women, the principles of God’s kingdom and expectations of Christ were well conveyed, yet, there seem to have existed challenges in how they related to their cultures.[11]

This is quite interesting especially when we consider that the Gospel’s call was to forsake sin and pursue the righteousness of God that is found only in Christ. Because Christians are from the world, they were formerly accustomed to worldly rudiments[12] and evil associations which may have been acceptable in their times, yet, from a divine perspective, such kind of behaviors was repelling to the Gospel.[13] Thus, the apostles and early church teachers resolved to set in order what was lacking in the churches and bring in a better spiritual worldview which would lead to a more Christ honoring behavior in character, conduct and conversation.[14]

Yet this was no easy task. Believers often fell to the influences of cultures around them, and the apostles had to write them, sometimes with very strong and stern warnings. For example, to the Corinthians, Paul lamented that evil companions corrupts good manners.[15] To the Ephesians, he pointed that certain behaviors grieve the Holy Spirit[16]; and to the Galatians, he spoke of them as having been bewitched since they were reverting to old ways. Likewise, the author of Hebrews warns his readers of the dangers of drifting.[17]

Portraits of a Christian Culture

Since God requires His people to be separate, it would be wise to assume that there are the dos and don’ts that are expected from the Christian. In reference to the culture which believers live, it can be inferred from Paul’s writings that Christians should not conform to the present world.[18] The world has never changed, and it is a given that the world keeps becoming evil by the day. To the Ephesians, Paul argued that the days were evil and they should not live like drunkards and in darkness.[19] The phenomenon of darkness is frequently compared with sin and evil.[20] Jesus and the apostles spoke of separation of light and darkness, and, from Jesus words in the Sermon on the Mount, it is clear that the world is in darkness and Christians are the ones who bear the light of the world as little lights who bear the true light of Christ.

By way of observation, the Bible has devoted significant chapters and verses that speak of the cultures that surround believers and how believers are to live. We will just cite a few examples and give a biblical defense of the biblical code of ethics.

Adultery – in Zimbabwe, adultery is a loose term that implies the concept two married persons caught on camera and on the basis of such overwhelming evidence, the parties involved are bashed by local newspapers and social media to be cheats. As long as one is not caught on camera, and where there is no sufficient proof, it’s called consensual sex. Issues pertaining to lust, fornication, adultery and pornography are presumed entertainment and there is no harm in indulging in such acts that satisfy the desires of the flesh. Men find pride and satisfaction in adultery, in the church and outside the church. Its entertainment and no one gets bothered. With the advent of social media, pastors, church leaders and believers have had leaked images and videos of high nudity all in the form of pleasure. Yet, when one comes to Christ, one is confronted with higher biblical ethos and values that places value on the sanctity of marriage and sex.[21] While sex is good and pleasurable, it will be wrong to conclude that people shouldn’t exercise restraint. There are things God approves and disavows. Sex is right in the context of a loving covenantal relationship and not for sexual pleasure. Thus, biblically, sex is God’s gift for procreation and pleasure and should be with one’s partner.[22]

Divorce – in most African cultures, divorce is permissible for any reason as long as the man is no longer satisfied with his wife. Moreover, many women have been empowered too with recent feministic movements to divorce at will. As a result, many families have suffered under the divorce scourge. But a Christian ethic recognizes that divorce is not proper because it violates God’s principle of unity and oneness on the family structure.[23] God hates divorce for he created man and woman to have lifetime union. Jesus clearly stated that God’s act of joining the two should be respected and no one should put the two asunder.

Work – Today, most people seek to gain wealthy by trickery or other evil means. Some lie, others steal or kill to obtain wealthy. In Africa, witchcraft is rife. In the churches, preachers manipulate entire congregations into giving for personal benefit. Yet, a biblical ethic of work will recognize that God is the giver of wealthy.[24] However, he requires diligence and hard work and the Christian should engage a culture of work, for, “whoever refuses to work is not allowed to eat.”[25] The book of Proverbs has clearly highlighted the plight of the slothful, the lazy and the sluggard as an evil among God’s people.

Revenge – most societies approve revenge and vengeance. In Africa there is the concept of ngozi and vengeful spirits. Usually, when people are angered and fail to forgive, they seek outbursts of wrath or seek to punish their offenders.[26] The Christian is asked to move out of this culture and learn to offer forgiveness and not to maintain and keep grudges.[27] This is not spiritually healthy and gives room to the devil and it distorts the image of Christ who forgave mankind sin and taught Christians to forgive others and even offering the other cheek.

Idolatry – in its many forms is practiced today as it was in ancient times. Idolatry not only does it distorts pure worship,[28] but it enslaves mankind to a false god and a false hope. The Bible views it as allegiance to Satan and worship of devils. For the Christian, the biblical call is to keep away from idols and to set the Christian’s mind on Christ and not images.[29]

In the final analysis, the above few examples show the superiority of a biblical ethic above modern reinterpretations and unfounded assumptions. Why? Because if the Bible is taken as it is, to be the written word of God, one’s culture should be theologically informed and theologically derived. How a person views God conditions his approach to life and ethics. God is not as much interested in giving ethical codes; rather, He seeks total transformation that leads to good character development and better living conditions for all. By this, it is assumed that true conversation leads to transformed life and thinking which leaves believers in state of pure and true love for the Lord and one another. In its purest form, the Christian culture is God-centered; it’s Christocentric. Because it’s Christocentric, it is then able to influence and prepare others for eternal dwellings through the enablement of the indwelt Holy Spirit who aids believers in their spiritual walk. Christians are thus warned to be wise and yet remain unspotted with the culture of the world around them.

Wrong Views on Christianity and culture

This essay cannot be complete if the writer cannot take time to address the concept of separation from the world. As already alluded to, Christians are in the world and not of the world.[30] In the history of Christianity, many people have failed to understand the full implications of Christ’s teaching of separation from the world. Some have gone into extremes as understanding that Christians should form their own strict and separate communities from which the evil influences of the world cannot reach. Sadly, even in our day, many have rejected the use of computers, technology, cell phones and televisions and branded them to be tools of Satan meant to defile the holy community.

Among African church leaders for example, many feel that education is worldly and hence, they have sought to speak against biblical education and have castigated all forms of theological teachings as evil and human philosophies. They believe that to be truly separate from the world is to be excluded from any and everything that exists in the world. In the writer’s own country, some churches have even gone further as to deprive their congregations medication and hospitalization when sickness struck or where health issues were detected resulting in deaths of several thousand because they perceived it’s unspiritual and unbiblical. Another church, the Johane Maranke sect prohibits the use of family planning methods as a diabolic culture in favor of the devil’s agenda to depopulate the earth against God’s command to be fruitful and increase.

The above few examples shows how a proper hermeneutic is important in biblical studies, for if Christians fail to rightly divide the word of truth, they will be left to unintelligent and foolish decisions that jeopardizes their lives and endangers the societies from which they live in the name of “spiritual separation.” This writer is of the opinion that, the kind of biblical separation the Holy Spirit advances is a separation from sin and sinful activity. There are many evil practices that further Satan’s agenda in the world, and the Christians are called to come out of such systems and not to isolate themselves in monasteries or in deserts. Christians should seek to transform their local communities by preaching the Gospel that can bring salvation and transform whole communities and entire villages. A call to Christian witness is a call to go into the entire world and preach the Gospel, inferring a constant association with the world’s peoples and civilizations. However, discretion is important in how one handles and deals with worldly affairs. The bible should be the standard for the Christian’s behavior.

Conclusion

While a short essay as this cannot address all relevant issues, it is safe to say that the witness of God’s written Word has clearly taught that believers are citizens of heaven from which Christ dwells. Thus, they are not supposed to conform to the worldly cultures or succumb to its evil influence. Rather, believers should seek to reflect in their lives God’s kingdom on earth which is not separate from their world, but through a Christian worldview, seek to influence the world with their lives. However, the proclamation of the Gospel should be exemplified by right living.  While the world around the Christian can have certain issue it accepts as normative like adultery, divorce, stealing or laziness, the Christian should seek to appeal to biblical authority and derive principles for holy living therein.

Notes

[1] 1 Peter 2:6, 9-10

[2] Exodus 19:6

[3] Exodus 34:14; 20:5

[4] Exodus 19-20, See also the book of Leviticus and its theme, “Be ye holy, for I am holy.”

[5] Genesis 12:1-3; 17:1

[6] Hebrews 3

[7] Colossians 1:26

[8] Matthew 16

[9] Hebrews 2:1-4; Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8

[10] John 15, the analogy of the Vine and its branches. Also 2 Timothy 2:2 understood in light of the Great Commission of Christ.

[11] Acts 2, 4 and 5

[12] Colossians 2:8

[13] Ephesians 4:17

[14] Galatians 5:17-22; Romans 6; 1 Corinthians 6, etc.

[15] 1 Corinthians 15:33

[16] Ephesians 4:30

[17] Hebrews 10

[18] Romans 12:1-2

[19] Ephesians 5:16ff

[20] 2 Corinthians 4:6; Ephesians 5:8; John 8:12; Acts 26;18

[21] Hebrews 13:4; 1 Thessalonians 4:3

[22] Proverbs 5:18; Ecclesiastes 9:9

[23] Mark 10:5-9; Malachi 2:16

[24] Deuteronomy 8:16-18

[25] 2 Thessalonians 3:10

[26] Galatians 5:20

[27] Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13

[28] Exodus 20; c.f. Romans 6:16

[29] 1 John 5:21; Colossians 3:1

[30] John 17:16

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