Texts for the Week: Acts 10:1–28, 34, 35; 1 Cor. 2:2; 1 Thess. 5:21, 22; John 1:12, 13; 3:7; 1 John 5:1
Memory Text: “Therefore . . . let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1, 2, NKJV).
Opening Question: How are gospel-oriented people supposed to relate to culture?
Is culture… good or bad?
The lesson this week takes up a very interesting question, the question of culture and how believers should relate to the culture they belong to. We will look at this in two very different ways.
First, there is the matter of the relationship of the gospel and its principles to any given culture. Certainly it is true that the gospel never came to any group of people without bringing some kind of cultural setting with it. In other words, the gospel always gets situated in some culture or anther and when people in that culture become missional, they convey their understanding of the gospel to those they missionize. And those who receive the gospel, receive it with at least some of the cultural trappings of those who brought them the good news. The challenge then becomes two-fold. First, they have to work toward removing the essence of the gospel from the cultural trappings it came to them with. Then they have to figure out how the truths of the gospel relate to their own culture. Certainly it is true, the gospel accommodates itself quite well to some cultural values but it is also certainly true that it is opposed to others. This means that those who brought the gospel to others will need to be willing to see the practice of their message changed. And those who receive it will have to face the prospect that some of the things they are accustomed to, do not fit with the gospel so will need to be abandoned. Even a few moments of thought about this will be enough to indicate that there is lots of difficult work to be done here, and a lot of place for disagreement.
One example of this tension and the way it plays out is all the current talk that is divisive of the work done by expatriate missionaries particularly those from Europe who, in times past, went out over the whole world carrying with them the gospel enculturated in European forms. It is now very clear that they did not well understand that the gospel is not primarily European. In consequence, they tried, under the banner of the gospel, to change native cultures to be as much like European culture as possible. From this vantage point, it is clear they erred. They failed to recognize that, within the cultures they evangelized, there were ideas and principles that were quite in harmony with the gospel that should be preserved. There was no need to try so hard to Europeanize everyone else as much as they did. The reaction today to this failure of the past is a rather strong antagonism toward things European today. We will not pretend to know how to resolve this except to perhaps make a call for charity as the commitment called for from those who gave their lives to mission work was truly exemplary. And the problem remains one of figuring out precisely what cultural trappings fit the gospel and what do not. And we still face the call to be courageous enough to adjust culture to the gospel wherever it is proclaimed.
The second line of thought is a very different one. It runs along the lines of deliberating on how a believing family can be protected from the unhappy influence of some of the unhappy trappings of whatever culture said family finds itself in. Certainly it is true that culture can have very adverse effects on belief, particularly in places where secularism is very strong. One place to look for an example of this is Judges 2:7-13 where the story is told of the nearly wholesale departure from belief that came on the heels of the death of Joshua and the leaders of his generation. Under their leadership, Israel made its victorious entrance into the Promised Land but by the time the second or third generation came along, the ideas and ideals that had once gripped the hearts of the Israelites were gone. In its place were various idolatrous practices.
The dynamic just discussed, often plays out not only on a national scale but in families where, from one generation to the next, there might be a considerable flagging of commitment. One generation might be quite caught up with their religious commitments, but subsequent generations see that fade until, after three or four generations have passed, the original fire is gone.
Question: How does one generation successfully pass its ideals and beliefs on to the next?
Question: Have you ever heard the statement, “God has no grandchildren?” What do you make of it?
Question: What aspects of your culture do you think do not fit the gospel and should be changed?
Question: What aspects of your culture do you think do fit the gospel?