Culture is a very sensitive subject, which is so much rooted into people that they consider their way of acting as being truthful to the Bible. Yet many cultural habits have nothing to do with the Word of God but are things, which have been taught from the very beginning of their life as an integral part of it. It seems as if there is no difference between culture and the Bible or our culture and the Kingdom of God.
In this article we want to look at the meaning of culture, the impact of culture and the need to lay down cultural patterns.
1. WHAT DOES CULTURE MEAN?
Culture refers to the way in which people act or live with each other. It is about values, goals, norms or expectations, which are important to the community. Culture is described as the whole of habits and rules of conducts that abide in a nation or tribe.
The etymological dictionary gives the following explanation: from the French word “culture”. The word was used for the process of cultivation of small animals, education and cultivation of bacteria. In the first instance it was about the cultivation of ground and the word was used from 1300. It comes from the Latin “cultura”, which means taking care, cultivation, forming, bettering. The verb “colere” (participle: cultus) translating: cultivating, habiting, religious worship. The word was first used for the cultivation of the land. Then at the end of the 17th century the word was used symbolically for civilisation. Culture, then, is related to the spiritual development and perfection of the person. Hence, the inner civilization of the person is compared to a well-cultivated land.
Culture is what a man is imprinted with from his immediate surroundings (family values), its rural influences (backgrounds or social/political factors) and its religious patterns (religious values). All these things “plow” the human “ground”, forming or deforming the person.
Culture is thus so deeply rooted in a person. The word culture is also related to cult. Your cult is what you worship or adhere to. The cultural values are the solid ground on which many other things are built. It means that cultural patterns are rooted in one’s life and so interwoven in someone’s life that the person considers these “truths” equal or above anything else.
2. THE IMPACT OF CULTURE ON HUMAN BEINGS
The impact of your culture as a Christian is strongly anchored in your personality. Cultural patterns define the thinking and acting of human beings. When a man is faced with challenges in life, the cultural habits will automatically play a dominant role even against all logic. For example, a cultural pattern can express itself in family ties. The culture has taught you that your family goes before anything else. By definition you choose for each other within your family, even if a family member does something, which is not right. In such a case, the person is even covered and defended. It appears that all logic and reason disappear because of these cultural backgrounds.
Culture makes you stick to your standards, values, customs, language and so on, even if you move from the one country or continent to another. You will see that there are clans arising, where the stranger will prefer to adhere to because these clans are in line with his own cultural backgrounds, which he can now continue to enjoy.
Because culture is so deeply rooted, it is also reinforced by the sociological urge to belong to a group. People do not want to be left out; they want to stick to the group. This pattern does not simplify intercultural contacts.
In intercultural contacts, there is still a further difficulty of the language. Language is a tremendous opportunity but also a major hindrance in communication. One culture uses words with certain values and backgrounds, the other culture may use the same words with a total different meaning and therefore these words come across in a total different way.
I will never forget how I used an English word, which I had learned in England, but this time I was in another English speaking country. I did not realize that this word had a total different meaning there. For me the word sounded completely innocent! What a commotion!
People interpret body language and attitudes in the language of their cultural values and not always according to the reality.
All these points are purely sociological facts, but how do you handle these things as a Christian?
3. CULTURAL PATTERNS – THE OLD MAN
Obviously, I am talking about a person growing outside the knowledge and relationship with God. It is the old man, clinging to his cultural values.
The moment a person repents, turns to Christ as Savior and Redeemer, he receives the regeneration (John 3).
Paul calls it the new man. Spiritual life breaks through in the newborn Christian, who must now learn to live out of a new culture: THE CULTURE OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD. The Royal laws surpass all cultures that were built from human structures and often habits, which are demonically inspired.
The process of the renewal of the mind begins when a person is willing to lay down his old patterns and slowly but surely grow into the Biblical code of conduct. Cultural patterns can control people in such a way that they are convinced that their habit, attitude or behavior corresponds to that of the Kingdom of God, while this is totally not so.
A person having the mind of the Kingdom of God will not longer allow his own country or language background to determine his behavior, but he will follow the rules of the New Kingdom to which he now belongs. The Christian is indeed a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven (Ephesians 2: 19).
Paul said that he became a Greek to the Greek, a Jew to a Jew in order to win some. Paul addressed the unconverted, unchanged people, whom he wanted to reach with the Gospel. He tried to adapt to their culture not to hurt them and hoping to save a few. Once the person is reached, Paul speaks and acts very differently and he confronts bad habits, and he even goes so far as to impose his traditions on the believers, whom he is now teaching (2 Thessalonians 2: 15 and 3: 6).
Culture should never be your idol. In the Kingdom of God, Jew and Gentile are alike, and both must comply with the standards of Scripture.
4. WHAT DOES THIS ACTUALLY MEAN FOR US AS CHRISTIANS?
As Christians, we must learn not to impose our own cultural patterns of our education to another by claiming that these come from the Bible. We must be careful that we do not discriminate other people or nations: in the Kingdom of God we no longer speak about English, Dutch, Flemish, Surinamese, African, American or whatever cultural background there is, but as Paul says, "You totally different, ye have not so learned Christ” (Ephesians 4: 20).
It is important that we ask ourselves in our response and frustrations to each other whether or not we react from old cultural patterns or are we faithful to the new mentality of the Kingdom of God and do we behave as born again, renewed people in this world, as true ambassadors and representatives of God on the earth?
May each one examine his/her life and see how much culture is still rooted, which has to be taken out and replaced by the new mentality of the Kingdom of God. Which is “your” Bible Version you hold on to and believe it is the only valid one? Why do you pray with your eyes closed and your hands folded? What do you think about drinking wine? How is your vision on a church service? What is your image of God? Which doctrines do you adhere to and what is the basis of your conviction?
It would be good if everyone would look into these matters and see how far they are truly liberated by the powerful truth of the Word of God, inspired through the Holy Spirit. Are we Spirit led? Or do we live out of emotions and habits?